On the Road with Stars

Few bands can make records the way Stars does. Their sound might have changed, but over the years the Montreal-based band has maintained their status as kings of the Canadian music scene, crafting immaculate, tailored pieces of pop with perfectly woven themes of loss, love, and social conflict. In my 15 minutes speaking to bassist and trombone player Evan Cranley, he states outright that fewer and fewer people buy those records these days, but that doesn’t mean that Stars will stop making them. Stars has never been an envelope for singles, and their dedication to cohesive records is a point that sets them far and beyond any of their competitors.

On their latest record, No One is Lost, the group has traded their somber sound for an energetic, dance-influenced kaleidoscope of a ride. The album’s title track opens with a slow, steady synth beat and lyrics that that sound eerily similar to Disclosure, if Disclosure were to write songs on the lack of meaning in existence. The bouncing, drum-machine driven boogie in “From the Night” has already become a staple at live shows, largely because it’s self-evident that the band loves playing it. Even after over a decade of making music together, Stars is still running strong, and though they might be going on an 8th album, they’ve got more than a few great records left in them.

What’s happening with Stars right now?

I’m in beautiful Winnipeg, Manitoba at the Patterson’s household, getting ready to go to the Burton Cummings Theatre to get ready for our show tonight.


How’s the weather over there?

It’s below 14, actually.


Classic Winnipeg. You guys released No One is Lost a few months ago: how do you feel the reception to the record has been so far?

Well, no one buys records anymore, so I don’t know who owns it, but I know who’s listening to it because having played it, I can say the reception to the new music is some of the best we’ve ever had. Tracks like “No One is Lost” and “From the Night” have just become live staples—so really fantastic!


There’s a very strong dance influence on this record. Where does that stem from?

We’ve always kinda flirted with it a little bit, but we wrote and recorded this entire record at our home studio on top of a nightclub. There was a lot of bleed between what we were doing and what the DJs were doing down in the club, and we ended up actually sampling some of that stuff using a field mic and inserting those samples on our own record. We wanted to create a really hopeful, celebratory, and rhythmic style of music, because we have a lot of records that haven’t been like that.  We figured that if we’re gonna tour with this for one and a half years, we might as well make it enjoyable.


Were there any artists that you picked out in particular from the nightclub?

No—some times it wasn’t even an artist, but just beeps and mashups by the DJ. Then we got some samples from people outside–street teams and people lining up out the door. We really were just aiming to sample the music’s beat time, you know?


I’m gonna take you back a little bit: what can you tell me about a band you were in during the late 90s called Gypsy Sol?

Yes—that was actually the early 90s! I started with them in the fall of 1992—I was 16, and we did our first cross Canada tour in 1993. What can I say? It was a bunch of funky high school cats from Toronto. What was cool about it was that every weekend we would go out and play universities, and then I would have to be bright-eyed and bushy tailed on Monday morning to go to high school. Then on Friday afternoon, I’d load out to go to Queens or Western or Montreal or Guelph—it was an awesome life.


Another project you have: you are of course Evan, but I understand you use the rap moniker of “Absobibi”.

That’s right, and I got 3 videos on Youtube right now! One is “It’s BBQ Time”, one represents Montreal history and the Olympics, and the last one is about the bike sharing network in Montreal. Check it out!


I also understand you’re a big fan of Hip Hop—what are some of your favourite records?

As a kid recording music in the 90s, I had the privilege to be around in what I consider to be the Golden Era of hip hop. A Tribe Called Quest and all those mid-90s hip-hop records were a huge influence on me and us as a band. In Da Gryptions I’m kinda the hook guy—but those old records were so huge.


What are your thoughts on Illmatic?

I put that in my top 10 desert island records.. the first time I heard that and 36 Chambers and the first Common record was just really groundbreaking for me—almost dangerous.


Talking about your record now, you guys have been playing together for a decade. How has the way you guys record music changed?

I think the biggest thing that’s given us success over the years is that we all have our own role in how we write and perform music. What I do is essential to what Patty does, which is essential to Amy’s process. I don’t think it’s changed over the years; what’s kinda different with this record is that there were times that we would walk into the studio at 11:30 and decide to write a song that day, and by 5:30 we’d have one. With every record there’s a little sketch of music that starts it, and often the songwriters are inspired by the vibe of it, and they write lyrics and melodies to that. What gives us legs is that we really rely on each other.


You’re on your tour with Hey Rosetta! Any stories from your adventures together?

They put together this incredible dance routine—4 of them. It’s like this retro-work gear thing for a tune that we do. They did it twice in Toronto: I hope we see it again. I thank them every night before we go on stage, because they really are an incredible group of musicians…It’s been so lovely being able to listen to that music every night. You know what we have to do? Figure out something we can do every night during their set. I was thinking maybe just running up with a tuba and playing on their tracks. Something to return that generosity.


They are super influenced by traditional music. Maybe plan out a little traditional jig?

Ohh…no way. Nope. That would be terrible.


Well I thought it was a good idea. A lot of bands as they go through high school have some truly terrible names they use. What is the worst name you’ve ever performed under?

Our drummer, Patty Mcgee, once had a band called “Shepherds Pie”. That is the grossest name I’ve ever heard. I have some names, but you know, Patty takes the cake. It’s just the worst.


My final question: what’s next?

We’re gonna tour until the fall, and then—with a band like us, going on our 8th record, it’s going to take something special to get back to it. So I think we’re going to take some time and try to draw on some new inspiration and not rush things—to do something with meaning. We’re trying to put a really small legacy together, and we’re trying to make records—not just collections of songs. We really enjoy this tour. It’s the most fun I’ve had playing in a band and it’s been an amazing year so far. I want to keep that going.

Stars will be playing at the Vogue on February 27th with Hey Rosetta!

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