A Day in the Life of a Star

photo by Norman Wong

Before the Stars and Metric concert on November 10th, I caught up with Stars drummer Pat McGee to ask him a few questions about the new album, the tour and inspirations. I had an easy time getting to know him and gained a lot of insight into a Canadian band I have adored from afar for quite some time.

Vancouver Weekly: When did you begin working with Stars?

Pat McGee: That would be around the year 2000, the turn of the millennium.

Vancouver Weekly: Set Yourself On Fire brought great reviews and introduced more fans to Stars. How did this success affect the band and its dynamic?

PM: Well, it was a little, I suppose, surprising at the time, but it gave us faith in the fact that we could continue doing this for a little while longer. It was a slow burn on that record but we toured with Death Cab for Cutie for a while, and that helped a lot, and you know, people came on board. It seemed to be a good year for indie rock in general, so it was a positive experience for us all and I think it kept us in the game.

Vancouver Weekly: How would you describe the sound of Stars?

PM: Dreamy and romantic.

Vancouver Weekly: What is it like to play larger venues, something like Rogers Arena, versus something smaller?

PM: We played in Victoria last night at the Save-on-Foods Memorial arena. What is it like? It’s like playing in a gigantic, cavernous barn. I’m drumming in the back and they light up the first four rows and that’s about all I get to see anyways, so it doesn’t make that much of a difference. I was watching Metric and it’s a pretty impressive spectacle, there is a lot of people. It’s funny because you kind of expect to see Guns N’ Roses or something. I was just sort of thinking that arena shows seem like  something of the past to me, I don’t know why that is. When Feist did her arena show, that was sort of similar. She was so popular that it seemed like the logical thing to do, but her music is so intimate that it seemed sort of contradictory, you know?

Vancouver Weekly: You are touring with Metric right now but after that you are off to Europe to do more shows. Do you find that the audience is different in Europe versus North America?

PM: Yeah, a little bit. We tour a lot in Germany and Germans are – I love them – but they are quite peculiar. Germans have a reputation for being a little bit rigid, maybe, but they are actually conscious of this rigidity and our act is consciously trying to dismember that. They want to be looser and they have a desire to be looser but again, thousands and thousands of years of stoic stiffness going on there. They are quite forthright with their opinions and people over here are a little reserved and quite polite, whereas people in Germany will be polite but they can be quite honest, which can be jarring sometimes.

Vancouver Weekly: You’ve had your songs on Degrassi and Vampire Diaries. How do you feel about spreading your music over different types of media like TV shows or even commercials?

PM: We’ve never done a commercial but it’s probably coming down the pipe, I imagine. We’re kind of against it, just because I hate it when a song I love becomes a Chevy ad, I don’t know why. I don’t care if people put their songs in commercials, I don’t really care what they do, but for me, I don’t like being told what to associate my music with, or what to associate the music I like with. Because once it’s in a commercial, I never stop thinking about it like that. TV shows, I don’t know… I don’t watch TV so it doesn’t really affect me that much. I don’t mind it being in TV shows. I don’t know why, because it seems a little bit hypocritical, but it helps a lot. They pay you money which nobody else does in this day and age so that’s why people do it. You have to make a living somehow, nobody buys records anymore so you got to get paid somehow, and so that’s why people do it and it’s good, you know? It’s good advertising to get your song on a TV show and then people hear that song and they love that TV show and suddenly they love your song.

Vancouver Weekly: Does the fact that people are buying less records in this day and age mean that you are touring more as a band than you would have before?

PM: Yeah. You have to. You have to go out and hammer it, because that’s how bands make money now by touring, playing live and selling merchandise and putting their songs in TV shows and commercials. You have to have a presence out in the world so we have to tour a lot. This round we’re going to be gone for a long time.

Vancouver Weekly: Do you find that the travel brings any inspiration? You’re seeing all these different cities and cultures. Is it having any effect on your music at all?

PM: Nope, I don’t think so.

Vancouver Weekly: How much exploring do you get to do while you are traveling for a tour?

PM: Very little, to be honest. You show up, if you’re lucky, in the morning, and you go about your business in the day and you play your show at night and you leave. Not often that you get a very in-depth flavour for what’s going on in any given place, but you know you see little bits and if you go back more than once, then you start to know a little more about it. You know, I can get around Hamburg pretty well these days, which is good.

