GrandLife Interviews: Starred
If you haven’t heard of the band STARRED, you’re not alone – it was only last summer that Pitchfork picked up on their underground hit “No Good”, and it wasn’t until just a few days ago that their fantastic EP Prison To Prison hit the review circuit – but mark our words, you’ll be hearing a lot more from them soon.
GrandLife: When you first came together as a band were there certain influences that you had in common or that you had discussed before you started making music together?
Liza Thorn: That’s not really how we work. We didn’t sit and talk about it. I had a bunch of songs that I had written, mostly on guitar and Matt had some pieces of songs that he had written, but we didn’t really communicate. It was more like, “this is what it sounds like, and we think this sounds pretty damn good”. We were just recording in an apartment in LA.
Matt Koshak: There was never any like, aesthetic discussion.
LT: We are both really strong people and what you see is what you get with me, it’s not like I sit and think about it, really.
MK: The best way I can put it is that there wasn’t really any planning but it did come together. We have our own individual influences for sure, in her songwriting and in my production, very much so, but it’s not any one thing in particular, it’s broader than that. There was no conversation as to where things were headed.
GL: How does it work as far as who is coming up with the lyrics and the chords?
LT: It works differently from song to song. A lot of times I will write songs by myself on guitar because it’s such a personal thing. You’re just physically doing it by yourself in a room, whereas writing with someone can be different. I’ve been in situations trying to write songs with other songwriters and it just doesn’t really work out. You can’t compromise. I have a hard time compromising on everything. We argue all the time.
MK: …and that drives the creative process.
LT: I’ll show him a new song I wrote with just guitar and vocals and he’ll pick up on something in there and we’ll start recording it. We’re both really into minimalism. I don’t like a lot going on in our songs. If you take a song like “Call From Paris”, it’s just a vocal, acoustic guitar and an electric EBow.
MK: I’m heavily influenced by ambient music; it’s easily my biggest draw from every instance of it, including modern classical stuff to soundscapes to field recordings. I try to always come from that place, but with this project, I always set limitations in advance as far as things like the number of tracks to the arrangement.
LT: Having a limited palette pushes you. If you have every option in the world, it’s like, what are you going to fucking do? You’re going to make a record like the one Lou Reed and Metallica made. How did they even write songs? It’s like at this point they are going bear hunting in a helicopter and they can do anything they want and that’s the sort of music it sounds like. I, by the way, really like that record. Or the Guns N’ Roses Chinese Democracy record, which is also really amazing, but that’s not what we did, that’s not our trip. We don’t have that much money.
MK: Setting limitations forces you to confront things as far as arrangement and song crafting is concerned. It turns things into a lean process. It makes you focus way more on what’s important rather than adding a bunch of bells and whistles. People talk about the traps of digital recording and I know people that are thoroughly meticulous and just sit and try thousands of reverbs- that’s just not how we work. It’s a very immediate process and commitments and decisions are made quickly. It’s a classic style of working that comes back to my appreciation of the recording process. I happen to like records that were made on limited track counts from a certain time-period. It’s about forcing limitations on yourself and making the best of what you have as opposed to splattering a canvas with every color in the palette.
GL: The photographs that you did with Hedi Slimane were beautiful. How did you end up meeting him?
LT: He shot us for V Magazine and then he had an art show coming up at LACMA. I ended up going to the studio and shooting more photos for that show. He’s a really genuine, cool, generous, sweet person, who’s really creative and really talented.
MK: He also asked to use “Call From Paris” for the YSL website. We saw it as a collaboration because we knew the website would be unique.
LT: I trust him just like any other person that I choose to work with. I get a lot of weird offers. I’m sure most girls in bands do. You get people hitting you up to do different things and it usually doesn’t feel organic. The whole modeling and fashion thing is not something that I’m too interested in. I’d rather be doing anything else than that, but the relationship with Hedi has been great he’s really sweet and he’s just really generous. He flew me out to Paris to go to the show and I loved the collection. He’s been really supportive.
GL: So what do you guys like about living in New York City?
MK: Everything (laughing). Each time I see the skyline when I’m on the BQE, it’s one of the greatest fucking feelings. Each time I’m leaving I take that last look of it and I’m praying that I’ll be coming back to see it again soon. As much as I do believe that it’s seriously locked down, it’s the most amazing place on the planet. I feel like it’s the center of the universe and I’m really not drawn to anywhere else but here. I’ve been everywhere around this world and this is the only place that I feel comfortable.
LT: I don’t really care where I live. I feel like people talk about it so much, which city they live in. It’s like talking about the weather. I appreciate that people like their city so much. I’m glad that Matt likes it here, and I like it here too…I don’t know, maybe I’m coming off like an asshole. I think everyone should just move to Detroit and buy up the city. It’d be like NY in the 70’s.
GL: Can you talk a bit about the country influence in your sound? When I’ve been with people who are hearing your music for the first time it’s often something they notice right away.
LT: Most of my favorite songwriters would be under the category of country music like Merle Haggard and Roy Orbison. Although he’s more rockabilly than country…we’re not rockabilly.
MK: I’m from Colorado, where the prairie meets the mountain and that’s something I’ve never fought, but embraced more and more as I grew older. With country music, that line becomes so gray whether you’re listening to Lucero or Bob Wills. Country is such a massive breadth of genre and it’s truly an American art form, whether it’s Aaron Copeland or Toby Keith, it is just as much a part of America as Jazz.
