|Montreal rock band Stars play Massey Hall in Toronto Oct. 23, 2010. (Dave Abel/ QMI Agency File Photo)
Things are looking up for Stars. Relatively speaking.
After confronting the darkness of personal tragedy on their 2010 outing The Five Ghosts, Canada's beloved indie-pop tragedians have seen the light again -- or glimpsed it at least -- with their sixth album The North.
"We still are, I think, the darkest band in Canada in many ways if you listen to what we're saying," laughs vocalist Torquil Campbell in agreement. "But musically and in terms of the sound, there's a lot of relaxation on this record. And a lot of celebration.
"Every time we get back together, we ask ourselves: 'Can we do this again? Is this worth doing again? Do we have the strength to go through the bulls--- of worrying about it and facing people's criticism and hoping people buy the record in an industry that's falling apart?' And as we get older and people own houses and have kids, it gets harder. So we all knew very clearly that if we were going to do this again, we were going to do it in joy. We were going to go to church and celebrate this religion we had built."
For acolytes of the 12-year-old Montreal group -- which includes singer Amy Millan, guitarist and bassist Evan Cranley, drummer Patrick McGee and keyboardist Chris Seligman -- the tenets of that faith are blissfully familiar. The North offers typically bittersweet tales of romance and tragedy (sample title: Do You Want to Die Together?), voiced by Millan and Campbell and set to lush, dreamy synth-pop from the '80s. But thanks to those bolstered spirits and the addition of guitarist Chris McCarron, the album also exhibits a livelier edge that bodes well for the future.
With The North out Sept. 4 and a tour opening for old pals Metric in the offing, the eloquent and genial Campbell pondered his lyrical obsessions, philosophized about pop and brainstormed the title for his upcoming global warming concept album. Some highlights:
You never get tired of writing about sex and death, do you?
No. Sex and death are the two inevitables. Well, there's also taxes, but that doesn't make for very good pop songs, aside from The Beatles' Taxman. But I don't know how you get through the day without sex and death coming up. Those things really lie behind a lot of the big decisions we make in our life: Our fear of death and our desire to be loved. Falling in love is a way of convincing yourself you're never going to die. So they are the two factors in life that motivate you more often than not to do something stupid -- or to do something beautiful. And the pop song for me lives in that moment when people decide to do something beautiful or something stupid. You're trying to soundtrack that moment for them. You're trying to give them a signpost that will let them remember that moment. So it comes back to those two things because they're the highest stakes you could play for.
A lot of artists are obsessed with continually reinventing themselves. You seem content to occupy a specific place and swing the pendulum around.
Do you know what it is? I just do what I can. My work as an artist is defined by my obstructions. The things I can't do are the blocks in the road that send me in the direction of the things I can do. If I could write a beautiful articulate record about global warming or Jungian philosophy, I would. But I can't. And in pop music, you're only obligated to create three or four minutes of something and have it be perfect. It's one of the things I love about the art form. It's small. It's quite trivial. But if you get it right, it's something that can stay with somebody their entire lives. I like that idea of having that same piece of stone and trying to create that same sculpture with it over and over and over. There can never be a time when you say, 'That's the one.'
But has your batting average gone up in terms of how close you get to perfection?
Oh yeah. As an artist, you always want to feel that what you just did is the best thing, because otherwise why bother? But I really believe that because we're a band that functions on virtuosity rather than instinct, we've left the door open for ourselves to get better. Chris and Evan and Pat are very highly trained as musicians and are very perfectionistic. So they get better and better at conveying their ideas. And with each album, it becomes more collective. We really make the effort to get everyone in the room together and let every single person touch every single song. We've just found it's a lot more fun and the standards go up a lot when we hold each other responsible, and when we open ourselves up to being challenged by each other.
Do you think this rededication to joy will continue? Or are we in for a pendulum swing back to gloom on the next album?
Well, s--- happens, man! I'm hoping everything stays all right, but you never know. I just know I would love to make more records with Stars. I think we're all dedicated to getting our output up. Making music is the funnest part of being in a band. And we have a lot of songwriters, a lot of talented people. What I would like to see us do next time is maybe make a couple of records: One that sounds one way and one that sounds very different. And maybe we could choose a topic; a record of murder ballads or songs about a particular evening or something.
That could be your global warming album.
It could be. We'll call it, 'Christ, It's Hot in Here.' Hey, that's a catchy title. Let me write that down.