Vancouver Weekly: Do you find that you are changing your set list based on your audience and the city you are in or do you stick to the same songs?

PM: We kind of base it on where we are in our record cycle, you know. We have a new record out so we play a lot of new songs from there and we try and throw in some old hits, and we have a lot of songs at this point, so we try and play stuff that’s excited because that translates well to the audience usually.

Vancouver Weekly: Do you take the advice of audience member yelling “play this song”?

PM: Sometimes we do, not always… but sometimes. Depends on if we can play the song. What tends to happen unfortunately is that sometimes we listen to that person saying that and the crowd erupts at the end with “can you play this song?” and we just say… “no”.

Vancouver Weekly: Do you get tired of playing the same songs?

PM: Sometimes. I used to wonder how the Rolling Stones could play “Satisfaction” every night for 50 years and I realized that yes, some songs get a little boring after years and years of playing them, but it’s never the same every night. I mean, you can play the same song every night, but it’s always somewhat a little bit of a challenge to play it well. We are human beings, we’re not a machine, so every night is a little different. But yeah, definitely there are some songs we have to put on the shelf because if we don’t, we’ll explode.

Vancouver Weekly: How is the band’s dynamic when you’re on tour versus when you’re not?

PM: Well, we end up hanging out. We all live in Montreal so we all hang out there too, it’s kind of pathetic. Being on the road all the time and then get home and say “you wanna have dinner?” We’re a family, that’s what we are. That’s what we’ve become. We spend so much time together and I think either you come together as a family or you explode into warring factions, and we’ve been fortunate enough to keep the love alive. We distinguish our downtime from our working time so when it’s time to get to work, we play every day; it is kind of like a job, we get together and play.

Vancouver Weekly: How did you find your sound as a band? Were there ever any conflicts?

PM: No, it’s not something we discuss really. I don’t know if any bands do. I mean maybe some of them do if you wanna sounds like this but you can’t really help it, you know? You kind of come together as five people and you kind of sound like what you sound like. Trying to consciously manipulate that is a little bit… you can’t really do that. We are the sound of five people, I think.

Vancouver Weekly: Do you find the new album The North has changed much from your last one The Five Ghosts?

PM: Yeah, Five Ghosts, we were all pretty grumpy when we were making that one, and this one we were all in a much happier place. Well, I mean happier, that is relative. We were calmer and more at peace with the world, let’s say that. So we had a really good time making this record. I think The Five Ghosts was a challenging time in our lives, and this was less challenging. I think we had a lot more fun playing music.

Vancouver Weekly: Do you find that in the next couple years, your sound will continue to evolve depending on your moods, etc.? Will you see the band introducing new instruments or maybe even members?

PM: Well, we’re playing with a new guitar player now named Chris McCarron who’s influenced us a lot in our lives and in our music, he’s amazing. He’s good at everything he does and he’s a fantastic guitar player and a hilarious individual so that’s been a big addition to our lives. But no, I don’t think, I mean I’m not going to go out and learn how to play harpsichord or anything, that’s not going to happen. I think we’re trying to simplify at this point. I don’t think we need to add anymore hats onto this giant pile of hats we have already.

Vancouver Weekly: Are you comfortable with the level of stardom you’re at right now?

PM: [laughs] I don’t know why that’s funny, “my level of stardom”. Which is… non- existent. I mean sure, yeah, definitely, I’m happy. I mean, I’d love to be fabulously wealthy, that would be better, but I don’t know if that has anything to do with stardom. I don’t need to be more visible in the public eye. I’m really comfortable.

Vancouver Weekly: How do you prep for your shows? For example, tonight’s show at Rogers Arena? Do you hang out with Metric before? Hang with each other? Talk? Sit around and drink beer? Do a chant?

PM: Yeah, we do all of that. Everything you just said, we do. We can’t help hanging together. Beforehand, we definitely have some drinks, Metric do come and pester us for sure, they come in, they can’t really get enough of us actually. They come in and hang out, drink our beer and all that stuff. I mean, we’re all friends. Metric and us have been hanging out for a long time so it’s a bit of a reunion, you know, its pretty fun. It’s pretty funny being in a hockey arena hanging out, but we are having a good time. There is a ping pong table now so that’s fun, get some exercise.

Vancouver Weekly: Exercise and drinking? Sounds like a good mix.

PM: Yeah, beer pong… It’s probably more tequila pong. really. [laughs]