While attending Brooklyn's Pratt Institute of the Arts in the late '90s, vocalist/guitarist Shawn Christensen, bassist Amanda Tannen, and drummer Arthur Kremer befriended one another for what would eventually become a musical journey.
The threesome had barely grasped the beauty of their respective instruments, so forming the band Ghistor was an interesting move. It was a work in progress and a bond in the making, however short-lived. Christensen, Tannen, and Kremer eventually graduated and tried the corporate thing for a while.
They reconnected in spring 2000 with former Charlotte's Funeral guitarist and Philly native Michael Jurin to form the indie rock outfit stellastarr. A deal with Tiswas followed by 2002 and their EP Somewhere Across Forever appeared the next spring.
After much acclaim from the media for the eponymously titled debut full-length, the group returned in 2005 with the follow-up effort Harmonies for the Haunted.
In 2009 Stellastarr released Civilized on their own Bloated Wife Records.
Exclusive Magazine had the recent pleasure of chatting with bassist Amanda Tannen about the band, the new CD, the track 'Robot,' ... and, of course, penguins!
Growing up, who were your musical influences and how many still factor into your music today? "My father introduced me to many of the artists I still listen to today. David Bowie, Bob Dylan, The Talking Heads, Willie Nelson, and the list goes on. I don’t really keep track of who is influencing me, I just listen to music I enjoy and make music I would enjoy listening to."
As you were all once regular students who met while studying at the Pratt Institute of Arts, I'm wondering what it actually was that brought you together that fateful day back in time? A class, a student, a teacher, a show, etc.? "Well, I had an electric bass that I kept under my bed in my dorm room, Shawn found out and was playing with some friends in a band that needed a bassist. I had no idea how to play in a rock band. I had the bass just to keep up my reading skills and was playing classical music on it. But they kept asking me and finally convinced me that they didn’t know what they were doing either, so we would learn together. Arthur ended up learning to play the drums when we needed a new drummer."
And where does the bands great name originate anyways? "There is an awesome story behind it, but unfortunately we can’t talk about it…!"
After the release of two highly acclaimed albums, the band left that label. But why? "After touring the second record we decided we needed a change. When we got home we needed to figure out a new plan. We did all have to figure out how to pay rent, and all had to work. This meant we had less time to write the next album, and had to par down our practice schedule to a couple times a week. So yes paying rent and cutting ties with a large corporation was “worth while”, no matter what it was we did to pay rent."
What was Shawn's screenplay that he sold to Warner Bros. Pictures in 2008 and is now being made into a movie - to be directed by Tony Scott? "It is called Karma Coalition."
And now you're back together again, a return to your collective roots music wise, with the third album, 'Civilized' - but does this new album tell a behind-the-scenes story, perhaps? "Maybe in the underbelly... We were a little angst ridden when we started writing this album so many of the fist tracks we wrote were on the heavier side. The we realized that we really loved playing music and wanted to have fun, so we started writing some more up beat songs also. I believe the Different types of songs on the album display the different moods we went through while writing it."
Indeed, how easy or hard is it to create a new, vibrant, wanted-by-the-public sound that both builds on and surpasses the musical wonderments and accomplishments that preceded it within the industry? "Well... we try to not think about it. We decided with this album to write music that made us happy to play. It has been a needed catharsis for us. To be able to create we needed to not think of all those things that had impeaded us before."
Please tell us more about the track 'Robot,' as it seems from all your press that it was recorded late, late on and nearly didn't even make it to the album! "Robot was written and recorded to be a B side for the album. After we mixed it we decided we loved it too much to keep it off the album, so we switched it out. The same thing happened with the song In the walls on our first album. We as artists really like to reassess and do it all the time."
If asked to record one for charity, what '80s (and possibly cheesy!) pop/rock song would you love to cover today and why? "Well that would change depending on what member of the band yo ask. This is a hard choice for me... I am a known 80's music enthusiast. For today I will say "Only You" by Yaz. I think as a band we could make a great version of this song. It has a great melody and emotion to it."
Lastly, and throwing you a journalistic curve ball, Exclusive Magazine loves Penguins ...do you? "That is kind of funny, cause I am answering this on my friend's computer and he has a rubber penguin sitting on it! I would say I love penguins also.... yes!"
Interview: Russell A. Trunk
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