Stars hit home ice on tour with Metric

Patty McGee, drummer for the mostly Montreal-based indie pop act Stars, talks about living the soft arena-rock life, staying sane via touring with a toddler and making a major leap with their latest, greatest album, The North

Stars, namely Evan, Amy, Torq, Chris and Patty

The North is a beautiful record. After a dozen years and change, Torquil Campbell, Evan Cranley, Patty McGee, Amy Millan and Chris Seligman have refined a pop sound that, in the hands of many other like-minded bands, would’ve been sapped by now. More than ever, their heartfelt and clever lyrics come alive with vivid imagery, their plush arrangements are rendered with a deft negotiation of the synthetic and the organic and their tunes are driven straight to your hips and face with hooks and grace.

Just ahead of their biggest local show ever — opening for their buds Metric at the Bell Centre — I spoke to the one member of Stars I’ve never interviewed (or even met), drummer Patty McGee. When I called yesterday, he was just pulling into “home sweet home” after two months on the road.

Lorraine Carpenter: You’re playing the Bell Centre?!

Patty McGee: Yeah, ridiculous, right? Check off the next most hilarious rock ‘n’ roll experience you can have, throw it on the pile and move on. We’ll be back where we belong in no time — we’ll see you at Casa next month.

LC: Have you ever played shows of this stature before this tour?

PM: Many years ago, we got an emergency call to open for Coldplay in Ottawa because their opening band didn’t make it across the border, but that’s been the one and only experience with that. It was brief and hilarious, and we figured that would be it. I grew up going to see Rush at Maple Leaf Gardens — that’s arena rock. We’re a cute little indie band! I never thought in a million years that we’d be doing this, but it’s working out. It’s pretty fun. It’s a pretty soft lifestyle right now — being the opening band on an arena rock tour. I could retire like this.

LC: This is a big deal for you, and a bigger deal for Metric, as the headliner. They’ve never done this either.

PM: Metric have made a career of going balls out and having no fear, that’s been their thing, so they decided this is what they wanted to do this time. They’re in an interesting place: they’re too big for the theatres, so what do you do? Do two, three nights per town? It would take you two months to cross Canada.

LC: There are connections between you guys and Metric, through Broken Social Scene, but you also go way back as friends. That must make this experience even sweeter.

PM: Yeah, we’ve been friends with these guys for years, particularly the other members of the band; they all grew up together. Amy and Emily were best friends in high school, and Jimmy and Evan and Chris have known each other forever. It was a really nice opportunity to have a bit of a family reunion and do something fun and little bit crazy.

LC: It would seem like you and Metric have a lot of the same fans. But presumably they have way more fans. They’re mainstream, basically.

PM: They’re one of the only bands of my contemporaries that I hear on the radio, that I’ll hear on CHOM or the Edge in Toronto. Emily’s one of the only women who’s managed to crack the code of the Edge: the biggest alternative music station in Canada doesn’t play women, except her.

[We talk about Stars’ insane tour schedule following this tour: three weeks in Europe in December, Australia, Asia and Indonesia in February and a headlining North American tour beginning in March, including two gigs at next year’s double-weekend Coachella festival.]

PM: Things are going pretty smooth so far, but there are cracks in the foundation. People are starting to fall apart. You can’t help it — living with 12 people on a bus for two months is just disgusting, it’s like living in a submarine with a bunch of drunk people.

LC: Do you have [Millan and Cranley’s one-and-a-half-year-old] baby on board?

PM: Oh yeah. Sweet Delphine is saving the day; that’s why we’re all still friends. Waking up to baby noises, you can’t be in a bad mood, even if it is 7:30 in the morning. She’s a little dream angel rock n’ roll baby who sleeps 12 hours a night and is absolutely hilarious. It’s been a game changer, and it’s saving the day for sure.

LC: I loved the new record.

PM: I think we might actually be proud of this one! It was a hard-fought battle to make this record. We’ve always fought — we’re a band with five different opinions and no leader, which is a problem. We’re all followers. But this was actually my favourite experience of all the records we’ve done. We changed the way we did things, and it was an important step for us. It was the most diplomatic and democratic and musically open record we’ve made, and also the most ferociously fought battleground we’ve ever had. In the end, we compromised, but we all got what we wanted. It was a very natural musical experience, and that was our biggest success on this record: letting it be human and having it sound like people in a room playing music together. ■

Stars open for Metric at the Bell Centre (1260 de la Gauchetière W.) tonight, Wednesday, Nov. 21, 8 p.m., $48/$61

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