Bringing it back to The North

Stars front woman Amy Millan discusses new record and the group’s matured sound

  • Yeah, Stars were just at the MTS Centre earlier this year, but you should see them do a full set at the more intimate Garrick on Wednesday, March 27. – Norman Wong

It’s tough to leave Stars out of any discussion concerning Canadian music.

The indie pop group, with accolades that include two Juno Award nominations and strong international rock credibility, released their seventh album, The North, to critical acclaim last September.

Best known for their breakthrough 2003 release Set Yourself on Fire, Stars have dazzled fans with a New Wave synth-pop sound reminiscent of the Smiths and New Order, while enticing listeners with songwriting that is at once charming yet deeply personal.

Now, the band has matured - both in age and sonic prowess.

After a tumultuous recording process punctuated the completion of their sixth record The Five Ghosts, Stars have rebounded to lead a cross-Canada tour in support of this latest record.

“After The Five Ghosts, it was a hard time,” recalls vocalist/guitarist Amy Millan over the phone from Montreal. “We lost (front man) Torquil Campbell’s dad who was really close with many of us ... but as time went by we felt better and had kids and were surrounded by joy.”

In keeping with Stars’ digital-friendly attitudes, The North’s first single, The Theory of Relativity, was released online prior to the full-length LP.

However, what followed was the group’s most shining achievement in years.

“It’s a product of getting older,” says Millan. “And our focus is still to write the best pop songs we can. We’re addicted to hooks, melodies and the juxtaposition of ugly lyrics with a sweet sound and how those two come together to create something with full depth you can connect to as a human being in life.”

Stars’ music is often emotional; its lyrics tied to the vicissitudes of adolescence and early adulthood, while instrumentation is lush and immaculately produced.

Speaking on The North, Millan describes it as a “hopeful record that reflects what’s going on in our own lives ... (but) we’re still trying to tell stories - other people’s stories.”

This optimistic approach is exemplified by the album’s cover art, an image of Habitat 67, a Montreal housing complex designed by Israeli-Canadian architect Moshe Safdie.

“It’s becoming a lost art,” laments Millan of putting out a record with inventive album art. “We’re a product of the days of vinyl and showing the building reflects a different time - a time of hope.

“Not that I feel very nostalgic about it ... it’s contemporary. It’s a different way of telling a story and listening to music.”

Ahead of Stars’ stop in Winnipeg, Millan and the group are happy to (literally) return to the north and enjoy their time at home. Even now, with kids in tow.

Published in Volume 67, Number 24 of The Uniter (March 21, 2013)

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