Stars has been around for more than a decade. Meaning a lot of Stars listeners probably began as teenagers, which isn’t particularly surprising when you consider the band’s heart-on-its-sleeve lyrics and musical arrangements that are overwhelmed and stuffed with emotion. Its new album, The North, is a tight set of songs that sounds like pretty much everything Stars has ever released. That’s not a negative trait.
To often, critics view changing one’s musical landscape as something worthy of praise while doing what one does best is attacked for not being original. This mindset is as illogical as it is prevalent, but Stars has seemed fairly immune to the fact. Still two vocalists, one male and one female, playing off one another and backed by epic tunes on one hand and sparse electronic beats on the other.
Evan Cranley is a big reason why the band sounds the way it does. The multitalented musician has been part of Stars from the beginning, and he’s also appeared on every Broken Social Scene album. Though, he seems inherently loyal to Stars, as every time I brought up Broken Social Scene when we spoke this past week about Stars’ upcoming Sept. 23 show at the 9:30 Club, and their show the night before at Mercury Lounge in New York City, he would pointedly guide the conversation back to Stars.
Ten years is a while, and things change in that time. Cranley recently became a father. Dauphine, his 18-month-old, will find herself on a rock-n-roll tour. This’ll be a first for the band, and Cranley isn’t quite sure what to expect. And no point in speculating.
What doesn’t need speculation, though, is the creation of The North, which is now available. When Cranley began composing it, like with all their albums, it began with “a lot of sketching in general forms of just the music that happens first.” Excuse my journalistic structure, because what Cranley’s saying is pretty interesting: In Stars, the music is written before the lyrics.
This is probably surprising to most people who know the band. The lyrics and music have always done a fantastic job mirroring each other. More than that, though — and this may only make sense to those who have heard the music — the lyrics sometimes have a call-and-response thing going with each other. While that happens, the music can sometimes have a call-and-response thing going with … itself. Which is, obviously, confusing.
But Cranley says they write the music and then Torquil Campbell and Amy Milan work from there, letting the music inspire lyrics. Of course, the music stays within a certain realm. “I have the career of Stars in mind when we make a record,” Cranley says. So he’s not laying down a Broken Social Scene melody when creating a Stars tune and vice-versa.
Nonetheless, the band’s got a pretty intricate sound going, and that comes from the studio time put in. “We like to think of it as pieces to a puzzle,” Cranely says. “It’s very cool that way, everyone’s got their own role in the band.” And during that time, he doesn’t listen to other music: the focus on Stars is complete for Cranley, which is presumably where that perfect, beautiful and distinctive sound comes from.
A sound that countless teenagers (and twenty-somethings and, heck, probably older) have used in a time and time again to heal the heartbreak that can seem so ubiquitous when you’re young. Cranley calls this fact, “the most flattering thing you can have a a musician.”
“Playing inside of someone’s soundtrack is the best thing a musician can ask for.”