Shimmering Stars flexes its noise muscle
Difficult as it is to fathom today, there was a time when the Internet didn’t rule the lives of everyone on planet Earth. We’re talking olden days when there was no checking Twitter every 16.3 seconds, no posting daily selfies on Instagram, and no on-the-hour updates on Facebook.
Shimmering Stars drummer and cofounder Andrew Dergousoff is of an age where he can actually remember this time, which is to say he’s over 10. When he’s reached on his cell at his day job in Vancouver, the Merritt-raised musician confesses that the pre-web period of his life was indeed a magical one when something as simple as a road trip to Vancouver’s Zulu Records would open up worlds he previously didn’t know existed.
At the same time, Dergousoff is smart enough to understand that the Internet, almost overnight, kicked down all kinds of doors for his band. When Shimmering Stars released its 2011 debut album, Violent Hearts, the group wasn’t exactly anyone’s idea of high-profile, especially in its adopted hometown of Vancouver. That changed in a big way, however, once music writers picked up on the group’s retro-flavoured updating of the Everly Brothers and everyone who’s ever been inspired by them.
Dergousoff happily admits that catching the attention of folks around the world shocked both him and Shimmering Stars singer-guitarist Rory McClure.
“Definitely,” he says, “because we’d been playing music together for a long period of time. It was a collection of songs that Rory posted on MySpace that got the attention of a blogger who stumbled across it. And that really set things off, to where the social-media world took over for us. It wasn’t like we were trying to catch onto some trend, like ‘Oh yeah, there’s a ’60s-sock-hop-revival trend going on.’ It happened to be that Rory was interested in that period of music and wanted to write songs that spoke specifically to that era.”
And in case that doesn’t totally explain how Shimmering Stars went from the bedroom to a buzz band, Dergousoff clarifies: “Basically, there’s such an element of luck in this profession.”
Except that, based on both Violent Hearts and the newly released Bedrooms of the Nation, Shimmering Stars isn’t just lucky. The group is undeniably damn good at what it does. The two full-lengths are unmistakably the work of the same band, but they are in many ways different.
As Dergousoff notes, Violent Hearts suggested Shimmering Stars were enamoured with the kinds of old records that have influenced artists ranging from the Raveonettes to director David Lynch. Bedrooms of the Nation finds the band—which includes guitarist Brent Sasaki and bassist Elisha May Rembold—shifting gears artistically. From the priest-driven-ambulance guitar-and-drums fuckery on the dreamy “Intro” to the delicious psycho-candy crunch of “Defective Heart—Dreams”, the group is louder and more willing to play with textures this time out. Check out the telltale-heart drum thump of “Shadow Visions” or the chugging, double-fuzzed bass line that powers the reverb-swamped “Role Confusion”.
“For the music, it was definitely a conscious decision to make it a bit more noisy, to kind of flex our past punk muscle a little bit more,” the drummer says. “We really like the early Nirvana and Pixies albums, and we wanted to bring some of that ruggedness back to things. The Violent Hearts album was really light, and we found that playing it live was pretty tough. It was hard to follow a punk band with our set. This was kind of a way to get a little harder and get some breathing space so that we’re not being pigeonholed as ‘the ’50s-’60s revivalist group’. ”
What comes through on Bedrooms of the Nation is the idea that life and the relationships in it can be endlessly complicated, something that also coloured Violent Hearts. The new record comes off as more uplifting, however, perhaps because while there are songs of sadness and confusion (look no further than titles like “If You Love Me Let Me Go”), there are also moments of beautiful serenity (the radiant “I Found Love”).
“I think because Violent Hearts was written together as a group of songs in the same time period, it kind of drew from a lot of the same inspirations,” Dergousoff says. “Things like what Rory was going through in terms of relationships were easy to draw from. A lot of people say that if you listen to Violent Hearts it’s like you’re in the same spot, the same sock-hop dance. I feel like with the new record, because it spanned more time—we had more time to write things, to experience things, and to fuck things up—we bring a more diverse range of emotions to the songs.”
It’s those experiences that have the drummer amazed at where Shimmering Stars is today; he’s already accomplished more than he would have dreamed while growing up in Merritt.
“You have to make your own fun in small places, something that we only really appreciated after we moved,” Dergousoff ruminates. “In Vancouver, everything is really immediate and provided—you don’t have to think too hard about what you are going to do. In Merritt, we got into making music because it’s like, ‘Well, what else are you going to do?’ There’s nothing else to do if you’re not going into sports.”
That, evidently, was especially true before something called the Internet came along.
“We got into music-making, and making our own little zines—writing about music that we liked. And this is dating us a bit, but before the Internet boom, we’d be trading tapes with people in different cities as a way to reach out.”
These days, that’s all a golden memory. If you want to know what the web has done for Shimmering Stars, all you have to do is spend some time in Merritt.
“Even though we’re out of Merritt, things still filter back,” Dergousoff says with a laugh. “Everyone is like, ‘They’ve toured Europe!’ They don’t know that we slept on someone’s basement floor in Manchester on cardboard sheets—they’re filling in the blanks for us and building us up. But you know what? We’re gonna take it.”
Shimmering Stars plays Electric Owl on Saturday (August 2).