Canada's rock'n'roll renaissance
First Arcade Fire, then Broken Social Scene and now Stars
It all started with Arcade Fire. When the Montreal band exploded in 2005 with their debut album Funeral, we focused on Canada and discovered a community of artists who went on to become some of indie music's hottest properties.
That same year, we also turned to Toronto supergroup Broken Social Scene (BSS), who sold out London's Koko. BSS are an umbrella group of 19 musicians who have each made a name for themselves through the collective.
Take Emily Haines, behind the band Metric and her solo project with the Soft Skeleton, and the solo artist Leslie Feist, who this year released a third, critically-acclaimed, album (The Reminder). Then there's the Vancouver indie supergroup the New Pornographers, who have existed for 10 years, and whose new-found UK success is marked by their latest album Challengers reaching No 13 in the indie chart.
The latest band to break out from the Canada scene is Stars. They formed just after Broken Social Scene but are slow burners. Having notched up nearly two million hits on MySpace thanks to a huge following back home and in the States, they sold out their UK tour.
Their singer and lyricist Torquil Campbell was born in Castleton, a village outside Sheffield, where he spent the first eight years of his life, and the influence of Northern rock – in particular The Smiths and early Morrissey – is apparent (he says: "The Smiths are my favourite band of all time and Morrissey is the last great rock'*'roll star and I worship him").
Three out of the five band members (Campbell, the singer/guitarist Amy Millan and her boyfriend, the bassist Evan Cranley) are members of BSS, and the band is signed to the same label, Arts & Crafts. Like BSS, the band are a close-knit group of local friends. Campbell formed the band with his schoolfriend, the keyboardist Chris Seligman.
"This band grew out of childhood friendships, and was just an excuse to delay the end of our childhood and to keep hanging out with each other," Campbell explains from the tour-bus, outside a former Nazi bunker in Hamburg where they will later play a gig.
"We knew perfectly well that our frames of reference in terms of the kind of music we're making were ridiculously unfashionable and naff, and everybody would laugh at us, but we didn't care because we assumed nobody would listen anyway. It was OK to sound like The Blue Nile because nobody listed to The Blue Nile and nobody listened to Stars, then for some reason this whole Montreal and Broken Social Scene thing started happening."
The Canadian music-scene was fuelled by excitement from fans and critics, Campbell explains: "The country a few years ago made a collective decision to support and to write about what excited them in their community. Without that the scene would not exist."
Stars released their album In Our Bedroom After the War on iTunes two months before its physical appearance. Campbell explains: "We just figured that it was going to leak almost immediately as soon as it got to the press. Then at that point the fans of the music had two choices – they could steal the music or they could not hear the music at all.
"We just felt that was no choice to give people and that there are that dying breed of people that actually put aside a bit of their income each to spend on records or films or books – they like to invest in art and give back to the artist that they enjoy. We just wanted to give those people the opportunity to do that. It seemed to us to be dealing with what's happening in the music industry."
The band received thankful letters from fans who felt it was a sign of respect that they made the songs available to their followers as soon as they could. Campbell blames the way the music industry is run for the loss of CD sales.
"Back in the Sixties you went and you cut a record and you put it out the next week. This whole thing of four and a half months ushering people into rooms to listen to the new Seal album – it's a bit ridiculous. It's just pop songs."
Taking off his glasses and putting them back on as he talks expressively, Campbell looks more bookish intellectual than rock star. He knows what he thinks. "To me, sex and death is really all there is. When you fall in love that's a kind of death. That you kill you who were and you become someone new who is this person who is loved in the eyes of someone else. I'm very obsessed with that idea. At the end of everything there's a love story. Hitler and Eva Braun in the bunker – everything ends in wanting love. It's the last question we ask, the last quest we have."
Campbell considers himself a thriller writer and the album was written in script format: before he turned to music, he was an actor, and he admits to frustration that there is more interest in the minor part he played in Sex and the City than his lead role in Henry V. But he never really gave up his acting career. He just transferred it to the music stage.
'In Our Bedroom After The War' is out now on Arts & Crafts
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