From pesto to pop playlists

Canadian indie darling Stars has managed to maintain their unique brand of pop despite marriage, kids and cooking schedules

Stars’ 2010 release The Five Ghosts was released internationally by Vagrant Records, but in Canada it was released by the band’s own record label, Soft Revolution.
Stars’ 2010 release The Five Ghosts was released internationally by Vagrant Records, but in Canada it was released by the band’s own record label, Soft Revolution.
Credit: 
Supplied by Norman Wong

Delicately brooding and lovesick, Stars has become the moniker of Canadian indie music. The quintet knows how to avoid stagnation while maintaining a distinctively “Stars” sound, blending dramatic themes with sweet melodies.

The Montreal-based band is known locally for their intimate church shows, but next month they’ll be outdoors to headline the Wolfe Island Music Festival.

Though they aren’t newcomers, playing outside will present challenges that the band doesn’t usually deal with.

“We’ve been trying to play a good festival show for years,” Drummer Pat McGee said. “Festivals are tough because you sort of have to dive on stage. You’ve got to be ready and bring the energy really fast.” Though he’s “super psyched” to hear other acts at the festival and see the windmills, McGee said he’s more interested in island life.

“I like that feeling of going to a place that is sort of surrounded by a moat of some kind,” he said of the Lake Ontario waterfront. “I find that reassuring.” My conversation with McGee occurred just as he was finishing a batch of homemade pesto with basil from his Montreal garden.

“I’m the Monday chef,” McGee joked about cooking for his bandmates.

It’s no secret why the indie group hasn’t been pulled apart over the years, even as some members have married and had children. “We’re just friends … and I think that’s the reason we’re still together,” McGee said after recently returning from a weeklong trip to vocalist Torquill Campbell’s cottage with the rest of the ensemble.

It’s been a year since Stars returned to their electro-pop roots with their paranormal-inspired fifth album The Five Ghosts. McGee said Stars is trying to keep their sound simple and avoid the neuroticism of their early years.

“You can work on something forever in the pursuit of perfection, but imperfection is quite beautiful as well,” he said of the band’s evolving sound.

“To me [the latest release] felt like a transition record; something we had to do,” McGee said.

Tracks off the album like “I died so I could haunt you,” were first roused by Stars keyboardist Chris Seligam’s experiences with paranormal activity in Vancouver. “It’s a bridge to something we’re doing now,” McGee said, hinting that fans will see some new material in fall 2012.

Festival-goers on Wolfe Island can expect Stars to “bring the hits,” McGee hinted. He said songs like the 2005 smash hit “Your ex-lover is dead,” are guaranteed to make the set list.

“That’s the torch, that’s the anthem,” McGee said. “That’s what made people like Stars.” For McGee, Kingston still reminds him of Bloom, a local funk band from the 1990s that eventually disbanded. He always hears the old Kingston band’s songs in his head when he makes the trip up with Stars to play a show.

“It all comes back to a time when Kingston had a really amazing music scene,” he said. “From what I hear it has dwindled quite a bit.” Kingston does have the pleasure of importing acts like Stars, who have played in Kingston regularly over the past several years.


Stars play the main stage of Wolfe Island Music Festival on Aug. 6 at 10 p.m.

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