LT: I also just love the pedal steel as an instrument. Listening to the sound of pedal steel is for me, the most emotional thing. It’s the sound of someone’s heart breaking.
MK: Just having a pedal steel player in the band doesn’t necessitate that you’re a country band, but as Americans, we think country when we hear that. It’s part of growing up here and country music is very much tied to who I am as an American.
LT: Modern country is trash, but I kind of like it.
MK: There was a period of time where my dad was going through a mid-life crisis, he had just gotten divorced, and he started to listen to country music, so if a pop country song comes on, I know every word of it. Sammy Kershaw, fucking, Dwight Yoakam. I’m really thankful that happened to me at such a young age because it was a huge influence on me, and if country music is the first thing that people think when they hear our music, I couldn’t be happier about that. I wear it with pride and I do tend to gravitate more towards the Lucero aspects of modern country. I’ll always love Drive-By Truckers and Jason Isbell and that kind of stuff, but at the same time, I do love Bob Wills and I do love Hank-fucking-Williams…he is a god to me and I think most people that are making anything worth it’s salt will recognize those points.
GL: Is there a difference in creating music in Los Angeles vs. New York? In your music videos done with Grant Singer, there’s a strong aesthetic of the West with shots of Los Angeles and the desert.
LT: That’s where we were living at the time so that’s where it was filmed. Our next video is for a song about Damien Echols and the whole video is just footage of him on Court TV in the 90’s, but if we do a video now it’s going to be more New York because we live in New York, we moved here. But I’m from California, I was born and raised in California, my voice has a California accent and California is a big part of who I am. There were a lot of reason and factors that we moved out here, one being that I lost my driver’s license. Not being able to drive in LA without worrying about getting pulled over and going to jail, that’s not good.
MK: I also wanted to move to NY, I had spent enough time in California.
LT: Matt wanted to move to NY and we had a studio out here that we could use, which is a huge deal. For us to be able to have a studio at our disposal that we can record at… I mean, we were doing everything in a bedroom.
MK: It was a huge step up for us. The first EP was done almost entirely in our apartment.
LT: I do love LA and I miss LA but I don’t really care where I live, it’s beside the point. The first thing is my art. It’s irrelevant where I live because I have friends in both cities. It’s not too much of a stretch moving to New York from LA. I try not to think about it too much.
GL: Going back to your sound, a lot of people compare you to Mazzy Star. Do you agree with that comparison?
LT: You know I’ve never really listened to Mazzy Star. I know that one song, her hit. I think it also has something to do with the fact that our name is Starred. I don’t think we sound like Mazzy Star.
MK: I think it’s trendy to say that bands sound like Mazzy Star and I think it’s lazy journalism. About two years ago a lot of female bands started using spring reverbs heavily on their vocals and all of a sudden this Mazzy Star reverence became a hip thing to write about in journalism. Next thing you know, the band’s getting a phone call and Hope Sandoval isn’t in Hope Sandoval and the Warm Inventions anymore and Mazzy Star’s getting offered, you know, whatever they got offered to play Coachella. It’s because they had a single and it’s a great song. When we first started getting compared to the Paisley Underground scene, I’d never even heard Rain Parade before but I listened to it and I can see comparison, but the Mazzy Star shit always escaped me.
LT: I listen to a lot of Neil Young. I think back to when I had the car in LA. I had a lot of cassettes and I would pop the cassette in and listen to Neil Young’s Harvest Moon and On the Beach. A lot of Grateful Dead, Leonard Cohen, the Velvet Underground. I identify more with men in bands than women. Mazzy Star’s voice is very different than my voice. It’s a beautiful voice, but I don’t think we are very similar.
GL: When I listened to “Cemetery”, I was reminded of the Smashing Pumpkins song, “Thirty-Three” off Melon Collie and the Infinite Sadness.
MK: I’ll take that. I remember that album. “1979” is an amazing song.
LT: The Smashing Pumpkins are amazing.
GL: Do you feel that a lot of press around the band, for example the Pitchfork review, is trying to create really specific context, and that maybe that is happening to Starred sooner than a lot of other bands?
MK: Yea, they are definitely trying to scramble to describe our situation.
LT: That’s music journalism and I don’t respect music journalism, in general. My favorite music journalists are Greil Marcus and Lester Bangs, and they tore the genre apart. It was more an expression of Rock ‘N’ Roll and creative writing, so I wouldn’t even call it music journalism. To me, music journalism has become a dirty, gross thing.
GL: Where did the EP title, Prison To Prison come from?
LT: I had that phrase stuck in my head because I was moving around a lot in LA. I felt like I was in a prison cell in one particular living situation and I realized that it doesn’t matter where you’re living. It’s a state of mind. You’re either free or you feel like you’re in jail. I generally don’t ever feel free.
GL: Well, that’s a huge theme in country music, the idea of freedom.
MK: Exactly, and that connection is definitely there whether it’s conscious or not.
LT: I didn’t even think about that, but yeah, it’s true.
MK: That’s where a lot of the idea of prison, in one sense, comes from. You move to New York and you get on the train and it’s like, ‘by the way we can search your bags, have a great day. We’re watching you’. Don’t kid yourselves, New York is a giant fucking jail cell.
LT: I feel like this is Disneyland. I’m in an amusement park when I’m in NY, it’s like nothing can happen to you, it’s so safe and controlled.
Starred’s album ‘Prison to Prison’ is available for purchase from Pendu Sounds