Having always envisioned big — nay, huge — things for themselves, Stars went from being a breezy Belle & Sebastian-inspired quartet to a full-fledged five-piece colorfully playing outside the lines of formulaic indie rock. From their first serendipitous meeting and early recording sessions, through their short-lived rock star period and the strains of a morphing music industry, drummer Pat McGee continues his retelling of  the history of STARS, one record at a time.

So your grandest, most indulgent recording experience was with In Our Bedroom After the War (2007), then next came the Sad Robots EP the following year. What was your head space like going into that collection of songs.
Sad Robots was sort of a little challenge to ourselves. It was about, ‘Let’s not over think this or complicate it. Let’s just write some songs, record them over a couple a few days instead of a year and just see if we can make a good little record.’  And we did. It was the exact opposite of what we’d done the last time around with Bedroom. It doesn’t need to be a huge ordeal. It needs to be fun and easy.

It was Stars getting back to basics?
Yeah, exactly. It was another huge growing and learning experience. It was all of us together in a studio in Montreal, working together and helping one another out. It was fun.

Was your cover of The Pogues’ Fairytale of New York another exercise you laid out for yourselves?
Yeah, kind of. Christmas was coming and we thought it was a gorgeous song. Admittedly, we were underprepared to do it. It was an idea that was raised but we were all over the place at the time and only had one day in the studio to pull it off. A song like that is probably best being left alone but we had fun and just thought, ‘Why not? Let’s see what we can do with it with limited time and resources.’ It was good to pull out at our Christmas shows in Toronto that year.

So it seems like here is where another Stars LP should have come out, but you followed up your EP and single with another EP, Séance. Why was that?
(laughs) I wanted to call that the Ouij-EP. That came out of Five Ghosts. You know it’s so weird: You make a record now and people don’t just want the record. iTunes wants three bonus songs that are exclusive to them and somebody else will say, ‘Oh well there should be something extra to go along with the pre-order,’ and you do another three or four tracks for that…It’s ridiculous. You have to create all these special little bits and pieces, so we made extra songs and then sort of tagged them onto Five Ghosts. It ended up being a weird double record in the same way a bottle of Captain Morgan comes with that little extra bottle hanging off the side (laughs).

I remember that whole era in music retail starting with gifts with purchase that resembled what you might find in a cereal box: ‘Buy the record, and get a temporary tattoo!’ Then the ante was upped to keychains, then t-shirts, and then eventually, ‘’Get a bonus CD single’ or even ‘Get a ticket to an exclusive record release show!’ You’re right, it’s rare to offer a record on its own since then.

It gets pretty convoluted. I guess people are always struggling to figure out how to keep selling records and they think that people deserve bonus prizes, which is ridiculous. It’s not necessarily misguided, but we’re out there casting lines and struggling to figure out how to navigate trough the weird, choppy waters of the new record industry that nobody has any answers for, you know? This time though with [The North], I think we made it through perfectly (laughs).

How so?
Well, we produced this one with the help of a couple great friends of ours, Graham Lessard and Marcus Paquin. We played music together as a band and didn’t multi-track things. We sat in the room and hammered stuff out until it was done – bruises and all. And you know, it sounds like music to me. At the end, we didn’t put every single song we recorded on the record because nobody could handle something not making it on. We fought to get what we thought really deserved to be on there even though they weren’t even necessarily the best songs we had. We didn’t worry about extra songs and bonus EPs – we just made a record and put it out there. It was simple and totally satisfying.

Was the ‘more is more’ thinking behind Bedroom Demos?
I think we can chalk that up to content, content, content (laughs). You’ve got to keep feeding the machine, you know? If you disappear for too long, people forget about you, so we’re constantly looking for ways to keep that from happening. To maintain a presence you’re constantly going on tour and recording another record. Rush used to record two albums in a year and tour in between! It’s totally impressive; I can’t imagine how they did it. We were just looking for stuff we could put out there into the world and things that we could give to our fans. To be honest, I don’t even know that I’ve heard that record. I heard those songs so many times during recording I just don’t know that I could hear them one more time (laughs).

So Five Ghosts was released in June 2010 and then The North, wasn’t released until September of this year. Was that a sufficiently long break to make The North feel like a Stars comeback?
Yeah, definitely. We had a nice, long, much-needed break – and we had to. Coming off our tour for Five Ghosts, Amy was 8 months pregnant and ready to pop (laughs). We had to stop so she could have her baby and take care of her baby and we all went on Mat Leave, you know (laughs)?

What did you do with yourself during that time?
I took a long overdue break from music and Stars altogether. It was fantastic. I was at the end of my wits. We’d been at this for a long time and I think we all needed to re-assess what we wanted to do – and if we even wanted to do it anymore. We had to think about what was next.

Does Five Ghosts reflect that…fatigue?
Five Ghosts was a difficult record for us to make. We were all going through tough times individually and had to help each other through, and we made that record in the thick of all of it. I haven’t listened to it in a while but I think it’s good. It wasn’t overwhelmingly positively received by the music press but our fans still came to see us play it.

And now you’re back together with The North after a good chunk of time and space…
Yeah. We needed to figure out what we wanted to do and we came back together when all was said and done feeling ready to work. We didn’t know what was going to happen but we just wanted to be back together and have fun — and we did. We had a nice time (laughs) and we were all still getting along and enjoying the music. It was a new step forward.

This record feels a bit all over to me. Is that because everyone just had so many varied ideas about what they wanted to try once you were back together?
I think we just let our guard down, you know? We did whatever we wanted unlike the past when we’d be like, ‘Oh we can’t do this,’ or ‘We should do that.’ We just did whatever the hell we felt like — and yeah, we were trying out a bunch of different things. We recorded in a bunch of places — Torq’s parent’s cottage, a jam space, a beautiful studio in Montreal. I agree, it is a little all over the place — I don’t even know what genre it is anymore — but whenever I listen to that record I feel like there is a cohesiveness as far as a mood or a feeling; it’s apparent through the whole record and that’s what unifies it. There are a lot of weird, different styles and approaches going on to music but there’s something in there. Maybe it’s just my relationship to the process that makes me feel that way, but this feels and sounds like a record to me.

It sounds like you went through a period of playing along with how things “should” be done, so finally letting your guard down obviously comes with a maturity and self-assurance that you didn’t possess before. Does this new mindset also apply to your shows? Do you find you’re more relaxed playing this new stuff live?
Yeah. It’s really funny you say that because we’ve just be saying in the last few days actually that our new motto is: ‘I don’t care,’ (laughs) but in the best possible way. We go out and we have a great time every night, you know? I don’t care. I’m going to play my heart out and take chances and I don’t give a shit if I mess up a certain part or someone else misses a note somewhere. People aren’t here for perfection, they’re here for a good time, and we should be, too. It’s making this experience infinitely more tolerable and at this point in our career after doing this for so long, it’s a necessity. If we’re going to keep doing this, then we better be having fun, or else you become pretty crusty, pretty fast.


For a complete itinerary of Stars’ current tour, visit their official site, YouAreStars.com.

Stars Discography
A Lot of Little Lies for the Sake of One Big Truth (EP, 2001)
The Comeback
(EP, 2001)
Dead Child Stars
(EP, 2003)
Set Yourself On Fire
Do You Trust Your Friends?
(Remix LP, 2007)
In Our Bedroom After the War
Sad Robots
(EP, 2008)
Fairytale of New York
(Cover, 2009)
The Seance
(EP) (2010)
The Five Ghosts
The Bedroom Demos
The North

pixel Stars (pt 2): In the right time — and in their right space