Stars: An indie-additive for the Riot Fest
As featured in our September 2013 issue:
Celebrity chaos will always be an unintentional gem of entertainment. Audiences can’t help but to be enamored by breakdowns, breakups and broken dreams. Hollywood hysterics, often imitated elsewhere, are very much American, and are revered as simple antics to gain attention.
Those typical celebrity tantrums have managed to steer clear of the Canadian indie-pop ensemble Stars for the better part of 14 years. Childhood friends and co-founders Christopher Seligman and Torquil Campbell were struggling artists in New York when the band hatched in 1999. Soon after, they realized the folly of the usual move to the big city, and the four members returned back to Canada – where they found a fifth in Patty McGee, a drummer, and where they’ve remained since.
“There’s definitely been moments when we were at levels where normal people would never have come back from the depths of the horror that we’ve experienced together,” says McGee. “The fact of the matter is, that Chris (Seligman) and Torquil (Campbell), the two who started the band, have known each other since they were 8 years old. They grew up and lived together. That sort of set the precedent. After a while you become family and no matter what you do, you can’t lose them. You can’t shake them.”
Stars splits the responsibilities of being in a band five ways. Usually, the bulk of the payload lies on the shoulders of one or two of the members in similar acts, and can cause a lot of tension and resentment between the group. Understanding each member’s role is an important part of Stars’ longevity, says McGee, and keeps them all fairly level headed, “most of the time anyway.
“We’re the quirkiest group of people you’ll ever meet. A few years ago it kind of dawned on me, I think it dawned on all of us – we’ve been in some mid-career tumult for sure, and there have been some pretty low moments. Once we got over that it was funny because when we get together, all the same shit would come up.”
While Stars has garnered critical acclaim and sustainable longevity in its native country, the act has seen nominal successes in neighboring states. North American tours, like the one the band is currently on, is generally an introduction to new fans. The cultural differences of the two countries haven’t eluded the band.
“It is remarkable; you come across the border and the light changes,” says McGee. “I don’t know what it is. It’s a weird thing that a line in the sand can make such a big difference in how you perceive people in life. But, I mean there’s differences from neighborhood to neighborhood. There’s a lot of cultural differences for sure”
As McGee explains it, it’s not so much the attitudes of the American people that get the bad rap, but the leadership they’ve been forced in to.
“What I remark on is how Americans really get shit on everywhere you go, which is totally unfounded,” he says “You have a global public persona that’s been put in to place by 60 years of bullshit foreign policy by a bunch of assholes, and it doesn’t reflect the personality or the nature of the culture. Americans are the most hospitable, warm, friendly, amazing, hilarious, outspoken people in the world as far as I know.”
The band’s appearance at Denver’s Riot Fest has been questioned as far as the style of Stars’ music and how it relates to punk rock legends such as Rancid, AFI and Iggy and the Stooges. McGee thinks that even though punk rock has been pigeon holed in the past, the idea of it can still permeate through softer music and can be readily seen in any genre.
“Are The Stooges really scary anymore? No! Punk rock is not punk rock anymore,” says McGee. “Hip hop is punk rock; that’s what still scares people. Wiz Khalifa is scaring the shit out of parents. I’ve seen the Stooges a few times over the last few years and Iggy is amazing, but that shit is soft now at this point. I almost feel like, sure Stars are a little light in the loafers, but that I think is kind of punk rock.
“What we do is hated by a lot of people. As much as it’s loved by a lot of people, it really rubs up against a lot of folks too, and pushes buttons, and that is as much punk rock as the Stooges are at this point. They’re an awesome band, for sure, but I don’t even really know what punk rock means anymore. I really think at this point in time music is music; do people really discriminate along the lines anymore?”
Even though Stars lie heavy in affable structure and on the side of softer harmonies than its festival counterparts, it does still stir up controversy. Recently the video for “Hold On When You Get Love And Let Go When You Give It” was released amidst some pretty heavy backlash for glorifying drag queens, something McGee is still a little disoriented by.
“I think it is so fucking ridiculous at this point! That wasn’t meant to be provocative. That’s what’s funny about it. Drag queens are just a celebration of life. That’s all they are, they’re just dressing the way they want and doing what the fuck they want because that’s who they are and that’s what makes them feel good. That’s what punk rock kids do, that’s what hippies do. That’s what everyone does!”
And as for the critics who feel Stars are somewhere it don’t belong, McGee confidently brushes off whatever negativity the opinions bring to the festivities.
“It’s amazing how many hardcore kids, oddly enough, come up to us and tell us how much they love Stars. It’s like, ‘Really?’ I like the fact that (Riot Fest) is an eclectic festival. I think it’d be boring if it were a festival that focused just on one genre.”