The very first time that I listened to Stars’ music I was 13 — my best friend showed me their song called “Calendar Girl,” from Stars’ Juno-nominated album Set Yourself On Fire. “If I am lost for a day, try to find me. But if I don’t come back, then I won’t look behind me…” Within seconds, I fell hard for Amy Millan’s soothing, husky voice.
Stars write the kind of music that makes your heart hurt a little as you reminisce about your past, then helps you heal and makes you want to dance. From Set Yourself On Fire, In Our Bedroom After The War, The Five Ghosts, and The North to their most recent album, No One Is Lost, the band has grown a lot in the last decade. I had the chance to talk to Montreal-based band’s drummer Pat McGee about the their latest tour and his creative process as a musician.
Hey Rosetta is the opening band for your tour this year. How’s playing with them?
Pat: I think we’re a great pairing for this and we both got new records out recently. I love those guys. We toured with them and did a bunch of shows with them years ago — they’re from Newfoundland and they’re the sweetest people.
Where did you guys record your new album No One Is Lost?
Pat: We have a rehearsal space right above The Royal Phoenix: a bar located in the Mile-End. Their concept was to have a bar that opens to all kind of communities and sexualities. It was fun and we made great friends with the people who worked there. It was always great to go down there for drinks.
What was it like making music in the bedroom back when Stars first started?
Pat: We didn’t have any money back then and that was basically what you had to do. We cracked a computer in 1999 with a couple of microphones and started recording on our computer; that’s what everybody does when they don’t have money. When you do make a bit of money, you take it and put it back into the business. You buy some more gear and rent the studio for recording. This time around we decided that going to a giant studio would be too expensive and it would be a better investment to spend the money on getting some new gear since we already have a space.
You joined Stars in 2000, a bit after the band was formed. Can you tell me a bit more about it?
Pat: They had just moved from New York to Montreal. I was playing in a bunch of different bands at the time and our mutual friend introduced us. Torquil, Amy, Evan and Chris were looking for a drummer so I just went out for an audition or whatever. During our first meeting, Amy and I realized that we all grew up in Toronto and we have the exact same best friends, but somehow we had never met. It was amazing. I left Toronto when I was 18 and it was super weird with all these great friends in common. I basically just came out to join the band and it just seemed to fit!
Were you always a musician before you joined Stars?
Pat: I’ve been playing drums my whole life. I studied music at McGill and I just stuck around after […] Let me tell you, graduating from school is the best thing that happened to me. Every April I celebrate that I don’t have to do exams [laughs].
What’s your approach of songwriting as a drummer in the band?
Pat: The way it usually works is that Evan, Chris and I get together in our rehearsal space and we just jam. It sounds hilarious but that’s what we do. We try different stuff out and we get a bunch of different ideas. Torquil and Amy then come in and give suggestions and they’ll start writing lyrics. Our music is inspired by the lyrics they have already written. […] I’ve been listening to pop music my whole life and what I love about it is the instruments in a lot of pop music aren’t very complicated but they provide a lot of feelings. As you said, the drumbeats don’t overtake the vocals — it enhances the vocals. We just come up with different musical ideas once the vocal is in; it’s amazing how much a vocal line can influence the music.
What influences you as a musician? Are there any musicians that inspire you?
Pat: That’s a huge question! I’ve been listening to music as long as I’ve lived; music is so consistent in my life. A lot of my friends are musicians and they inspire me quite a bit. […] I also have a lot of vinyl records that I’ve been buying for my whole life. I do a lot of traveling and one of my favourite things to do is to go to record stores around the world. It’s just interesting to see that wherever you go regionally there is always something different in different stores. It’s fun to just go in and buy something that I’ve never seen before. That’s what usually inspires me.
Indie pop and indie folk saw their mainstream success by the end of 2000s, but it seems like they eventually became saturated with mimics. Where do you think indie music will go from here?
Pat: It’s interesting because a few years ago indie rock was getting quite intellectual, but then it became very singer-and-song-writer-y and stuff. I have no idea where this is going though, since it seems everyone is all over the place these days. People can’t really focus on one thing and it’s almost impossible for anyone to keep up. Just coming back from Europe, we heard about Sam Smith and his music. This guy is massive and [meanwhile] there’s FKA Twigs doing really haunting, minimalist R&B. There’s also The Weeknd. We always come back playing music and it’s like 1992 all over again.
That’s what I like about Stars though. Your music has definitely matured but still keeps your style throughout the years.
Pat: It’s hard to be something you’re not, and we’ve been Stars for so long. We always try to do things a bit differently.
What are some of your favourite places in Montreal?
Pat: It’s hard to say because when I’m back in town I love staying at home. Restaurant-wise, I love Bethlehem XXX in Little Italy. It’s run by this guy called Beaver. He plays in a band called Country and he’s been a character in the scene for years. He’s a really classic dude and the food is amazing there. When Royal Pheonix was still running (the bar just closed recently) that was fun too while it lasted.