Guitarist Stephen Lyons finds freedom in Limbs of the Stars
After almost a decade together in the Juno Award-winning avant-rock band Fond of Tigers, you’d think that Stephen Lyons, Shanto Acharia, and Skye Brooks would know each other pretty well. But it wasn’t until the three musicians convened as a separate and smaller group, Limbs of the Stars—and spent four slow and snowy days on the road—that they really discovered each other’s potential.
“It almost seems like we had a four-day conversation between the three of us, both musically and in general,” reports Lyons, reached at his Vancouver home just minutes after getting back from the aforementioned Alberta tour. “Because of the roads, we were trapped in this van for way longer than we should have been. And we basically had a conversation that had a lot of different aspects going. A lot of different threads would emerge at intervals: basically we would go from crushing depths of emotional and philosophical intensity to out-and-out hilarity. But there was a tone that we maintained for the entirety of the tour that was far-reaching and inclusive.
“I liken that to how we play music together, because we sometimes hit these very heavy moments, and then there’s also this great sense of freedom and joy to it,” the guitarist and occasional singer adds. “I feel very inspired and very free, playing with those guys.”
So free, he admits, that he’s even taken to playing guitar solos—a rarity at a Fond of Tigers show, where heavy hitters such as violinist Jesse Zubot and trumpeter JP Carter are usually more to the fore. Blazing single-note excursions are similarly kept to a minimum on Limbs of the Stars’ debut: with heartwarmongering, the emphasis is on Lyons, Acharia, and Brooks’s collective interplay rather than on their admittedly impressive individual skills.
Lyons is understandably effusive when it comes to discussing his bandmates’ talents. “As a player, a lot of Skye’s expression is leaving holes in things,” he says of one of B.C.’s busiest drummers. “Whereas some drummers might take a moment to add things, he kinda creates interpretations by leaving holes and backing off. I find it endlessly inspiring to hear where he decides to omit notes and find that calmer place. And then when he lays down these amazing, heavy fills, it just has this resonant impact because of the other times when he’s held back.
“And Shanto I find to be just an unbelievable player, in terms of his sense of overall structure and the variance in emotional pressure through a song that he can bring. He can really change the atmosphere of a song through very understated things. He really sees things on a larger scale, and both of them are really thinking of the music.”
The guitarist is less forthcoming when it comes to his own contributions, and in fact seems downright uncomfortable discussing his lyrics. He describes his writing as “oblique”, and that’s borne out in the vocal numbers that grace the eight-track heartwarmongering: none of them give up much on first or second hearing. It might be possible to interpret “no reward” or “us vs. them” as having to do with the aesthetically contradictory and fiscally unrewarding life of the avant-garde rock musician, but Lyons says that’s not quite the case.
“You haven’t seen my T4, but it seems you have a fair idea of what it could look like,” he says, laughing. “But it doesn’t seem as externally driven as that. The songs come from a nameless and objectless feeling of trying to get to something, while at the same time feeling that that is not possible. So it’s sort of a conflicted ambition for self-actualization.”
And he laughs again.
“You try to do things, and try to create the life that you want to have, but don’t really get a lot of things, especially other people’s motivations for things,” he continues. “A lot of times you’re not sure where you stand in relation to that, so you start to feel a bit outside of things. I have my tactile ways of being in the world, and sometimes they feel very nebulous.
“This is getting vaguer and vaguer by the second, isn’t it?”
Well, yes. But Lyons’s philosophical musings bring some clarity to Limbs of the Stars’ ambitions, revealing heartwarmongering to be an effectively atmospheric encapsulation of a smart person’s response to an often-stupid world.
Make that three smart people: Lyons, Acharia, and Brooks function so well as one that their shared intent communicates far more than words alone can say. Limbs of the Stars’ music sometimes sounds bleak, but there’s comfort in it, too, for those who care to listen.
Limbs of the Stars hosts a CD-release party for heartwarmongering at the Rickshaw Theatre on Friday (November 16).