The Stars Here
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The Stars Here

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"The Stars Here: "Rock 'N' Roll Saved Me From Cancer""

Monday August 13, 2007 @ 06:30 PM

The Stars Here

KITCHENER, ONT. — One of German director Werner Herzog's many movie masterpieces is 1982's Fitzcarraldo, which, in an extended metaphor for the obsessive nature of the creative impulse, chronicles the attempt by a half-mad musical impresario to drag a steamship over a mountain and build an opera house in the middle of the South American jungle. For Kitchener-Waterloo rockers The Stars Here, the tale also served as an apt allegory for the quixotic life of an indie rock band. So much so, in fact, that the group have named their third album in its honour.

"Someone said if you want to know what it's like being in a rock 'n' roll band, just watch Fitzcarraldo, and I thought, 'Holy shit, that's exactly right,'" explains singer/guitarist Patrick Finch. "Fitzcarraldo is about a man who is obsessed with music and with bringing opera to the Peruvian jungle, without really any chance of reward, or even succeeding.

"I'm sure Fitzcarraldo had to work harder than my rock 'n' roll band, but our hearts were in the same place, so we named our record after him."

Despite the album title's genesis, this is definitely not the opera. It is, instead, an impressively eclectic mix of melodic tunesmithery ("Pray For Summer"), furious rock rave-ups ("Cocaine Pants") and boozy, weepers ("Being Stoned"). It's a stew of sounds concocted naturally from the band members' own listening tastes.

"When we started writing this record, we were listening to lots of Hellacopters and [Rolling] Stones," says Finch, "and by the end we were listening to lots of Gram Parsons and Neil Young.

"And that's pretty much the recipe for the album. As far as what direction we're heading in, it's always a crapshoot with us. I'd like to go in a sorta My Morning Jacket direction, like country-rock-psychedelia. I think we'd do well there."

Self-produced in the band's rehearsal space, Fitzcarraldo features a number of guest appearances by musical friends, including singer/songwriter Paul MacLeod (The Skydiggers, Martin Tielli) and ex-Wilco member and current Blue Rodeo multi-instrumentalist Bob Egan.

"We just happen to have a lot of friends who are awesome, and a lot of friends who play instruments that we don't know how to play," says Finch. "In a lot of cases, what seemed like minor additions took the songs in completely new directions, and that was really exciting, having the songs go someplace we wouldn't have thought to take them."

And though the indie rock journey can be an arduous one, Finch relates that the pursuit of musical excellence is not without its (unexpected) benefits.

"I loved smoking cigarettes for 10 years. Loved! Then I read about how harshly it affects your vocal range, so I took a break. I've now been smoke-free for nine months and my voice has improved humongously. The moral of the story is that rock 'n' roll saved me from cancer."



Check the Wreckage



It’s the morning after a long night out, and the Stars Here are waking up with their heads swimming… it’s time to play. They set up, call a few friends over, and get to the day’s business: eleven songs. They play “Simply Saucer”, a riff-rocker that struts and staggers like a band on a bender. Next up’s “Cocaine Pants”, rolling like the whiskey shots still in their stomachs. They chime into “Coast of California”, an ode to the west pleaded over a shimmering classic rock melody. But slowly, the hangovers persist, the band slow down, and the acoustic guitars are un-cased. Patrick Finch begins to pick through the intro of “Albert St. Band” and starts to sing: “We’re getting long in the tooth / the city’s getting hot.” As the band roll through the hungover-country-optimism of “Being Stoned” and the Sadies-esque stomp of “Sinner’s Soul”, they let their friends add personal flourishes: a tambourine here, a little pedal steel guitar, maybe a duet…and as the day progresses, the Stars Here have an epiphany: “This is how a record should be made.”

After funding, recording, releasing and touring in support of their debut full length Check the Wreckage, the Stars Here continued to hone the new material they had been live-testing on tour. As the process unfolded, Patrick Finch, Chris Gardner, Graeme Pautler, Paddy Townsend and Mark Imola found themselves less inclined to play the kind of rockers that had peppered Wreckage. “Big, fun, dumb rock n’ roll started to feel more dumb than fun,” recalls Finch. “We wanted to relax a bit, turn down, and let the songs speak for themselves”. They began to adopt a new aesthetic – a sonic sincerity based upon concentrating on the song rather than what can be done to the song. “It’s easy to get carried away with the possibilities of the Pro-Tools era, but all of these songs started with one voice and an acoustic guitar,” Finch explains. “The more stuff you pile on, the further you get from what made the song good in the first place.”

Recorded exclusively by the band in their practice space, Fitzcarraldo, the band’s latest offering, is a record alive with the spirit of Crazy Horse, haunted by the ghost of Gram Parsons, and spiked with the attitude of the Hellacopters. In the spirit of the Band’s the Last Waltz they invited friends and fellow musicians, eleven in all, to contribute to the album. Bob Egan (Blue Rodeo, Wilco) provides an angelic pedal steel to “Being Stoned”, noted KW singer-songwriter Paul McLeod sings back-up vocals on “Enemy” and “Listen for the Birds”, and Shelby Kerr (the Steven Elmo Murphy Band) sings on “Albert St. Band” in a duet recalling the glory days of Gram Parsons and Emmylou Harris’ collaborations. “It was a completely fulfilling experience,” Finch says of Fitzcarraldo’s guest stars. “They gave colour to the songs in ways we may never have thought of.”

In Fitzcarraldo, the Stars Here have achieved a true testament to the power of honest sound, the sound of five people in a room playing songs inspired by youth, love, loss, and life; and it will forever be the mark by which the Stars Here measure their future endeavors. “I think that our approach to music will become less encumbered with unnecessary tinkering with each project,” predicts Finch. “The beginning of 2009 will probably reveal a new album, and it’s going to be the best thing we’ve ever done.” The songs for the next record are already written, waiting to be recorded, waiting to be imbued with the colour, the zeal, and the focus that the Stars Here bring to everything they do.

Now, The Stars Here are at it again, this time with producer Brian Moncarz at Whirlwind Sound manning the boards and providing the vintage gear. The as yet untitled record finds The Stars Here exploring their love of southern roots-rock in the vein of Neil Young, The Band, Drive-By Truckers, and the Black Crowes. These songs are unapologetically hard-hittin' tales of love, whiskey, and rock n' roll, complete with the Stones' attitude and Skynyrd's boogie. A pre-release EP is scheduled for release in late October, to be followed by the full-length LP in early spring of 2009. Pick-up the EP for a taste of what's to come and for a few extra surprises.