Michael Buckner | Frazer Harrison, Getty Images Now this is a collaboration that…
- Posted on Jun 22nd 2010 10:30AM by Jason MacNeil
After releasing the critically-adored 'In Our Bedroom After the War' in 2007, singer-guitarist Amy Millan released her sophomore solo album, 'Masters of the Burial,' while fellow vocalist Torquil Campbell created his own side project, Dead Child Star. Those death references reemerge on Stars' latest effort, 'The Five Ghosts,' with song titles like 'Dead Hearts' and 'I Died So I Could Haunt You.' But that fixation with mortality is perfectly appropriate considering Campbell's father, esteemed stage actor Douglas Campbell, passed away last October.
We've heard the tale a hundred times of the songwriter using their art to work through their pain, but Campbell says writing songs for the new album hasn't made him feel any better.
"No, it wasn't cathartic," he tells Spinner prior to a gig at Toronto's Mod Club. "For me, personally, I experienced a death in my family and there's been no catharsis. It doesn't end, you know? What's cathartic is the songs being received by people. When we played these songs last night in front of people for the first time it started to feel like these songs were going to help as a release of some s--t for me. But right now, there's still very much left to pass and they're quite painful to face. I try to distance myself from them."
Following the release of 2008's 'Sad Robots' EP, one might have thought the electric guitars fueling songs like 'A Thread Cut With a Carving Knife' might again serve as the foundation for 'The Five Ghosts.' Seligman and Campbell knew from the onset, though, guitars would take a backseat to synthesizers.
"We all agreed that we wanted to use a lot of synthesizers," Campbell says. "Chris has bought a lot of keyboards during 'Bedroom...' and you were working with analog synthesizers."
"It was going to be electronics-based, but we would add parts wherever the song was going," Seligman adds. "If it was going to need live drums, there would be no reason why we wouldn't have live drums [put on it]."
Another change this time around was their recording process, which consisted of writing and recording a handful of songs over an eight-month span during three different sessions with producer Tom McFall (Editors, Bloc Party, REM).
"It was amazing to have somebody there who everybody loved and respected," Campbell says of McFall. "When you're asking each other to push yourself as much as we were asking each other to push ourselves, it's very hard to hear criticism from someone within the band about what you're doing at that moment, where you're vulnerable and you're doing something you're not sure is working."
"It sets up a lot of tension if we're the people who have to make each other accountable," he continues. "If there's someone there who has no agenda other than making the song great, and everyone agrees he's someone who we can trust, then we have just a massive cranking tool that helps you go through the process of the record."
Although they both say the album really began by writing the track 'He Dreams He's Awake,' the disc starts with 'Dead Hearts," a number done in a similar vein to 'Your Ex-Lover Is Dead,' the opener from 2004's 'Set Yourself on Fire.' (OK, so they were always pretty dark).
"That was a weird one, it sort of started out like a dance tune," Campbell says. "There was one time we did it and it was like, 'That's a classic Stars song.' If you could identify Stars with a certain song, I would say that's pretty close to what it is. It's a conversation and it's kind of sad. It makes you want to run off a roof. Not jump off, but run off in the hope you can fly, then you just fall down and kill yourself..."
Other highlights include Millan taking lead on the electro-pop nugget 'Wasted Daylight,' 'Fixed' and 'Changes' (a cousin of Madonna's 'True Blue') while 'We Don't Want Your Body' is an interesting disco-tinged cut. Perhaps the most adventurous number is 'I Died So I Could Haunt You' with its waltz-like vocal delivery melding with an up-tempo arrangement.
"The drums had to be the hook," Seligman says of the track. "The electronic snare made it groove more immediately, as opposed to adding all these different parts. There was something from the drum section that made it pop out."
Stars preceded a proper tour in support of 'The Five Ghosts' with a short Canadian trek, performing the album in its entirety before a second set of favorites voted upon by fans. "I think there was one guy who kept shouting out that he wanted to hear 'My Favorite Book,'" Seligman says of the first Ottawa gig.
"It was really fun," Campbell adds. "In this privileged, privileged sphere of having been around for so long, there are kids who grew up to our music, who got married to our music, and who went through university and hard times. They love our music and they're willing to still be there for us -- it's just such a positive reinforcement you get from that."
Being a new father, Campbell says his dream is to play Wembley Stadium and Giants Stadium, and then return to his newborn. The band expects to be on the road for most of the year though.
"In a way I think we'd like to tour it for a year, then make another record and tour that for a year, and then piss off for a little while," Campbell says. "But we'll wait and see. I think we're at the point now where if you like Stars, we want to be certain that you feel that we are getting better and we're not just surfing along looking at the same ground and not growing. We have to continue to justify our existence, and the only way to do that is to keep getting better at these things – at live shows, records and the whole world of being a band."