Following the release of their well-received sixth album The North late last year, Canadian indie rockers Stars prepare to bring their live show down under for the third time. Kitt Di Camillo chats with multi-instrumentalist Evan Cranley.
Heart on your sleeve songwriting has taken a back seat in alternative circles, making the success of Canada's pop rock heroes Stars decidedly against the grain. The five piece of Torquil Campbell, Chris Seligman, Evan Cranley, Amy Millan and Pat McGee are unashamedly emotion driven, creating addictive melodies with a penchant for expressive passion.
“I think it's intensely unfashionable and intensely uncool to talk about music and lyrics on an emotional level,” laments Cranley. “I think it makes people uncomfortable, but I think it's what makes us special to other bands. I take a lot of pride in that. That's just music we've always made, you know? And I think that separated us from a lot of other bands, and now that we're in our fifteenth, fourteenth year, a lot of it stems from our personal experience. There's only one way of doing Stars, and that's to just be us. It's still totally unfashionable, but at this point we don't care anymore. I think a lot of independent music is totally production driven and tone driven, and content hasn't become as important to some other bands. Production levels and the way things sound have taken over priorities for a lot of people, but not for us.”
Six studio albums into their career and the Montreal based group are still in the pursuit of the perfect pop song. Campbell and Seligman first started creating music under the Stars name in the late '90s, swapping members with fellow Canadians Broken Social Scene before consolidating on the current line-up. Their popularity has endured with every new release, and the band's songs regularly included on soundtracks to the likes of Gossip Girl, The O.C. and Queer As Folk. The five friends are now comfortably into the second decade of their career, and continue to evolve as musicians and songwriters. Cranley himself began on bass before evolving into a multi-instrumentalist and key composer of their music, and admits to an unapologetic love of pure pop melodies.
“I think what has kept us together for all these years is our obsession with the pop song,” explains Cranley. “We're all obsessed with the same music in the same way, and writing an amazing pop song at the end of the day is kind of the arc that has kept us together. It's a common obsession which has really held us together. I think what informs the music is that we have similar influences with one another, but we do bring different things to the table. I think that's what makes a band a band. If everyone was into the same five bands - that's not an original idea. I think when people bring different influences to something that's what makes it special.”
With the group sharing members with Broken Social Scene as well as being involved in various other projects, the lives of each member show no signs of slowing down any time soon. A heavy touring schedule combined with a healthy six albums in 12 years is evidence that the group have pre-planning down to a fine art. “I like to think we're actually very calculated,” admits Cranley. “Not only in the way we write and produce records, but in the way we actually write songs. We're not a very prolific band in the way we actually write material together – if we're out on the road, we don't do any writing at all, we concentrate on the live show. So the cycle of touring is very much dedicated to the live experience. And when we get off the road and write, then the priority becomes writing the record. I think it's having those two minds of the live world and the writing world, that's what's helped us with our longevity in a way.”
“And we're very lucky! We've had a long career, we've made records, we have great fans, we can afford to take off, concentrate on the new record and only that record, and then come back and present the material.”
Stars will be playing the following dates:
Saturday 9 February - Factory Theatre, Sydney NSW
Sunday 10 February - The Corner Hotel, Melbourne VIC
Monday 11 February - The Zoo, Brisbane QLD
Wednesday 13 February - Perth International Arts Festival, Perth WA