Since 1999, the Canadian indie-pop band Stars has refined a keen hook-driven sensibility, fusing it with lush electronic soundscapes and dark, biting lyrics that are in contrast to the group’s gorgeous melodies. Now the group is heading out on a North American trek through mid December. Pat McGee, who joined the group in time to record their 2004 breakout album, Set Yourself on Fire, is once again onboard.
While Stars’ most recent long-player was 2017’s There Is No Love in Fluorescent Light, McGee explains that the group maintains a busy writing schedule between tours. “It’s been sort of start and stop,” he says. “We’ll do little hits and then take some time, and in those breaks we tend to record. I don’t know how far we’re getting away from the [typical] album model, but it seems like when we get a month or two, we try to bang out a couple songs and release them [individually]. It seems like the most effective way to keep our head in the game.” Since the release of There Is No Love…, the band has put out the singles “One Day Left” and “Ship to Shore.”
Live, McGee incorporates samples and plays to backing tracks to recreate the band’s seamless blend of acoustic and programmed drum parts. “That’s an element of the band that was very important to Torquil [Campbell, vocals] and Chris [Seligman, keyboards], even before I joined,” he says. “Their influences are very much steeped in electronic pop like New Order, Pet Shop Boys, Saint Etienne—that kind of thing. And I was into drum ’n’ bass, hip-hop, and hyper-rhythmic electronic music, like Aphex Twin and Venetian Snares. I’m no Jojo Mayer, but [those artists] are definitely an influence on what I do. Live, I play a Roland SPD-SX sample pad, and it’s a workhorse. Programmed drums have a certain feel to them, and I’ll always be interested in trying to replicate that feel live by using samples and triggers. But sometimes it doesn’t work, so we also run tracks with Ableton Live. Occasionally we’ll run a beat and I’ll play on top of that, which I was sort of opposed to for a while. But now I think it creates an interesting sonic palette and groove that’s maybe more appropriate for the show.”
While McGee explains that playing along to a click adds a level of comfort for him onstage, it also provides an unexpected benefit for the rest of the band. “We used to have tempo wars back in the day when we were winging it,” he says. “There used to be battles depending on how many beers we had or whatever state of mind people were in. Once we got on the click, people said, ‘It’s too fast.’ And I was like, ‘Talk to the boss, man. That’s what we decided, and there it is.’ So it ended a lot of arguments.”
Nearly two decades into his tenure with Stars, McGee reflects on one of the factors that keeps them going. “I believe fundamentally,” he says, “that the thing that’s kept us together is that we split any spoils that we get from this evenly, six ways to the bank no matter what. However much anybody contributes to one song or another, everybody gets the same amount. I think that the number-one thing that breaks up bands is if someone’s making more than someone else, or someone feels like they’re contributing more than someone else. That inspires us to take part in everything. But you also realize that you don’t have to take part in everything to still be an equal member. And I think diplomatically and democratically, that’s really what has kept those super nasty fights out of our band.”
Patrick McGee plays C&C drums and Istanbul Mehmet cymbals.
Also on the Road
Greg Morrow with Bob Seger & the Silver Bullet Band /// Jeff Plate and Blas Elias with Trans-Siberian Orchestra /// Alan Cassidy with the Black Dahlia Murder /// Giuseppe Capolupo with the Devil Wears Prada /// Brandon Saller with Atreyu /// Nathan Price with Broncho /// Pablo Viveros with Chelsea Grin /// Ernie Iniguez with Whitechapel