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Thursday, April 17, 2014

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Montreal band Stars embarks on arena tour

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From left, Chris Seligman, Amy Millan, Torquil Campbell, Pat McGee, Evan Cranley. [Norman Wong photo]

The music and lyrics on Montreal band Stars’ latest album, The North, is inspired by their childhood growing up in Canada, says Chris Seligman, keyboardist and founding member of the band.

“The nature aspect of the north, the architecture of the ’80s, and the landscapes slowly induced into this visual and also this feeling of actually growing up in the north,” says the Toronto-born musician.

The album looks toward the future at how the land in Canada is treated, and how that will affect the landscape, he adds. “It’s a little scary to think things will change, but it’s looking like 200 to 300 years from now, the north will look very different.”

In a sense, the album sends a political message, looking at how the country has become so politically conservative, he says.

“We’re just living in the present and trying to take what we need now as opposed to looking into the future and seeing what we’ll need, and stepping back and doing things now for the future,” he says. “This idea of being kind and treating humans and nature with kindness is what we’d like to see happen.”

He says he sometimes feels powerless against the politicians who make policies that ignore the future, yet a song can change the way people think and shape their lives so they’re not completely powerless.

“In a dream world, I could get back at you through a song,” he says. That’s the idea behind one new track, A Song Is a Weapon, which he calls a parting shot to Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

Many of the new songs sport a clear ’80s influence, which Seligman says has always been a part of the songs, though that has not always been a conscious decision.

“I feel like the more we [write], the more it kind of happens organically. It’s less about thought and more about just what’s coming out of your soul,” he says.

The division of work hasn’t changed since the band’s first release 13 years ago. It all started when Seligman moved into childhood friend and Stars’ vocalist Torquil Campbell’s apartment in New York City, where he would write music while Campbell was out performing.

“He would leave and I would sit there and play around with stuff for hours,” Seligman says. “He would come in and write on top of that.”

The band still uses that writing process on the newest album, though the group also consists of three more musicians: vocalist Amy Millan, guitarist Evan Cranley and drummer Pat McGee.

Generally, they would piece their songs together over several months, Seligman says. But this time, they decided to create just a skeleton for a song before they went into the studio to record it. Throughout one day, they would record it over and over, writing the song as they went.

“We felt like capturing that energy would be a new musical moment for us,” he says. The meat of the song would be completed by the end of the day, though they might retouch some parts or add more elements to the music.

Seligman says it was the most fun he’s had making an album.

“Maybe it’s just maturing a bit more and not worrying about things as much,” he says, adding that he’s been trying to apply that to all aspects of his life.

Seligman recently celebrated his 40th birthday while on tour in the United States.

“I was a little bit worried going into it just because I was turning 40 and I was having a midlife crisis – I probably still am,” he says.

But getting older has helped him become more at ease and less hard on himself, he says.

“I had a blast on my birthday. I was with my family. Stars are my best friends,” he says.

This tour, they’re joined by a new member of the Stars family: singer Millan and guitarist Cranley’s toddler, Delphine. Seligman says it’s amazing to be around the child, who was born March of last year, watching her learn to walk and talk. “You see her slowly growing up and turning into a little human,” he says.

The baby was born while the band was making the new album.

“It was obviously a very amazing thing to happen to one’s life,” he says, adding that it affected everyone in the band. One of the new songs, Lights Changing Colour, which he calls the most personal track, was written as a message to an older Delphine.

“The song is kind of about the process of having a child and also imagining her growing up and looking at it 15 years down the road,” he says.

After five weeks of touring in the United States, they’ve returned to Canada for a cross-country arena tour with Grammy-nominated Toronto indie band Metric. Stars has worked with Metric in the past – for example, a couple of songs on their early albums feature Metric frontwoman Emily Haines.

“They’re my best friends, and we’re [having] the time of our lives,” Seligman says, adding that this is Stars’ first arena tour. “We might not get to do this ever again. Let’s just enjoy the moment and go on tour with some of our closest friends and see what happens.”

He says performing in an arena is an interesting learning experience. You have to expect that it’s not going to sound the same as it does in a small club.

“You’re kind of overwhelmed by the largeness of it, the epicness of it, and you have to fill the room with your energy,” he says, adding that it’s a fantastic learning experience. “We’ll come away from this having learned a lot and become better performers.”

For more information, visit www.youarestars.com.

The band will perform in Montreal at the Bell Centre on Nov. 21 and at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto on Nov. 24.

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