Stars find paranormal success

By Katrina Power

This year marks the end of Stars’ first decade together and while the Montreal-based indie group has just released its fifth full-length album, The Five Ghosts, and kicked off the North American leg of their fall tour, its members aren’t only looking towards the future — they’re also honoring their past.

“We started to get far away from the original idea behind the group,” says the band’s drummer Pat McGee. “Synth music, art and everything that’s beautiful and somber. With [The Five Ghosts] we wanted to go back and take everything we learned over the years and apply it and make a record that had more of a synthetic sound to it, that sounded more real.”

The Five Ghosts (the significance of which McGee leaves up to the band’s beloved fans to interpret) is indeed more raw, stripped of the grandiose treatment given to the band’s previous albums including 2004’s critically acclaimed Set Yourself On Fire and 2007’s In Your Bedroom After The War. It is also the first album released on the band’s new label, Soft Revolution Records.

The record’s paranormal theme, McGee explains, was born out of keyboardist Chris Seligmano’s supernatural experience when the band began to record the album in Vancouver.

“We were all subletting apartments and houses, and Chris’s ended up being haunted by this ghost woman who was attacking him in his sleep,” professes McGee. “It reached that extent that he had to leave.”

Seligmano’s haunting — which is the basis for the impressionist track “He Dreams He’s Awake” — not only spooked his band mates but also inspired, especially vocalist Torquil Campbell.

“It was the beginning of our writing process. Once Torquil got a hold of that, then it was all over. I think Torq really likes being scared by ghosts. I think once that came up, it gave him that license to go crazy.”

From their keyboardist’s ghostly encounter spawned the remainder of the record’s songs ­– macabre tales that are the backbone of the ghoulish eleven-track album. But in classical Stars style, the CD’s morbid lyrics are anchored by light instrumentation.

“The strong lyrical content — that’s a conscious thing that Stars has been doing forever,” says McGee.

The contrast between the dark material and the catchy electronic orchestration of its accompanying tunes has long been a mainstay of Stars’ artistic approach. It’s a concept that even reverberates in their name.

“I think it provides great balance. I mean, we love pop music, it’s like candy for the ears, but sometimes it’s nice to have that surprise dark chocolate centre.”

It is this musical contrast which sets Stars apart and is the core of everything from the band’s music to its name.

“Stars are one of the most profound, magnificent beautiful things in the universe. But if you put ‘stars’ in ‘stardom’ then all of a sudden it’s celebrities and it’s vapid,” says McGee. “There’s a bunch of happy songs out there and then there are a bunch of sad songs and I think that people get bored with that, contrast makes things a little more exciting. It keeps us interested.”

As for the band’s continuing growth and success, McGee accredits that to the unwavering loyalty of their fans.

“What I find with Stars is that the fans don’t care about what the cool kids are saying. A lot of people don’t like what we do — it’s almost like they’re offended by it sometimes — but the fans, the fans are so unbelievably fantastic and dedicated and really do love us and we love them. It’s very reciprocal.”

McGee divulges, however, that there isn’t always love within the band.

“We sealed Evan [Cranley, guitar] into his bunk one night using an entire roll of duct tape. This is what we get at for fun. We’re all still waiting for retribution, though, ’cause nothing ever ends there. Once the war begins, the war never ends.”

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