15th Nov2010

History Lesson: Stars

by Todd

I just don’t know what to expect anymore. We spend so much time interviewing new and unheard of bands. Those bands are so grateful, that they’ll spend hours dissecting the inner workings of their music without batting an eyelash. It’s the older, established bands that I fear. They’re frequently glib, reciting the same pat answers that they’ve spewed hundreds of times before. So when I got an opportunity to interview Amy Millan, to discuss her work with Stars, Broken Social Scene and her solo career, I anticipated the worst. Instead, I got thoughtful answers from a person who is still obviously thrilled to be in the business of making music and thrilling fans. It’s wonderful when your favorite bands refuse to disappoint.

TDOA: I know you’ve been asked quite a bit about the challenges of writing a fifth album. First, do you find yourselves more inclined to write on the road, in the studio or during breaks.

AM: We have never written on the road. We always keep the two separate. We get home and hunker down in the studio-watch the snow fall and cross our fingers that we can find the muse again.

TDOA: Musicians do talk about the difficulty of writing as they become more “comfortable” with the success of their band. Do you find it necessary to combat this or are you comfortable writing “in your own skin”?

AM: As long as we still die, I don’t think I’ll ever be fully comfortable in my skin, knowing it is just a shell. With that huge mystery looming over, I will always find something to wonder about.

TDOA: Am I correct in assuming that when you write songs, you consider how you want to use them? You’ve made albums with Stars, BSS and as a solo artist, so I wonder how you make choices on what group of people you’re going to work with as you prepare to record a song you’ve written.

AM: Stars music always starts with Evan Cranley and Chris Seligman. The music they create dictates where the melody and words will fall…..I would never write a song like Look Up on my own.
The solo material is just that, I am all by my lonesome on a porch in the middle of the night humming laments over g chords. BSS invite me in to their organized chaos and I do my best to contribute what only I may hear over top of the broken orchestra.

TDOA: You’ve had your run-in’s with the dreaded “internet leak”. Can you talk about how these leaks impact bands like Stars and how you deal with this problem in the future?

AM: We put out the ‘In Our Bedroom’ album online ourselves the day after it was mastered and sold it on itunes before it was available in stores. Then, with the next record, we effectively leaked the album while playing The Five Ghosts front to back live, in small clubs, a couple months before it was released. It is an exciting time for music and music fans. There isn’t a mold that works right now because things change at a lightning bolt pace. We have this great opportunity to use our imaginations and test out all sorts of different ways of getting the music to the people. The reason we put our album “In Our Bedroom After The War” on iTunes right away, was because the biggest drag about leaks is that it only gives the consumer one choice: steal it-or don’t listen, and we need to learn how to offer more then just that choice. Make buying it easier then stealing it, and people hopefully will choose to support the band my investing in it.

TDOA: Was the decision to form your own label a reaction to what had happened with leaks and to what extent do you get involved in the business of your
new label?

AM: If you aren’t involved in your business, good luck. We have teams we work with in all the different territories, but from distribution, to press, to merch to touring schedules, we are involved with plans and budgets, because every single penny that is spent, is money coming from the bands pocket. The sooner you realize that and the more you can control your finances, the more power you have over your own destiny.

TDOA: Please tell us about the imagery used on the cover of The Five Ghosts. Who came up with the concept and how involved are you in the “art” of your releases?

AM: Irritatingly, we are all very involved in the art work. It has been the cause of some of the biggest arguments the band has ever had….Luckily with Ghosts, our team who we do artwork and merchandise with, sent us a group of old photo’s from the archive at the library and all of us, for the first time ever, all knew that little girl with her ghosts was the cover of the album.

TDOA: How do you feel when your songs are used on television shows like The O.C.? Do you ever worry that meanings will be assigned to songs that have nothing to do with their intended purpose?

AM: As we have discussed, the industry is changing so rapidly and television is an amazing tool to bring exposure to the band. Commercials are something that have always made me nervous because of their repetitive nature and the fact that they have one purpose, which is to sell you something. That is why we haven’t crossed over, but for a lot of bands, it helps feed their kids. I mean, when the (Flaming) Lips sold “Do You Realize” to a car company, I stayed in bed depressed the entire day-and I still can’t hear the song without thinking about power steering, but do I still love the Lips? Absolutely. I don’t feel I can judge others, I can just go with my own instincts on it. T.V. shows play once and generally are sound tracking some characters experience, so in my mind it is a different game. The purpose is to soundtrack peoples lives, if a few of those lives happens to be fictional, I have no problem with that.

TDOA: At this point in your career, can you describe the feeling of playing live and touring?

AM: Like anything it changes day to day. What I still feel most of all, is gratitude. There are hard times right now and unemployment is very high. The fact that people spend their hard earned money to come and celebrate a night with us can always snap me out of whatever funk I may be in. If the people show up, so will I.

TDOA: What’s next for you? Any plans to record another solo record or will Stars go back into the studio?

AM: I am going to take two weeks when I get home to work on some new solo material and then at the beginning of January, go into the studio with Stars and start hashing out some hooks.

See them live:
Nov 16 2010 Bluebird Theater Denver, CO
Nov 18 2010 La Zona Rosa Austin, Texas
Nov 19 2010 Warehouse Live Houston, TX
Nov 20 2010 Granada Theatre Dallas, TX
Nov 21 2010 Republic New Orleans, LA
Nov 23 2010 Southgate House Newport, Kentucky
Nov 24 2010 Town Ballroom Buffalo, NY
Dec 4 2010 Metropolis w/ Young Galaxy

Purchase the new album via iTunes in the U.S. here:
The Five Ghosts – Stars

In the U.K. here:
The Five Ghosts – Stars

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