Incendiary Interview Stars

Weasels and Penny Farthings. The stuff all good conversations are made of.



Their set had been troubled somewhat and although I'm sure that the last thing Torquil Campbell (frontman and singer with Stars) wanted to do was to suffer through an interview. It seemed like an unfortunate time and I was a bit wary as to what to expect from him because he'd seemed more than a little annoyed up there on stage. Still, there was no backing out of it now, the time was booked and so I stepped into the darkness of their tour bus (which was blissfully cold and a fair relief from the sun belting down on us outside) and found Torquil at the back, sipping on a bottle of water and looking more than a little laid back. In fact he was lying down. I took a seat next to him and suddenly found myself feeling like a psychiatrist, what with him stretched out on a couch before me. My first question was almost, "So Torquil, tell me what's bothering you,"  but I managed to hold that back.


Instead I asked....


IN: So how did you find the show? Because it looked like you were in torture to start with.


Torquil: The show was a fucking nightmare. But I love the opportunity to try and express something to people you know, even when it's a nightmare, so it's a split thing you know what I mean? Like technically and logistically it was horrible and we weren't given the opportunity to sound good, but I mean there was a little child up front and an old man next to it and so I had to just think "I wrote these songs to try and sing to people. Here's some people so you may as well enjoy it".


IN: Well I think you turned it round to be honest. For one thing the crowd got bigger as the set went on, which was very good, but also I could tell that people enjoyed it more as the gig went on, despite all the technical problems.


Torquil: Yeah I think so too.


IN: Of course the pure rock and roll moment when your bass player falling on his arse helped a bit.


Torquil: Ha Ha Ha! That never happens with us. That was very rock and roll. He never gets that excited. Festivals are weird they're so, it's like a circus you know? It's not the same thing as doing a normal show, you just have to think of it as getting your wares out and kind of hawking it for forty minutes and then getting the fuck off.


IN: So how would you describe the Stars as a band? In terns of who you are and what you're about?


Torquil: We're a pop band I mean we write story songs and narrative songs that are a little straight forward, I guess we don't want to leave any mystery. Not that there's anything wrong with that, but then there's obviously the male/female interaction thing to what we do that makes us stand out I think.


IN: There's a strange kind of image to the band in that you all look like you could be in different bands from each other.


Torquil: I know.. Ha ha and we could!


IN: There's no kind of key image there. I was looking out at you and I was thinking, " Ok, the drummer's in a punk band. We've got that one. Then you've got the Britpop guitar player jumping around in the corner...


Torquil: Yeah, yeah.


IN: and then the bass player in the hat" and I'm thinking, "Ok, so where the hell does he fit in with this?" And then there's yourself in the middle..


Torquil: yeah and I don't know where...I'm the fucking librarian or something. Yeah I think it's cos we're all just too old to conform to each other's idea of what a band should look like.


IN: But I feel that mix of styles is almost in the music itself because a song will start with something really big and loud and then it'll just fall into something really simple and go somewhere else. So although the lyrics might be one simple story the music contantly changes into different areas. Do you agree?


Torquil: Yeah. Well on this album, in particular I think, we were very inspired by Super Furry Animals. And I think we kind of took the way that they bring tons of disperate styles and ideas into one cohesive thing that is about the actual pattern of the notes, you know? And they kind of reveal how pop music works in a way, to me, because they show that if you take that basic template you can put it into any style, any context and it keeps the idea consistent. And jamming those things together creates a really nice tension and a really nice drama and gives the audience a bit of a relief from one thing, you know? And I think one of our main goals is not to just barrel through, in a way, as a band.


We want to take you on a ride sonically and emotionally and we're very into trying to capture life and how it feels. When it's good and when it's bad and try to come up with a suitable track for those moments. And we have a very strong will to kind of do those annoying things to ourselves in order to give people what we feel that they need.


IN: So do your songs build around your lyrics then?


Torquil: No it builds around the music actually. The music tends to come first and then the lyrics are written while the song is created, which can be hard. But it's a good way of writing because it gives you a lot of opportunity to just write in the moment and hear the melody with the song happening. So the lyrics very much have to fit in with the structure of the song. We want to make it very....


