Composer/Multi-Instrumentalist Evan Cranley (left) Talks Pregnancy, Canadian Utopias, and Kids These Days
After a decade + long career of perfecting the sounds of indie-pop winter malaise, Montreal fivesome Stars – members of the Canadian guard that loosely overlaps with Metric, Broken Social Scene, and Memphis — is getting mad sub-arctic on their fifth album The North.
After a two-year hiatus (you’ll find out why), band members Torquil Campbell, Amy Millan, Evan Cranley, Chris Seligman and Pat McGee are dropping Stars’ new LP on September 4, having previewed two beautiful electro-laden singles “The Theory of Relativity” and “Hold On When You Get Love and Let Go When You Give It.”
We spoke to composer/multi-instrumentalist Cranley about the interwebs, 1960s Canada, and band’s new bundle of joy.
What has been going on these last two years?
Well, um, Amy got pregnant! By me!
Yep. We were doing The Five Ghosts until she was seven-and-a-half months pregnant. The record came out in June, and we just went for it until she became too big. It got to the point where she couldn’t put the guitar over her belly anymore and she shouldn’t fly, so we shut down that cycle. That winter we just started writing for another record. Amy had the baby in march, and we just continued writing throughout this year. In the beginning of this year, we kept writing and hanging out with the baby. That’s really what’s been going down. Writing new music, balancing being a parent with it…it’s been heavy.
Will you bring the baby on tour?
Yeah we have to. Both of her parents are in the band. She’s pretty mobile at 16 months, andwe’ll have a nanny come with us the whole time, to Asia, Australia…It’s a challenge, but it’s pretty amazing that she gets to go with both her parents around the world.
A kid is a pretty huge personal step. Did it affect your approach toward The North?
Yeah it has. Everything in life kinda matters a little bit more. My time in the studio had to matter every hour I was in there and every hour I was writing. I was pushed to do the best I could and to come up with the best ideas I could because I’m away from the baby when I’m writing and in the studio, and I’m going to represent this album for years when it comes out, so it better be the best I can do. I know it informed it so much for Amy, too, lyrically and musically.
What inspired the new singles “Theory of Relativity” and “Hold On When You Get Love and Let Go When You Give It”?
Well I think with “Relativity,” I think that speaks most to being a parent and not being afraid to see your kid grow up in such a crazy time. We’re seeing so much technology and the way people react to one another through computers and stuff. It’s a different generation and we know we’re gonna watch our kids grow up in a different world we did, and our lyrics touch on that. It’s a parental view, that song. “Hold On” or “Give It,” as I call it, it’s a way of giving love and receiving love. Musically, we are also trying to really balance organic and electronic music, and “Give It” was a really great example of laying down a cold and precise synthesis of organic drums and guitars. It’s an interesting marriage, having the preciseness of the keyboards, and the heart of the organic thing in one place.
Hear Stars’ new track, “The Theory of Relativity.”
Speaking of being a parent and dealing with technology, what will be your cyber policy when your daughter gets older?
[laughs] I am going to embrace technology. I have no problems with her playing on an iPad, or making a little music thing, or playing games. It would be hypocritical for me to say she can’t play with computers, because her mother and father rely heavily on computers for business.
What’s the deal with the landscape and architecture thing in your album art and The North aesthetic?
Well, in Canada in the late 60s, there was a very progressive, modernist idea of what they wanted their cities to look like and how they wanted their people to live, and I thought it was great…There was so much positive thinking and forward thinking at the time in Canada, that I think was a really special, almost utopian time. like you look at the buildings — the one on our cover is by Moshe Safdie — and the stadium, it was a wonder that we had that in Canada. Not to harp on Canada, but at that time, here, we were very very very young country still, and still are a young country, so I thought it was an appropriate politically it was a very hopeful time.
What about this building is so utopian? Was it a communal living situation?
No they were separate apartments. Within all those little boxes that are piled up on each other, someone has their own story in that little confine. If you look at it and imagine all the heaviness, up against each other, piled up against each other, I thought that was representative of relationships and family, living so close together.
What is the most unnatural part about being in the industry these days?
Well the fact that everyone has an opinion about it. I find that terrifying. I guess it’s quite empowering to the person who is reviewing it, but there are 12-year-old kids with blogs and they’re important. It’s amazing that you don’t need BA in music to make a pop record, you can make it in a basement. Things like that. That’s really intense to me. All these forums and walls — if you wanna embrace that, fine, but I find that terrifying. Five kids slamming you on the internet matters. I try not to read that stuff but it’s terrifying. And the software changes every 14 months. If you want to produce, it’s a part time job to keep up with composition technology…
When we were starting out, it was a time to be in a band without a cell phone or e-mail address, when magazines and radio mattered more. It was, when I was 23, a special time to be in a band. We were still doing in-stores, and having 25 kids show up was huge. It still is, it’s just different. The US really caught on, and in typical Canadian fashion, they automatically started embracing us.
Well we’re gonna tour The North around the world for a good 12 to 16 months, and I imagine after that we’re going to rest. The show should be pretty fun. I’ve always wanted to play inside of a snow globe or make music that sounded like snow, because we’re very creative in the winter months in Montreal. That’s the nice part of the city, is that between November and May a lot of people move here to hibernate and create. I think we’re gonna try to represent that in the show. We’re from the north.