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Alive [Live]
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Stellastarr
October 2003


From the band's website, by Peter Gaston, June 2003

Let's talk about a band, one that seems to simply steer clear of convention quite naturally at all turns. How many bands boast members who would first consider themselves actors, artists, designers, or filmmakers before considering themselves singers, guitarists, or drummers? How many bands find an eventual band-mate while picking up mail? How many bands play gigs all over the New York area only to finally find a spastically approving audience of NYC scenesters … at high noon in Texas? How many bands get booked for a performance on national television without a proper label or a full album in stores? Defying convention almost accidentally, stellastarr* is the unbelievable band that everyone wants to believe in.

While loads of their contemporaries weaned themselves on rock star wishes and guitar solo dreams, stellastarr* originated out of a spirit of friendship and artistic experimentation. Singer/guitarist Shawn Christensen, bassist Amanda Tannen, and drummer Arthur Kremer met while studying at Brooklyn art school Pratt Institute of the Arts. Then and now, Shawn would probably describe himself as a painter and an actor prior to mentioning his current frontman duties with stellastarr*. If he manages to sell one painting before the first of each month, his landlord gets paid. Sheer curiosity led Shawn to buy himself an acoustic guitar and to learn the instrument he employed the help of a trusted teacher: Bob Dylan, or at least his published songbook.

Arthur also acted, landing a few film roles, but his main passion was graphic design; he's responsible for the band's album artwork concepts and logos. In fact, only during the recording sessions for stellastarr*s debut did Arthur feel comfortable adding "drummer" to his mental business card. Amanda also came into the band from a non-traditional angle, drawing on her years as a classically trained cellist while she explored the bass guitar.

So when the three friends formed their first band, Ghistor, they began with limited experience as rock musicians: Shawn had only spent about six months with the acoustic and the book of Dylan songs; Arthur was six weeks into his drumming career; and Amanda, despite her cello training, had never set fingers to strings on an electric bass. As artists, the trio had simply embarked on a new creative endeavor, albeit a short-lived one; Ghistor was the trial run.

In the spring of 2000, Shawn, Arthur, and Amanda reconvened in NYC after graduation and started to rekindle the musical flames, but they were acutely aware that the band's sound needed some fleshing out. As rock music coincidences go, the manner by which guitarist Michael Jurin joined the lineup is rather classic: Michael had recently moved to NY, leaving Charlotte's Funeral, the band he fronted back home in Philadelphia. As fate would have it, the talented guitarist rented a room whose previous occupant had been none other than Arthur. Stopping by his previous abode to check for any lagging mail, Arthur discovered that a guitarist had taken over his old place. The two future bandmates got to talking and Arthur invited Michael to meet Shawn and Mandy. One jam session later, stellastarr* was born.

Like any upstart act must do, stellastarr* developed its sound while gigging around NYC, feeling most at home at the Lower East Side's Luna Lounge and at the Tiswas NYC weekly rock party on Saturday nights at Don Hill's in the West Village. Tiswas NYC DJ/promoter Nick Marc saw the excitement brewing at stellastarr* shows and invited acclaimed producer Tim O'Heir (Sebadoh, The Folk Implosion, Dinosaur Jr, Superdrag, Hedwig and the Angry Inch) to check out a live show. It took only that one show at Don Hill's for Tim clear his schedule to bring the stella*s into the studio. stellastarr*s debut EP, Somewhere Across Forever, stemmed from those recordings and was released on Nick Marc's Tiswas Records in December 2002. This EP offered a quick glimpse into the stellastarr* sound in the form of the harmonic build-up of the title track, the incendiary "No Weather," and the slow-burning, defiant "School Ya" (exclusive to the EP).

Tim O'Heir and Nick Marc weren't the only people latching onto the stellastarr* sound. At each performance, there was a sense that the crowd contained the same faces as the previous gig, only with a handful of new faces added in each time. The band's repertoire and its emotional sway over an audience grew in leaps and bounds; songs like the gripping "In The Walls," the spastic and melodic "Jenny," the buoyant "My Coco," and the epic sojourn of "Moongirl" became more breathtaking and enveloping with each listen. The sound was so utterly unique when NYC seemed full of bands either seeking garage roots or absorbing '80s aesthetics. Still undeniably young and unpolished, they became the most unique rock and roll band on the scene.

Along the way, stellastarr* booked gigs with the Joe Strummer, the Raveonettes, the Strokes, Sahara Hotnights, Melissa Auf Der Maur, the Mooney Suzuki, the Realistics, the Apples In Stereo, the Black Keys, Elefant, Ambulance ltd, Aerial Love Feed, the Red King.

In March of 2003, stellastarr* made a pilgrimage to Austin, Texas for the annual week of beer, barbecue, and bedlam that is South By Southwest. With gigs at that bastion of indie rock -- the Hard Rock Café -- and a noon show on a Saturday, the band just wanted to make the best of it. Turns out that just about anyone who hadn't seen the band before came out to the Austin gigs, even at high noon on a Saturday. In its log of SXSW shows, the UK's NME called stellastarr* "the best band we've seen all day" and ranked stellastarr* as its top-ranked discovery at SXSW 2003. NME wasn't alone in its observations; the band's name was on the tip of everyone's tongue, mesmerized by Shawn's freaked out and enthralling vocals, Michael's trailblazing guitar work, Amanda's instantly hummable basslines and cooing harmonies, and Arthur's frenetic work behind the kit, not to mention his radical sunglasses and the electrical tape asterisk over his bare nipple.

When the band returned home to play a gig at New York's Knitting Factory, the building could no longer fit all of its fans, new and old, even for a band without a true record to its credit. Reviewing the Knitting Factory show, NME said, "stellastarr* seem to have emerged fully-formed, a dream of a band with nearly every element absolutely perfect." Yes, there was indeed a sense of evolution, that these four people had shed their art school innocence and metamorphosed into an electrifying and undeniable force. The live shows were no longer an artistic trial but instead a full blown aural assault tempered with emotional grace.

Late April and early May found the band returning to the studio with Tim O'Heir to lay down the rest of the album, leaving O'Heir with the challenge to harness these tracks into a recorded format. After a few weeks of late nights in the studio (with much recording done after a full day's work at the members' various day jobs), the band made its first jump across the pond, holding down an opening slot on the Raveonettes' UK tour. The British press and radio (XFM, Radio 1) had already embraced the band prior to its arrival, but the live dates substantiated every glowing review that came before, and the Somewhere Across Forever EP saw its UK release, an occasion celebrated by the band with a packed headlining gig at London's Barfly.

The band's self-titled debut, out September 23rd on RCA, could be called a culmination, the product of months and years of gigs, rehearsals, and recording sessions. In reality, it's just the first experiment from four artists who are only scratching the surface of their capabilities as musicians and performers. It's never been conventional so far, so why start now?

stellastarr* is:
Shawn Christensen - lyrics, vocals, guitar
Amanda Tannen - bass, vocals
Arthur Kremer - percussion, keyboards
Michael Jurin - guitar, vocals



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