Q&A: Stars' Torquil Campbell on The Five Ghosts, Believing in Ghosts, and His Dream of Someday Not Being In Stars"/>
Torquil Campbell's life is music. Besides being the songwriting scion behind Montreal's Stars -- who are performing two sold out shows at the Triple Door tonight and tomorrow night -- he's also a sometimes member of Broken Social Scene and has a solo project, the DJ act Dead Child Star (which will open both Triple Door shows).
Campbell's vocal in other ways than singing -- he's a notoriously outspoken guy. After Pitchfork's Ryan Dombal gave Stars' 2007 record In Our Bedroom After the War a lukewarm review, Campbell wrote a scathing blog on his MySpace page where he called Dombal "Ryan Numballs" and an "undergraduate geek living in a state of imposed virginity." He recently got into a Twitter spat with Fucked Up's Damian Abraham over Stars' boycott of Arizona.
And when I talked to Campbell last week, I didn't find him to be any less brazen. Campbell was in a van driving to Chicago with his bandmates while he discussed their new record, The Five Ghosts, with me; at one point he complained that whatever was playing on the radio sounded like "a group of methamphetamine addicts being buggered by the devil" (it was Britney Spears); later he broke off mid-sentence to snap, "can you just try and talk a little quieter, Amy?" (That would be Amy Millan, Stars' other lead vocalist). Torquil Campbell is undoubtedly a brilliant songwriter -- he's written some of my very favorite singalong-able pop songs. But he's also a very saucy man. Probably not one you'd want to get stuck in a van with.
You're letting fans vote for part of the setlist on this tour. Have you gotten a lot of votes? Are there a couple favorites that are getting picked in every city?
We got a couple hundred votes at least in each place. I don't know if that's one crazy record nerd voting 400 times or not. "Your Ex-Lover Is Dead," obviously, is one that gets picked in every town, and "Elevator Love Letter."
I was just listening to In Our Bedroom After the War last night. It seems like it's a darker record than Five Ghosts. Would you say that's true?
That might be true musically speaking, but lyrically speaking the opposite is true. The Five Ghosts is lyrically the darkest thing we've ever done. Dancing in the dark was our pinpoint for it - not the Bruce Springsteen song but the idea of dancing in the dark and being able to find a tension between the lightness of the sound of the music and the heaviness of the lyrics. We're not, lyrically speaking, a very happy band. We're happy people, but we don't write particularly happy songs most of the time.
Is there a main theme to the lyrical content on this record?
There was a lot of being haunted going on when we were making the record. Chris had a strange experience of being haunted in the hotel room that he was staying in when we got together in Vancouver to write. Chris ended up leaving his hotel room after three days in the middle of the night and never going back because he claimed to be being haunted by this entity who was under his bed. So right from the beginning of making the record, we were sort of freaked out. As the year went on, I lost my dad, and a lot of things kept coming back to us and reminding us of ghosts, you know, that your life is filled with ghosts, ghosts of the past and ghosts of other worlds.
Do you believe in ghosts?
Yes, absolutely. I don't really know how you can't believe in ghosts. Once you lose somebody you love, all you've got is the possibility that they're still around.
On the new record, Amy sings more of the lead vocals. Was that a conscious decision?
Yeah, I wrote a lot more for Amy than I have ever before. My secret dream has always been to completely eliminate myself from the band. I would like to make a whole Stars record with nothing but Amy singing. I don't really like my singing, and I really like Amy's singing. I don't think I'm really a musician. I'm someone who knows a lot about pop music and has thought a lot about pop music and I think writes pretty good lyrics. But when you have someone the quality of Amy, why really bother having me? Amy does sing a lot more on this, and I think it makes the record better.
Why is Five Ghosts self-released and not on Arts & Crafts?
It's just the way the business now demands you do things. There isn't a compelling reason, unless you have no funds at all and you're just starting out, to sort of relinquish control over certain aspects of the work that are easy to control on your own now, given the Internet. I think it was just a natural progression of having done this stuff for ten years and knowing the business well and knowing what we want and how we want to do it. We were ready to take on more responsibility for it. It's in no way a rejection of Arts & Crafts as much as it was an embracing of a new model.
I'm gonna let you get back to the van ride now.
Oh, thank you so much, how kind of you, I'm so looking forward to it. There is nothing more fun than sitting in a van with eight people yelling at each other.
What are you listening to now? Still Britney?
What are you listening to now? Still Britney?
We listen to a lot of hateful right wing talk radio. There seems to be an offensive amount of Rush happening. Patty (McGee, the band's drummer) likes to drive me insane by finding as much Rush as he can on the radio. It's basically used as a torture device in the van.