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Interview with Torquil Campbell from Stars


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After Reading paid host to Stars at the South Street Arts Centre in December last year, Spark caught up with vocalist Torquil Campbell for an entertaining and lengthy chat backstage.

What was the band name inspired by?

“Well, a whole bunch of things. I’m a big fan of a band called Prefab Sprout, have you heard of them? They were a band in the 80s, I’m a huge huge fan of his, Paddy McAloon, the guy who writes all the songs, it’s his favourite word, and I really like how stars means, y’know, two things, it means the most trivial thing in our universe, y’know, Gwyneth Paltrow whatever, and it also means the universe, the galaxies, the most profound and deep questions and things in our lives and I think pop music is kinda like that or should be like that, it should be kinda simultaneously really profound and really dumb and that’s what I like about it, y’know, so I just felt that was kind of a good name for a pop band and I thought it was good because I knew we would never be stars so it seems like a good name for a band that was never gonna get famous, y’know, sort of a good joke, and it just gets better and better! (Laughs) Joke just gets better and better…â€

What was the inspiration behind the European version of the cover for Set Yourself On Fire?

“My original vision was that she would have her arms open and you would be able to see her breasts and she would have ‘Jesus Is A Fag’ written across her chest but people felt that might prevent us from selling the record for some reason so we didn’t end up doing that. I dunno, I had this vision in my head of this figure, this woman who is very vulnerable and very soft but also very dangerous at the same time and potentially very violent and very forceful and y’know I think the balaclava is such a symbol of anarchy, of disruption in our society and the black balaclava means one thing but to colour it pink sort of…I just like the contradictions in the image I guess, and I think that’s what our music’s like, it’s very soft and beautiful on the outside and very ugly and hard and dark on the inside. Some people really detest it which I really like, it makes me even happier than people liking it. It’s just a great thing to get people upset!†(Laughs)

“I wanted this cover all along and there was a disagreement within the band and at the label level whether it was the right thing to do or not. So once our North American cover came out it turned out it was almost identical to a record by Explosions In The Sky. Brilliant band, love them, good friends of ours, we did not know the record at the time but they’re lovely men and don’t mind that we ripped them off blatantly but it was my perfect excuse to say ‘we gotta change the cover!’ so we ended up using this in Europe.â€

What are your favourite albums of all time?

“What’s Going On by Marvin Gaye - they’re pretty predictable - um, Hatful of Hollow by The Smiths, A Walk Across The Rooftops by The Blue Nile, Steve McQueen by Prefab Sprout, 3 Feet High and Rising by De La Soul, Loveless by My Bloody Valentine, Donnie Hathaway’s Greatest Hits, see I dunno, maybe Four Tops Motown Anthology, something by The Stylistics maybe, pretty much anything that was produced by ‘Black America’ between 1964 and 1974 is better than almost everything that you could put it up against. Curtis Mayfield, anything by him.â€

D’you try to put those influences in your music?

“Well, I’m influenced by it in the sense that it I think its beautiful pure music and those people are trying to talk about pure things and express themselves in a very true and very honest way. Generally, when white people try and make soul music it doesn’t come off, I dunno why that is, but it just doesn’t happen, and I don’t have the technical abilities to do that stuff. Oh, and Lowlife by New Order…y’see, you shouldn’t have asked me…It Takes A Nation of Millions by Public Enemy. Ok, I’ll stop there…â€

What are you listening to right now?

“I’m listening to a record by Gonzales, it’s called Solo Piano, unbelievable, just piano, just him playing the piano, f**kin beautiful. I’m listening to the Super Furry Animals as I always do cos I think they’re a brilliant band, absolutely inspiring. I listen to Kanye West a lot, I love Kanye West. I’m always, always listening to 50s doo wop and to soul music from the 60s and 70s, that’s what I listen to on a daily, daily basis, and Detroit techno, lots of early, late 80s Detroit techno, Derrick May, Kevin Saunderson, stuff like that, I love that stuff, it makes me cum!â€

What’s in the works at the moment?

“We’re working on a remix record, with all our friends remixing our songs and rerecording our songs: Broken Social Scene, and The Dears, and Metric, and Junior Boys, and Russian Futurists, lots of great Canadian people. Then we’re gonna come back here in April and tour some more, we’re playing Canada and the States in February, and Amy Millan has a record that she’s finishing up of country music, and I have a record that I’m starting of more wimpy pop music…†(Laughs).

What’s [fellow Stars vocalist/guitarist] Amy’s record called?

“I think it’s gonna be called Honey From The Tombs, she changes it on a weekly basis, but at the moment I think that’s what it’s going to be called…â€

What about the remix record?

“It’s gonna be called Do You Trust Your Friends?â€

When’s it coming out?

“Oh, Christ, when we get it all together, maybe in late Spring…â€

The quote in the album booklet by Ibi Kaslik, where did that come from? Sounds like a speech…

“Ibi’s a great dear beloved friend and family member of ours and she wrote it especially for our record. It’s just Ibi’s interpretation I guess of the themes and sound of the music. When I was a kid there was a big thing of having somebody write inside your record, like The Style Council, they used to have their friend Paolo Hewitt, who was an NME journalist back when the NME was a paper worth reading instead of a f**king cheesy little rag for 12 year olds, he would write these sort of poetical polemical things inside the liners of their records and I liked that, y’know, anything you can do to create a world for the listener, to give them an experience of your visions of the world makes, I think, makes the record more enjoyable, operate on more levels in a way.â€

Think you’ll return to Reading?

“Absolutely! Probably in April. We’d like to play the festival, we dunno, we’re trying to decide whether we wanna play festivals this summer. It’s one of those things y’know when you get into a band the ultimate thing you’d think, the most fun you could possibly have would be to go and play festivals, and then you do it, and it f**king sucks! It’s brutal, you don’t get a soundcheck, f**king hundreds of bands, by the end of the day you’re sick of rock n roll music, you don’t wanna hear another f**kin note, it’s just kinda cheesy, y’know? Maybe, maybe there’s too much rock y’know? Maybe, maybe it’s just too much, know what I mean?†(Laughs)

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[Published Fri 20th January, Spark vol.41 issue 2]

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