STARS began blazing their trail at the dawn of our new millennium. Ignited by Toronto foursome Torquil Campbell, Chris Seligman, Evan Cranley and Amy Millan in 1999 and completed by Pat McGee shortly after a move to Montreal, the sparkling indie act have spawned exactly six LPs, four EPs and a smattering of singles and “special” releases including 2007’s remix collection, Do You Trust Your Friends? and 2011’s The Bedroom Demos.

Gathering steady momentum thanks to rave reviews, artful videos and both Juno and Polaris noms, Stars now enjoy supernova status, illuminating international audiences via late night television performances (Conan, Jimmy Fallon) and world tours — much like the one they’re in the middle of right now.

With a few hours to show time, from the “sanctity” of his Victoria, British Columbia dressing room, gracious and amiable drummer, Pat McGee, takes me back to the start to recall his first, serendipitous meeting with Amy, the band’s early recording sessions, and what it’s like to burn bright in the glowing cosmos that is Stars.

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You joined Stars during Heart (2003), is that right?
I played a little bit on that record but I was also playing with three other bands at the time, too. When I did that recording I was technically there, but I wasn’t (laughs) prepared to commit. It wasn’t really until Set Yourself On Fire that I said, ‘Alright, I’m in.’

What made you decide you could be a full time member of STARS?
It was funny because I heard about them through a mutual friend. I’d been living in Montreal for about 10 years before they showed up and he was like ‘Oh, I love these guys; they’re into The Smiths and New Order,’ and that got me curious because I had loved The Smiths for years. They had this sort of an electronic element to them, though, and  that wasn’t really what I was into – kind of  Aphex Twin and Saint Etienne. Anyways, I met with them because I was just so into playing. I was just out of music school and all I wanted was to play as much as I could with anyone (laughs).

Was the connection immediate?
I remember walking in and Amy was there. We talked for just a couple minutes then realized – we all grew up in Toronto – that we both had the exact same best friends even though we’d never met before. It was so strange (laughs). It made for a pretty instant connection.

What kind of band were they? What was their mindset?
They were a band that had a lot of confidence in themselves and that was pretty impressive. I hadn’t played with a lot of bands but still, I’d hadn’t met a band that weren’t big but thought that they were huge (laughs). They were very driven and there was something about that that intrigued me. That’s also what pushed us to keep working.

So you signed the contract going into the Set Yourself On Fire LP, and that of course marks where STARS moved from Paper Bag Records to Arts & Crafts.
Correct.

A new, full time member, a new label, a new record…That’s a lot of change.
It was. A gigantic change. Stars all of a sudden went from a soft, electronic-pop band to a guitar and drum-driven rock band. The energy really shifted. Arts & Crafts was essentially born through Stars and Broken Social Scene and Feist and it was basically just a group of friends all saying, ‘Let’s just do this ourselves.’ Again, all of these people had a lot of confidence in themselves and a lot of faith in what they were doing. There was money behind this record — or maybe there wasn’t, I don’t even really know (laughs) – and everyone was working together as a band, writing and in the studio. It was a huge learning experience fore me.

So from a atmosphere fueled by drive and determination and community, Stars then moved on to orchestrate a remix album, Do You Trust Your Friends? That’s quite a shift in gears, no?
Well the great thing about a remix album is that you don’t have to do anything because you get everyone else to do the work for you (laughs). I thought it was a pretty cool idea because it was actually more than a remix album – it was a reinterpretations album.

And the end result?
The record was good. It was all of our friends – they weren’t just  associates or whatever – and the people that we hung out with that were in bands. We just thought, ‘Let’s see if we can get these guys to have any interest in playing this music and let’s see what they come up with (laughs). That’s why it’s called, Do You Trust Your Friends?, because it was like, what are they going to do to this music, you know (laughs)? It was an experiment purely for fun and to see what would happen.

If they did all the work, can we say that period was a break for you guys then?
Oh no, there was no break there whatsoever. The idea for the record was ours and certainly, there was some coordination there, but what kept us so busy was touring. We toured for two years after Set Yourself on Fire. It was pretty incessant. There was no break to think about much else but that.

Released later that same year, after Do You Trust Your Friends?, was In Our Bedroom After the War. That was the first album where I really caught on to Stars. In all honesty – I will admit to this – I was attracted to it based on the album title alone.
(laughs) George does have a knack.

(laughs) Clearly. So tell me, what was going on with you guys during this time?
Man, that was an interesting time, too. Set Yourself on Fire didn’t blow up into this huge thing — it was a very slow burn — but it did ultimately propel us into another echelon. It was very well received in the end. We were feeling pretty confident but also pretty exhausted. We were all in Montreal but Torq had moved to Vancouver and he was like, ‘Look, I’m sick of coming to Montreal all the time to do stuff. My family is here in Vancouver and I want to do something here in my hometown.’ That was fair, you know? We started looking for a studio out there and Evan and Chris both wanted to go big and fancy with elaborate production and a producer — we had always produced all our records ourselves — and there were a lot of lofty ideas (laughs). It’s just the next step in rock chronology: You make your successful indie record and then — boom! — you go into the big leagues and make your huge, over-produced rock record (laughs).

Tell me about the recording process.
We ended up at The Warehouse which was beautiful, and we were lined up with a producer who I think had produced…Phoenix? He was an awesome dude, but he had to pull out at the last minute and that was quite disappointing. He ended up sending us a protégé who was really just an engineer. So we were in this huge studio not really knowing what we were doing and producing our own record all over again. In a way it was fine, but it definitely wasn’t easy. The great thing about having a producer is that you’re never in the position of having to tell your friends and compatriots you don’t like something – you have someone else to do that dirty work for you (laughs).

Did that create some tense times?
Being critical of your peers is difficult…but we had to do it and we went through it. It was just such a long, long process. We demoed forever. We’d demo in the studio then we’d re-demo all over again. We’d record and then we’d go back and re-record what we’d recorded. It just became an epic record on all levels. The ideas were big and the process was long –  even the title was long, you know? (laughs) It was a big step for us and I think we had to get that out of our system. Also, we needed that space. We’d spent so much time together in close quarters leading up to that record, so we needed that big studio with lots of space.

Who even records like that anymore anyway?
Nobody I don’t think, unless you’re maybe AC/DC? Nobody has that kind of budget. I mean, we’d found ourselves with some money for the first time – not a lot but more than there had been before – and we just went and blew it all (laughs).

Sounds totally rock star (laughs).
It was the end of an era in a way. I mean, we’re never going to be in a situation to do that again — and why would we? But yeah…It was a pretty cool experience.

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Next Friday, Patrick reflects on the more recent works in Stars’ discography (including current LP, The North) and admits to spells of tentative, unstudied navigation on the industry’s perpetually “choppy waters.”

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

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Stars Discography
A Lot of Little Lies for the Sake of One Big Truth (EP, 2001)
Nightsongs
(2001)
The Comeback
(EP, 2001)
Dead Child Stars
(EP, 2003)
Heart
(2003)
Set Yourself On Fire
(2004)
Do You Trust Your Friends?
(Remix LP, 2007)
In Our Bedroom After the War
(2007)
Sad Robots
(EP, 2008)
Fairytale of New York
(Cover, 2009)
The Seance
(EP) (2010)
The Five Ghosts
(2010)
The Bedroom Demos
(2011)
The North
(2012)

pixel Stars (pt 1): The blazing, ascensional trajectory of a stellar indie band