The Cord speaks to Evan Cranley from Stars
Taking a break from rehearsing in Montreal for the upcoming tour, Evan Cranley from Stars chatted with The Cord about their new album Five Ghosts, out on June 22nd.
Sarah: Well, I guess we’ll start off asking you some questions about the new album, which we were lucky enough to hear. You gave your fans a glimpse of the making of Five Ghosts on your website. How would you describe the recording process this time around and how is it different from the last few albums?
Evan: Well, we had a father figure this time named Tom McFall, who was a huge part of making our sound, really acted as a sixth member of the band. So we’ve had creative engineers we’ve worked with before, but not so in depth as having Tom. He filtered everyone’s ideas and took the pressure off us as a band and helped us to focus on writing the best songs and coming up with the best parts possible. We’ve always self-produced [until now], so that was a huge part of the process and also, we took a year to make it. We really took our time to write and record and spread it out over time, which I think is really important and I think the band is just going to keep on doing that. There’s an immediacy that happens when you’re in the studio for five weeks and then you put it out and it’s over, but there’s also something even more fulfilling when you can sit back and do like three or four tracks and experiment and let the record come to you – not trying to force things. So that was really big for us as well.
S: You’ve kind of touched on this, but how does the writing process work within Stars? Is it always collaborative or does everyone come in with their own ideas for songs?
E: It’s always collaborative in the sense that Pat [McGee], Chris [Seligman] and I basically come up with the music and Torquil [Campbell] and Amy [Millan] come up with their vocal parts and their lyrics. So everyone has a really integral piece of what they bring creatively to the table. It’s really unique that way, it’s like a puzzle – if there was a missing piece or a missing member it just wouldn’t fit. So it’s very collaborative that way.
S: Talking about your last album, In the Bedroom after the War Torquil said that he asked himself “What is the darkest moment I could turn into a pop song?” and he also talked about turning horror movie situations into love songs. With Five Ghosts it seems like some of these darker themes have carried over with songs like ‘Dead Hearts’ and ‘I Died so I could Haunt You’. What inspires songs like these?
E: Well, without getting into too much detail, this has been the biggest year we’ve ever had as a band for spiritual growth and a lot of personal things happened to us that hadn’t happened to us before. These songs are basically little tomes of what’s happened to us in the last year and a half of our life. A lot of light things have happened and there have been some incredibly dark things that have happened. So, it’s just an experience, these songs are just experience.
S: And what inspired the new sound? In interviews, you’ve mentioned heavier synthesizers…
E: Yeah, I really wanted to push the synthesis on this record. It’s something that was kind of explored with the band’s very first record Nightsongs, but I really wanted to explore it even deeper. I love vintage synths and synthesizer music and it’s important for me every time I start a new process to make myself a little bit uncomfortable by adding a new instrument or something I’m unfamiliar with. Within that unfamiliarity there is a limitation that comes, which I think is highly creative. When you’re limited and you’re learning something for the first time, it gives you new insight on how to approach pop music – learning synthesis was a great place to start. And I just love the sound, you know?
S: How do you guys overcome tension or differences of opinion within the studio?
E: Well, that’s tough. That will never go away. That’s part of being in a band – it’s a lot like being in a family. Imagine going to the studio every day for five weeks in a row, it’s kind of like being with your family at Christmas dinner for 28 days in a row. You just find a way to compromise, argue and pick your battles. But at the end of the day, I love the process that we have.
S: What can Stars fans expect from the upcoming tour? You guys are coming to Waterloo on May 6 and playing the whole album, plus an encore of songs voted on by fans.
E: I really wanted to play the record in its entirety and I thought it’s more of a “thank you” to our fans for us to go out and preview something live in its entirety, the way it was written, in order. It’s a thank you, but we want to make the show interesting for us too. A lot of bands don’t go out and play their album in its entirety before it comes out, so I thought it was a real original idea and I’m just very excited for it. I don’t know how it’s gonna sound, but we’ve been rehearsing a lot and we just have to go out and play it now. And the voting thing, I mean, again for the fans – I want to always be a band that creates a personal, intimate experience. I don’t want to go out and just play through the songs, I just want there to be a connection. If people can vote on what they can hear – and we’ve actually sat down and read what the popular songs are, like the top 8 – and I just think it’s really amazing.
S: Can you speak a bit about how the dynamic changes playing a Stars show and say, a Broken Social Scene concert which some of you guys are involved with?
E: I was out with them on tour last year. It’s like two different sides of my brain, the Social Scene thing is more, I don’t know, a little more carefree, whereas Stars is a much more cerebral experience. There’s kind of more on the line.
S: How has a collective like Broken Social Scene, or even the Arts and Crafts label in general, affected the Canadian music industry or even you, personally?
E: Well, it’s developed a sense of community where there was not one. Before we had a home, there was no home for us, so they essentially created this house where we could all live and put out music. 10 years ago, there was never a label like this, so it’s changed the culture and created a community.
S: On May 18th there’s an album coming out called Sing Me to Sleep: Indie Lullabies for which you covered the Smiths’ song asleep, and a couple months ago you also played a show for War Child. It’s great that Stars puts in the effort to give back, have you always made a conscious decision to get involved with charities?
E: We do! We make it a priority and we always have. The War Child thing was one of the more high profile things we did because it was our first show in a year and all that money from ticket sales went to War Child. But we’ve always worked with Doctors Without Borders or been involved with local charities in Toronto. Yeah, it’s just something we like to attach ourselves to. We’ve done it for about ten years, when you’re in such a self-indulgent industry, it’s nice to actually kind of feel like you could be making a difference in someone else’s life besides your own (laughs) and you can quote me on that!
S: We’ll let you go soon, but can you tell us a bit about what’s coming up in Stars’ future? More touring, solo projects, side projects?
E: Well, basically the record comes out in June, we’re gonna be really busy creating intimate and personal experiences night after night. We’ll probably be on the road for a good year to 18 months and it’s all about the new record, really. Everyone else’s projects will get put on hold for the next year, I think, but we’ll all continue to be musicians and artists as well, but right now this is our main priority. We haven’t toured in over a year, so it’s about time we get back to work!
Before the interview ended, Cranley gave props to the Starlight, where Stars will be playing a sold out show.
E: I just want to shout out to the Starlight. They’ve always supported local and Canadian bands and they’ve always made music a priority. When we were doing this tour, it was somewhere that I really wanted to play and the band really wanted to play. So, ‘right on’ to the Starlight, can’t wait to see you!
The band will be playing Starlight on May 6th, then releasing Five Ghosts on June 22nd.