Michael Jurin, 2006

 

Written by: Jason Perlman

 

Hey Michael, so how’s it going?
It is going great. We are in London right now getting ready to go in and have some Waggamama. If you have never been to London, it is this great fast food restaurant where you go through streaks where you don’t want to eat it anymore and then streaks where it is all you want, so that is where we decided to eat.

 

So, getting your fill before you head back to the states?
Exactly! We are like, do we really want to leave without at least one more hit of Waggamama.

 

So, the band stellastarr* has a short history, so to speak, but also not a typical history. Some members had a band, and then quit, then it resurfaced again. Has it surprised you at all about how quickly this band has been accepted and signed?
Yea, I mean, in the beginning it was everyone but me went to this school called Pratt Institute for the Arts, and they all knew each other and they had a band. But it was literally a band where they didn’t know how to play their instruments. They were just doing it for fun. I think they only had two or three gigs the entire time. It was completely different, to where Shawn (Christiansen) didn’t sing at all. It was just a totally different set-up. So I wouldn’t call what we have a continuation at all, I think it is an entirely different thing. I mean, I don’t think we ever played one thing they played at that time, probably because they couldn’t play their instruments at all at that time. So when I came around, they were preparing to play music again and Arthur (Kremer) had lived in my present apartment with my old roommate. So somehow the night before practice, we got to talking and I accidentally showed up and that is when we started doing stellastarr*.

The band really got noticed at the South By Southwest (SXSW) festival in Austin, TX. It was a small club during the day and Carson Daly heard about the band and showed up and booked you for his show. Were you surprised at how quickly success started to happen?
There is some point that you have to break out of your own little niche that you have created for yourself. When you start a band, you start out by playing some shows around town. You don’t have any money, so you don’t travel. You do what you can. That was one of the few out of town gigs that we got to do that had a lot of press around it. So (UK magazine) NME found us at SXSW and Carson Daly saw us and booked us on his show. It all blew up very quickly from that show, but honestly, I think that is a big step that any band will have to take. To find that one time where they are not just going to gig in their local bar, but rather try and get some press.

 

Obviously, you must have enjoyed the SXSW festival.
SXSW is great. It is much better than the New York one; I forget what that is called. But in New York, it is so spread out, and in Austin, where SXSW is, it is like almost everything is on one street. I mean places that don’t normally have music are having bands play. So, it’s not just bars and restaurants, but parking lots. People will set up a stage for bands to play. So it’s really fun because you can hop around from show to show and there are so many people there, it’s just a great time. It’s great, because there is a lot of industry people there, but half the time they can’t get into shows, because some shows you may need to wait two hours to get in. It’s first come first served, and kids are willing to stand and wait, so you cant show up right when the show starts and expect to get in.

 

Getting back to the point of at some point doing something big, stellastarr* has a very big sound to their music, especially the new record, Harmonies for the Haunted. It has that large, anthem-like British vibe. Was that something you had being from New York or was that picked up after being around British music?
I think we all kind of grew up on it, frankly. Because we never actually consciously decided to say, hey, let’s sound like this. We never said that at all, never discussed it, we just played. I think we just listened to that growing up, because there was just a lot of popular, good music coming our of Britain and Europe. The late ‘80s and early 90s were like that. Especially the early ‘90s, subtracting the American movement coming from Seattle, which was the shoe-gazer period. That’s when Manchester became huge, and all of that had a profound influence on the band because that was when we were finishing up what we were doing, whether it was high school or college.

 

I also read that at the time this band was forming, there were female vocalists trying out for the band. How conscious was it to try and find a female voice versus that was just who was trying out at the time?
It was more by default that it turned out that way, actually. The first day that I showed up, which was the first day the band was together, there was like a girl or two there trying out as singers and that was the thing. I mean, I didn’t know any of these people, I was just like, “Hey, what’s going on?” They were like, we are trying out girl singers, and I was like, cool. And that girl just didn’t blend as well as everyone else did. The few that were there that first day didn’t come back, and I think we tried out another girl that didn’t fit quite right. In the meantime, Shawn was playing songs and giving directions on how to sing different things, and after a while, we were like, why don’t we stop trying to show other people what you are doing and why don’t you just do it yourself. So, it was only for the first couple of rehearsals that we were considering getting a female singer. After that, it was just like let’s just keep it the four of us and keep it nice and neat. And to almost compensate, we came up with the idea of just throwing in tons of backing vocals. Because even then, there was no real thing like hey, this person is the singer, so Shawn started doing a lot more deep stuff and everyone else started doing a lot of backing vocals.

It has seemed to work out well. Did Shawn know he was able to sing in that style or was all that discovered along the way?
He definitely grew into it, because initially, he never really sang before. He could kind of sing, but it wasn’t like he had the tones. But he honed in and picked up on it pretty quickly, I think. Actually, the first two months we were together, we wrote quite a bit, and a couple of songs that made it to the first record were from then. A lot of the formations of the band happened very quickly, within the first two months, basically.

You are on your way back to Columbus; it wasn’t too long ago that you were here. I missed that show, and would assume there will be people seeing the band for the first time. What should someone expect from a live stellastarr* show? Is it trying to recreate the CD or just a crazy, live good time?
I really think we try to outdo our record and ourselves when we perform live. So it can get very manic and very loud with a ruckus, and we try to keep it as intense as possible, no matter what the pace of the song.

 

stellastarr* also has these great intros and musical interludes that don’t happen a lot with the American movement, probably because radio doesn’t want 30-40 seconds of just music.
Exactly.

How much does the band, when playing live, take liberty with these intros and interludes, versus just trying to stay true to the recording?
Well, we keep the structure generally the same, but we know there are parts that we can go longer on, but for the most part we try to recreate the album, at least the changes and pace of the album and where everything is, but done to a live format where we were able to jazz it up a bit. So, we are really taking the record and just trying to make is sound better with the live dimension.

 

Which is not an easy thing to do.
No, it’s not easy. But it is fun, I will tell you that.