Published Jan 01, 2006With an unrelenting flair for drama and a sprightly knack for classic pop, Stars shine brighter than ever with a precious, passionate record called Heart, out February 11 on Paper Bag Records. The Montreal-based quartet enters a new phase with this sophomore album, veering away from bedroom electro-pop toward a more lush, universal texture heavily inspired by the wanton romanticism of the Smiths. In fact, Stars wear their '80s Britpop fetish right on their record sleeve.
"Someone told me the cover looks like Smiths with a ball cap, which is exactly what I was going for," says singer Torquil Campbell. "The Smiths had plenty of heart, and we obviously espouse that approach to life, but I think Stars are part of a vast group of people in the world who are realising that the meek had better be ready, because we are about to inherit the earth."
World domination? Perhaps, but, speaking less loftily, the words "human," "warm" and "organic" frequently float to the surface when discussing Heart, a record where man clearly dominates machine.
"It's not fun to play along with a computer," says Stars' Evan Cranley. "Electronic artists in the '80s had a brilliant way of approaching the band dynamic. There was only so much you could do with electronics at that time, you almost needed a band to propel that sound. New Order, for me, was a perfect mesh between electronic and organic, the future and the past."
Though they plan to stay in Montreal for the foreseeable future, the ghost of Stars past saw the quartet floating around North America like, er, a flock of seagulls. Big city dreams inspired the migration to New York City from their home in Toronto, where Campbell and Chris Seligman founded the band, but the subsequent move to Montreal was prompted by their disdain for the music industry (Campbell describes the biz as "a cross between an abattoir and a loan sharking operation"), as well as a stifling creative climate.
"Our music was only going so far in New York," says Cranley. "It's really refreshing, artistically, to just hole up and make a record, and to walk down to the corner and not know what the next building's gonna be, and not bump into a label head at a bar. It was so worth it for us."
Stars have settled into Montreal's music scene with little effort, joining the rock 'n' roll barflies along the Main, freelancing for the Jazz and Francofolies festivals, and playing the first Pop Montreal fest, co-organised by the band's manager Dan Seligman (Chris's brother).
And all the while, in a Plateau apartment, Stars divided their Heart four ways, with music co-written by Cranley and Seligman, lyrics and vocals by Campbell and Amy Millan, a more collective approach than their previous EPs and Nightsongs LP. The result is their best work yet, an album softly driven by myriad instruments and lightweight beats, and steeped in everyday romantic drama.
"Great pop music is love music, even if it's political. Girls and songs about girls are the two most important things in life," states Campbell, tentatively adding dogs and ice cream to the list.
"Sometimes I think Heart is a masterpiece, a real work of art, and sometimes I just see it as a reflection of what I already knew: that I'm a nobody, a dead child star," he says, referring to his nearly lifelong, sporadic acting career. "But Heart proves I was here once, and it might help you get through the day. I recommend it for weddings and funerals."