Following the release of their new album, Set Yourself On Fire, Stars have found enough success in both the United States and their native Canada to realize their ambitious name. The record features some of the warmest sounding songs ever to emerge from sub-zero temperatures, but that’s what the band has done best over the course of their three-album career. Singer/keyboardist Torquil Campbell answered a few questions about the band’s self-destructive mystique.
The L Magazine: Your album starts with the quote, “If there’s nothing left to burn, you have to set yourself on fire.” Can you discuss what about that specific quote you found inspiring? Did you want that idea to be a theme for the record?
Torquil Campbell: It’s something I had my dad say into the phone just as we were finishing mastering. I like the fact that often in hip-hop records, the artist will speak directly to the listener on the intro and sort of pull them into the world of the record, so we do something like that at the beginning of each of our records. I think setting yourself on fire is a metaphor for an attitude I’ve long espoused. It means two things: one, you should always reveal your weakness before someone reveals it for you, and two, in order to really affect anything, you have to burn, which is a renewing action but also a self-destructive one. I think the people in this band share that in common; we all know how to set ourselves on fire when necessary. The little kitchen-sink dramas we write focus on the moments in people’s lives when they decide to do something that will change everything for them, and I think in these moments they set themselves on fire.
The L: In ‘He Lied About Death’, you’re really tackling something political, which is new ground for you. Can you talk a little about that decision?
TC: I think we had a lot of rage inside us and wanted to express it. But I think, more to the point, we wanted to point out the relationship between what happens in the world of geopolitics and the way in which people behave towards each other every day. If you don’t recognize love as the single most powerful and crucial element in all of our lives, then how can you possibly talk about real social change or revolution? The songs are just as much an attack on Osama bin Laden as they are on George W. — they’re both the failed sons of oil barons using their so-called “religious awakening” to spread hatred and make money for their friends. They’re on the same side!
The L: What’s up with all the great music coming out of Canada lately? Are you excited to be part of the Canuck craze or do you feel a little typecast by it?
TC: Well, a good many of these bands are made up of people who I am very close to, so I’m very proud of all of them. And I do think that the best bands in the world at the moment are Canadian. We just had time when no one was paying attention to get good, that’s all. We didn’t just get a haircut and head straight to the cover of Spin magazine.
The L: Your other band, Memphis, recently played their first show here in NYC. What are the main differences between the two bands?
TC: Well, Memphis is me and my friend Chris Dumont, who lives in New York and is not a member of Stars. Plus, Memphis is a drug band, and Stars is a liquor band!
The L: How do you decide which songs go to which group?
TC: That’s easy, because they’re written with completely different people.
The L: Is it true you were on Sex and the City?
TC: Sadly, it is true…
The L: What was that like?
TC: Extremely boring and quite profitable. I met Alanis Morissette — very nice lady.
The L: How did that affect your view of New York and New Yorkers?
TC: It made me realize that if I remained in New York, I would spend my life doing bad television and occasionally being in a play that was good. But not enough to warrant kissing up to depressing network executives and second-rate Yale-ies who thought they could direct theater. The New Yorkers I know have nothing in common whatsoever with the characters on Sex and the City. I think they might live on the Upper East Side. Have you heard of the Upper East Side? I’ve never been there myself, but I’m told it exists…