Turn Off the Stars

Turn Off the Stars


“These four Canadians drift out of the speakers like a brand new take on The Verve and Travis… It’s atmospheric and epic, hook-filled and pop melodic.” -The Big Takeover “Filled with rhythmic prowess and atmospheric reverb, the album is a gem of modern rock..." -AllMusicGuide.com


The frontman’s nimble tenor slides up and down octave ladders like some outrageous Jackie Chan stunt. His lyrics throb with melancholy, yet the music answers with an almost tangible swell of hope. The players are humanitarian activists trying to sate their impatience for inequity with compassion, patience, and understanding.

Think we’re talking about Coldplay? It doesn’t take Chris Martin’s prominence to champion sea change on both global and interpersonal levels, then walk the walk with incredibly affecting, empathetic music. Toronto quartet Turn Off the Stars may be taking their baby steps in the dreampop landscape, but their ambition is as limitless as the epic Brit-rock forbearers they emulate. Comprised of identical twin brothers Andrew and Michael Walker (guitars and vocals, respectively), bassist Jake Palahnuk, and drummer Max Kennedy, TOTS have rendered a remarkably polished self-titled debut that burns with the dramatic flair of Travis, Muse, and the Doves.

Given that their moniker connotes intense, unwavering focus on whatever task lies at hand (think of “stars” as distractions), it’s only natural that Turn Off the Stars consciously strive to generate an air of ambiguity. It’s most obvious in the lyrics to popular live opener “30 Days,” a lush echo chamber of introspection that ultimately erupts with angular guitar lines pining heavenward.

“Mike kind of writes about struggle, an inner fight,” Andrew explains. “It’s a very relational song, but he talks about [everything from] abandonment to recommitment and then sort of the fight for survival and then reconciling the relationship. When you reach the chorus, he says, ‘Could you stay, my love? Could you wait, my love?’ To me that seems like a cry out to someone. Maybe it’s God, maybe it’s a loved one, kind of pleading for them to stay, but it sort of goes back and forth and never really 100% resolves. I think that’s kind of what life is like—it never 100% resolves. We like to leave some things open-ended.”

One facet of Turn Off the Stars that is not open for debate is their penchant for unpredictability. A recent tour had the lads playing venues as diverse as summer camps (“The kids were pumped,” Andrew enthuses. “Some of them, it was the first show they’d ever seen”), churches, clubs, junior highs, youth centers, and coffeehouses. The Walkers are particularly acclimated to the latter. Upon scoring their first acoustic axes at age 14, the Torontonians-for-life quickly deduced that Michael was adept at melodies and rhythm strumming, and Andrew at more textural, evocative lead work. U2, the Verve, and Pink Floyd became regulars in their stereos, but they shied away from covers, excelling at original compositions. The twins met Kennedy at the University of Western Ontario, began performing as Turn on the Stars in 2002, then got to know fan Palahnuk at hometown club shows two years later.

“I think [Palahnuk’s] first gig with us was opening for the Tea Party,” Andrew chuckles, noting that the bassist’s only previous live experience was backing up a singer-songwriter on that familiar Toronto coffeehouse circuit. “There was probably about two or three thousand people—that was his first show with us! So it was throwing him into the deep end.”

Until recently, Andrew worked with his bandmates at a collections agency (not repo, mind you; “Rattling the chain and breaking some pinkies?” he quips, “No, I didn’t get to do that, unfortunately.”) Now he’s eschewed taking for giving back. The band recently visited the World Vision “One Life” pavilion in Toronto, which put them in the harrowing and tragic position of a young African girl raped, impregnated, and infected with AIDS. All parties are currently sponsoring similarly needy children.

“I think I’ve grown up and really come to realize that this band and this life of mine isn’t just about making music and writing cool songs and hopefully they’re good singles and we make some money,” Andrew stresses. “If it was about that, I would have quit years ago. Obviously, I love writing music and inspiring people and I love to be inspired by people in return, but I always thought one day if our band does well I could use it as a platform to voice some ideas or to help people out. And I came to the realization that, you know what—why wait? If it’s not now, when is it gonna be that I’m gonna get off my butt and put my two cents in?”

Can altruism and selflessness find a place in the band’s interstellar sway? Considering that TOTS have already applied compelling philosophical rhetoric to the urbane bass-driven pulse of “I Wasn’t Ready,” the siren charge of “Lately,” and the acoustic/electric counterpoints of “Falling Into You,” the sky’s the limit. These may feel like despondent songs, but they subtly contort to somehow put a smile on your face.

“We always make jokes that the best songs Mike writes is when he’s depressed or feeling sorry for himself,” Andrew laughs. “I think that faith comes out of


Turn Off The Stars - September 2006
Everything is OK - March 2004