“Something creepy just screamed at me from the desert, I will have to find it later,” Pat McGee, drummer for the Montreal-based Stars, says over the phone, “We are just outside Tucson, Arizona. A club promoter offered us to stay in this Radisson that is a boogie night porno palace.” When anyone offers for you to stay in their vacant Radisson, you take them up on it.
The band’s last album, 5 Ghosts, was a tough one to make. “It was a period of time that was transformative. Birth and death, beginnings and ends all at the same time. Speaking for myself, I was pretty burnt out on music in general, the whole thing. It was a rough record, but it turned out well, though.” McGee ended up taking a break from music completely, vocalist Amy Millan and bassist/guitarist Evan Cranley had their daughter, Delphine, and Torquil Campbell released a solo album under the name Dead Child Star.
At the beginning of September, their sixth studio album was released. The North is a collection of 12 songs that clearly represents what Stars are about, the poppy, twisted, darkness that we all have grown to love. Campbell and Millan’s love-and-hate, hold-me-and-murder-me-banter. “The clouds cleared (after 5 Ghosts). This time, around our hopes and dreams, were to stop thinking about building an record like an architectural piece of perfection. We sat in a beautiful room at a studio in Montreal and wrote songs together, and I think this record reflects that.”
It took a decade for the group to invite another member into their bubble. Session guitarist Chris McCarron was right man to send the RVSP to and, when he accepted, they couldn’t have been happier. “Oh man, he is a force, he is amazing and he is a hero.” McCarron came highly recommended from numerous other bands (Land of Talk, and The Dears). “We had been looking for a guitar player forever. Evan would have to play all the guitars when we were recording. He wanted someone that knew tones and rhythms. We brought Chris in, he was just a monster and played with so many different bands and came highly recommended. He has such a creative mojo, amazing tones, open to ideas, and he fixes all our amps. He probably change the battery on your car, or fix your window. He is a monster.” You can tell that McGee is genuine in what he is saying. McCarron added new life into Stars and he is the real deal.
I ask him how the band remains relevant. He responds affably, “Are we relevant? We are lucky to have started when we did. We got in right before the end of the ‘record industry’ happened. Where you put out a record, get played on the radio, fans buy it. Bottom line, we have amazing fans and they are devoted to the music. I guess our relevance is we planted our stake and haven’t left it.” Stars are a part of one of the most successful music business plans in Canadian music and it wasn’t even planned.
The business plan is more a support group, with members of Broken Social Scene, Stars, Feist, Kevin Drew, Jason Collett, Metric, and Stars all finding success. “It seems like a gang,” he jokes, “like Arcade Fire, it’s funny you all kind of felt like neighbours, going to all the same dinner parties. There was this perspective (at the time) there was this huge explosion, a big bang of Canadian bands. It still felt like a bunch of girls and guys just going out and doing our thing. It never really felt like an explosion. When everyone was going crazy about the Montreal scene, I was like, ‘What scene, the coffee shop scene?’ It was different be on the other side of the fence, in a positive way. It’s a good thing to be in a gang.”
Stars are relevant, they write honest songs and, even though the songs themselves can feel serious, as people they don’t take themselves too seriously. Being part of this wave of success never got to their heads. This is just a group of good friends helping each other make the best music they possibly can.
Stars will be touring with Metric at the Stampede Corral (Calgary) on November 14 and at Rexall Palace (Edmonton) on November 15.
By Danni Bauer
Photo: Norman Wong