We like it when it pops and when it's clear and when the idea is complete. I like the trick of pop music. I like the little tricks in it, you know? How you can shove the mundane against the profound and the noisy against the soft. Because it's basically four chords, so you can get all flowery around those four chords and it still holds together.


IN: There's a very communal atmosphere to the band on stage and it reminded us of Camper van Beethoven.


Torquil: I've never seen them.


IN: Well I don't think there's a similarity in terms of the kind of things that you come up with but there's certainly the same sense of this large group of people all pulling different directions but yet, if you took one element away from the group, the whole thing would probably fall apart and wouldn't be as interesting.


Torquil: I think that's very true about us. Yeah. We're all very strong personalities and we all got into this as equals, as friends you know. There's not some svengali genius writing all the tunes. Everybody's involved in writing the tunes and everybody's involved in the way the band works and the decisions that we have to make. And I don't think we could do it any other way. I don't think that's what any of us wanted going in, you know? We all wanted to be ...part of it. We didn't just want to gig and play, you know the bass player didn't just want to play the bass and that's the way it's always worked.


IN: So everybody has their own role as far as playing is concerned, but as far as creating stuff is concerned, its more of a communal thing?


Torquil: You know everyone has a subtle role, it's just that we never name it. You know what I mean? It's like we're scared to name it because we feel like we'd be cursed if we named it. I mean everybody knows that I talk a lot and come up with a lot of the concepts and the general aesthetic and the attitude on stage in a way, but Aimee is a person who people relate to as a musician really deeply and I think, for the listener, she's their way into the band.


Without Aimee it's a much harder band to get into and then Evan is a very rigorous musician and like a rock and roller. A guy who's totally a perfectionist and really very process oriented person you know? So, I mean, I'm totally result oriented. Fuck the process. I don't even know how to do the process! I just want to skip to the result and he is a very methodical, very slow moving, very particular person and again, I think that tension is what makes us what we are and if we didn't have each one of those things it wouldn't work as good as it does. And Pat is a guy who is relentlessly energetic and positive and straight forward.


IN: So you kind of cover all bases between yourselves.


Torquil: Yeah but it's never like we say, "OK you're the straight forward guy," it's just who we are, personalities as a group of friends. You know, if we were climbing a mountain or opening an ice cream shop together we would play those same roles. It doesn't matter really what we're doing.


IN: OK, Let's change tack. If there was one vehicle that described Stars, what would it be?


Torquil: You mean like an actual automobile?


IN: Yeah.


Torquil: It would be one of those big old bicycles with the massive wheel.


IN: A penny farthing? With the small wheel on the back.


Torquil: Yeah a penny farthing, with big bicycle wheels on the side


IN: Like big stabilizers.


Torquil: Yeah. Ha ha ha. (At this point the discussion collapses into fits of laughter, each of us trying to draw a penny farthing with stabilizers with our hands. It took us a few moments to recover.)


IN: And finally, because I won't keep you too long, where, in the hierarchy of wild animals would you place the weasel. Above or below the stoat?


Torquil: I once played a stoat in Toad of Toad Hall when I was 11 years old. Then I had the privelidge of also playing a weasel the following year. It was a Christmas show, in Toronto.


IN: Weasels are evil, so you've got to be careful with them.


Torquil: Yeah I think Weasels are probably superior. They have a greater killer instinct and they're more well known. For pure publicity reasons. They're bigger stars; (laughs).


IN: Well I'm sure that everyone would like a weasel more than a stoat.


Torquil: It's not that I don't like them, stoats are lovely. It's just that I think that they're superior. You know, in the hierarchy of the animal world they're further up there.


IN: Well weasel sounds better to say. It's got that whiny quality.


Torquil: They're frightening.


IN: They'd pick your pocket wouldn't they?


Torquil: Well a stoat might creep in, what do I know? Maybe a stoat has a secret weapon that I don't know about. Ha ha.


I shan't bother you with the nonsense that followed, but I will tell you that the Stars will be touring around these parts again towards the end of the summer. Catch them then. Hopefully this time things will work out better for them.


Words : Damian Leslie