With a body of work that a select few Canadian indie rock groups could rival, Stars continues to push the envelope nearly 20 years after forming. The band’s latest effort, 2017’s There Is No Love In Fluorescent Light, was a solid successor to 2014’s No One Is Lost.
And the new album’s spark is still quite bright almost a year later according to drummer Pat McGee.
“We finished the record and then it’s been this long drawn-out cycle of touring and not touring,” McGee says. “So, to be honest, the songs still remain quite fresh. And it helps as well that we’ve been producing some new material along the way.
“We used to make a record, stop and then tour and then get back into the creative process. But what we’ve been doing more so these days is any downtime we have just go in and pop out a couple of new things.”
Stars, headlining a show at Toronto’s Canadian National Exhibition on Aug. 21, returned to producer Peter Katis (The National, Interpol) to work on the latest album. McGee says Katis steered them sonically in a certain direction, focusing “on the down-tempo side” of the band’s sound.
“He’s got a very distinct sound and technique that he uses,” he says. “We were happy to relinquish a lot of the decision-making and artistic direction – not necessarily songwriting – but we were really happy to let him put his fingerprints all over this. It really alleviated a lot of tension and squabbles and aesthetic decision making which really helped the process along.
“We had a bunch of songs that we’d written and come in with maybe 20 songs. Peter picked the ones that he wanted to do, that he was most interested in. He would go in and say, ‘These things I think we can really do some fun stuff with.’ He’s really interested in the melancholy of the band, the romantic sadness.”
Even when it came down to crunch time, the band’s label thought the record needed “something a little more marketable.” That deadline pressure resulted in two of the many album highlights in the opening track “Privilege” followed by the title track.
“I’ve always really liked ‘Privilege,’” McGee says. “I don’t know why but it encapsulates a lot of influences from my youth. It’s got a feeling about it that I tend to gravitate towards. It’s sort of like a My Bloody Valentine-ishy thing but we’re still Stars.”
While touring North America on different legs earlier this year Stars also managed to release two tracks: “One Day Left” and a cover of Style Council’s “Long Hot Summer,” the latter a continuation of various covers the band sporadically released last year.
“We tried to take songs that were interesting and fun and do them Stars way and put it out there and keep the dream alive,” McGee says. “It was fun learning other people’s songs. There are always little tricks in there that people wouldn’t notice by listening to them. By learning them it’s like mining creative ideas and it helps our process as well.”
Stars have another round of touring set for later this year but so far the fan response has been way beyond good. It’s something neither McGee nor the band takes for granted.
“It’s amazing that we’ve been at it this long and people continue to have interest in our project here,” he says. “Stars fans are beyond loyal and they’re a wonderful group of people who come out and really share the same spirit that we do. It’s not a one-way street. They dance, they make out, there’s crying, it’s emotional.”
The band’s road crew has also increased by two toddlers with the kids of singer Amy Millan and bassist Evan Cranley on tour. McGee says it’s fun for him having them on the road but it can be arduous for the couple.
“They’re great at providing activities for them, they’re in a different town every single day,” he says. “But now every single city in town has this infrastructure set up for parents to bring their kids. It’s like a giant romper room.”
The drummer also says Stars will start writing new music in a few weeks time and will see what becomes of that for 2019. Some theatrical ideas are also being tossed about but nothing is confirmed so far.
“We’re trying to navigate ourselves through this brave new world,” he says. “It’s a daunting abyss before us but it’s always been like this. Just keep making the music and trust your instincts and be creative and hopefully it will all work out.”
In the meantime, Stars looks forward to the Toronto gig as McGee is no stranger to “the Ex.”
“I grew up at the Ex, that was the thing,” he says. “It was a summer pilgrimage. A lot of my friends even worked at the Ex. It’s a very nostalgic time for my youth. I was listening to a lot of Motley Crue and Ratt going on at the Ex back in the day.
“I’m curious to see if they have some of the iconic rides (like The Zipper) which I doubt they do because I think they were wildly dangerous. And the bandstand where we’re playing is iconic. That’s entirely wild to me that it’s still going on at that stage where so many bands have played over the years. So I’m excited!”