Stars’ Torquil Campbell on Music, Patriotism, and Embracing His Wonder Years
Sad Robot, the latest EP from Stars, will probably be the focus of the band’s performance at UCSB this Friday evening. And with fun, soft new beats, a nostalgic message, and a collection of delightful melodies, the title of their new release might seem somewhat inappropriate. Rest assured, however, that the band stumbled upon this melodramatic, illustrative concept by way of their drummer, Pat McGee. With it, and a little inspiration from adolescent heroes The Smiths, the band eventually came to build their entire album around it.
Torquil Campbell, lead singer of Stars, credited McGee when asked about the concept behind Sad Robot. “We got our drummer an electronic drum set to play live. Pat said he wanted to play like a sad robot. So it’s not that overly complicated of a concept,” he continued. “We kind of built it around the phrase and it branched from that. We like to start with small, simple ideas and go for something larger and [more] emotionally complex.”
Emotional complexity is definitely a key element of this album, which focuses on the dramas of adolescent life and what it feels like to be intimately connected to things-music especially-during these formative and foundation-making years. The track “Fourteen Forever” focuses on this idea, something Campbell’s favorite group, The Smiths, wrote about in their song “Rubber Ring.” “I wanted to write a song about us-the musicians-getting into our thirties, but our listeners, the kids, staying the same age. Pop music is about capturing that moment. [“Fourteen Forever”] is a plea to listeners not to forget us, even though their lives move on. We’re part of that moment and are still here, so there’s this agreement we’re all going to make to celebrate life in a pop song. It’s a powerful art form, but also a sad one because pop music stays in that moment and people, well, we don’t. We may want to, but we don’t,” Campbell concluded.
Stars is made up of a bunch of friends who met at this “fourteen forever” time in their lives, and a few of them were even younger. “Me and [keyboardist] Chris [Seligman] made the band ourselves. I’ve known Chris since we were eight years old and played baseball together. We were school chums, but we all grew up in the same neighborhood. We’re a group of people who knew each other as children, and we hang on to that time of life when we hung out. We try to stay in that moment together, having fun,” Campbell explained.
And though he grew up, more or less, with the other members of his band, Campbell spent a considerable amount of time in England during his youth, as well as in the United States. “My mum is American,” Campbell clarified, “and I lived in America for eight years. I’m American, but I was born in England. And I lived there until I was eight, and then Canada until I was 19, before I moved to America.” Having played out these three trimesters of life in different geographical locations, Campbell doesn’t feel sentimentally particular to either country. “I feel like a sum of all those parts, and they have the same ethic, essentially.”
But musically it’s all about the sounds and influence of Northern England for this Shefferton-born boy. “Shefferton is a tough old town,” he stated matter-of-factly. “I hardly listened to any Canadian music as a kid. I was very attached to The Smiths as a kid. They were my favorite band; them and New Order. After I left [England], these bands were my way of staying involved. Their music captured the place for me.”
“Eventually,” Campbell continued, “the Pixies became a replacement, and I got on board with grunge rock. But now I don’t listen to anything but soul. I don’t know why people get into something when they do. Music and art are utterly subjective experiences, and it’s possible to have a really profound experience with art which others might not think is profound at all.”
Despite it all, Campbell always returned to his English roots, going so far as to insist on playing a show in his hometown after years of living abroad. “It was a sentimental thing to go back to where I came from. Then, of course, we woke up in our bus to a city which was grim and shitty. But of course it was cool because it was grim and shitty.”
The beach community of Santa Barbara surely must resemble something of paradise for the quintet who make up Stars. But more than that, to Campbell, it’s about the fans. “It’s always great to go somewhere you’ve never been and see all the people who come out for your show. Thank you-I like to cheer for our fans whenever I can.”
UCSB’s Associated Students Program Board presents Stars with Think About Life in the Hub on Friday, October 3, at 9 p.m. Call 893-3536 or visit aspb.as.ucsb.edu for details.