Interview by Aidin Vaziri
A product of the same vibrant Canadian music scene that gave us Feist
, Broken Social Scene
and Arcade Fire
, the band Stars
has spent the last decade refining its supple electro-pop sound. Until now, the biggest challenge the five-piece has faced is measuring up to its breakthrough 2004 release, Set Yourself on Fire
– an album that ironically took two solid years of touring to actually breakthrough when it was originally released. But the group returns with renewed ferocity on its latest, The North
, which features shamelessly catchy pop songs like “Backlines” and "Hold On When You Get Love And Let Go When You Get It.” Led by singers Amy Millan and Torquil Campbell [who made a few cameos in “Sex and the City”], Stars has never sounded more determined to reach beyond its fan base. A new distribution deal with Dave Matthews’ ATO Records
should certainly help. Drummer Pat McGee filled us in on the hard work that went into getting here.
PureVolume: A lot of your critics and fans tend to measure everything you do against Set Yourself on Fire. What do you think was so special about that album?
Pat McGee: I think Set Yourself on Fire was a real departure for the band. They never had a drummer play with them before. They were a soft electronic band before. Once you throw drums in the mix you became a rock band. The energy changed. The band came together. That's what dictated the success. Our next two records we were trying to figure out how to be a rock band yet retain the original element of Stars — the juxtapositions between good and evil; pretty songs with dark lyrics and dark subjects; maybe slide back into the electronic realm. We've always been interested in that medium between rock and roll and electronic music. Life was involved in the making of those records. That dictated how those records came out. There was a lot of growth, a lot of throwing paint at the wall.
PV: So how does the new album stand up against Set Yourself on Fire?
PM: I have a lot of faith in this album because we fought tooth and nail for every aspect of this record. There are five people dealing with this situation. Every aspect gets debated. At the end of the day you still don't get want you want. It's an excellent representation of who we are as a band. There's no point where anybody backed down. The compromises were decisions. It's still going on. You should see our email exchanges over t-shirt designs. It's good because it fired us up. We needed to go out and push ourselves and push the band. We all wanted to have our fingerprint on this.
PV: Did that make the recording process more difficult than usual?
PM: That's the way all our records have gone. Some bands have a leader who tells everyone else what to do but we all have a say in our records. It's far more expensive and it takes longer. That's the thing about democracy. Dictators get things done. Democracy takes a long time.
PV: Is that because you don’t trust each other?
PM: We trust each other implicitly. We're all individuals and we all have different tastes. We all don't like the same thing. I trust them as friends and musicians. But it doesn't mean I agree with what they're doing and what they like. I've been dubbed the contrarian this year. But that's for my own self-preservation.
PV: PV: Why did you start your own label?
PM: Well, we have our own imprint. We are with Universal in Canada and with ATO in the states. What that means legally, I'm not sure. Maybe it means we give them less money and they give us less money. I don't even know. The industry is so upside down. There's not a cut-and-dried way of doing things. Starting your own label is one of the most stupid things to do. But it was time to take control of our situation.
PM: We had an amazing run. That whole situation we all made each other. It was us, Broken Social Scene and Feist. They were a great label. It was a great friend orgy. After a while it's not easy working with friends. In business you have to be nasty sometimes. There were conflicts of interest. It was hard leaving them because it was personal. But we just had to get out of there before it got messy. It was time.