Stars - Biography
By Scott Feemster
Stars are a Canadian band that has won many accolades for their sophisticated take on pop/rock music. Influenced as much by soul and classic pop as by rock, the band started out as an electronic-based duo, and has expanded over the years to become a full-fledged touring band.
Stars was formed by singer/actor Torquil Campbell, who, in addition to being in Stars, has also acted in films and television programs, and keyboardist Chris Seligman, a classically-trained musician who has also played with various orchestras. The two had met each other while living in Toronto in the late 1990's, and when both moved to New York around 2000 to pursue their respective careers further, they decided to collaborate and form Stars. Taking cues from such classic rock and pop as The Smiths, Momus and Saint Etienne, the two released their debut EP A Lot Of Little Lies For The Sake Of One Big Truth (Le Grand Magestery) in early 2001, followed quickly by their debut album, Nightsongs (Le Grand Magestery). Nightsongs was hailed as a minor pop masterpiece by critics, and received airplay on influential radio station KCRW in Santa Monica, California, thus further raising the group's profile. Nightsongs featured additional female vocals from such singers as Emily Haines from Metric and Broken Social Scene, Kendall Jane Meade from Mascott, and Amy Millan, who, at the time, was singing and performing with the group 16 Tons. While in New York, Seligman and Campbell had met bassist/multi-instrumentalist Evan Cranley, who they soon asked to join the group, and he in turn introduced the pair to Amy Millan, with whom he had played with in 16 Tons. The group was happy with Millan's vocals, and when they decided to move back to Canada, asked Millan if she would like to join the band. Millan agreed on the condition that she would have a say in the group, would be able to contribute songwriting, and the band would settle elsewhere than Toronto. The group ended up moving to Montreal, and fell in with the collective of musicians working in and around the group Broken Social Scene, and the label Arts & Crafts. (Millan, Cranley, and Campbell are all on-again off-again members of Broken Social Scene.) Stars released another EP, The Comeback (Le Grand Magestery) in 2001, and then started work on what would become their second album, 2003's Heart (Paper Bag/Arts & Crafts). Recorded almost entirely in the bedroom of keyboardist Chris Seligman, Heart showed the influence of Millan and Cranley, and moved the band towards a sound that could be called 'chamber pop', a mix of their electronic sound with strings, horns and acoustic guitars. Stars toured in support of the album, and while on tour made the 4-song EP Dead Child Stars (Paper Bag)(2003) available to fans. By the time the band was preparing songs for a new album, they acquired drummer Pat McGee to become a permanent member of the band. The group's next album, Set Yourself On Fire (Arts & Crafts) was released in late 2004 in Canada and in early 2005 in the United States. Set Yourself On Fire was a further refinement of the band's chamber pop sound, blending the group's electronics with carefully constructed string and horn arrangements, tasteful guitar, and Campbell and Millan's literate and carefully enunciated vocals flowing over the top. The group scored a hit with the song “Ageless Beauty” in their native Canada, and scored a minor underground hit with the song “Your Ex-Lover Is Dead” in the United States. (Stars have also twice been nominated for the Canadian Juno Awards in the category of Album of the Year, for Heart and Set Yourself On Fire, in 2004 and 2005, respectively.) The group toured again internationally in support of the album, and when they returned to Canada, took time out from the band so Millan could record and release her debut solo album, Honey From The Tombs (Arts & Crafts)(2006). Stars came up with the novel idea of giving the songs featured on Set Yourself On Fire to friends and musicians they admired to remix and reinterpret, and the result was the their 2007 release Do You Trust Your Friends? (Arts & Crafts). Such artists as The Dears, Metric, Apostle Of Hustle, Montag, The Stills, and The Most Serene Republic all got a shot at re-doing Stars songs with their own stylistic bent. Stars released their next album, In Our Bedroom After The War (Arts & Crafts) later in 2007. The group anticipated that tracks from the album would leak to the Internet before the physical release of the album, so the band took the step of releasing the album early in a digital form in July of 2007, a full two months ahead of the standard release in September. Initial copies of In Our Bedroom After The War included a bonus DVD of a documentary shot while the band was on tour promoting Set Yourself On Fire entitled Are We Here Now? In Our Bedroom After The War upped the ante on the band's ambition, as the all of the lyrics to the songs were tied together in a loose narrative, and the arrangements bordered on grandiosity that almost made the songs sound like selections from a Broadway production. The group again set out on tour in support of the album, and offered a new 6 song EP, Sad Robots (Arts & Crafts)(2008) to its fans for sale on either the band's website or at shows. In Our Bedroom After The War was nominated for the Canadian Polaris Music Prize in 2008, an annual award given to Canadian artists based on artistic merit.