As insanely captivating as she is fronting L.A.’s Starcrawler today, there was a time when the last thing Arrow de Wilde wanted was the world’s attention. Scratch an on-stage extrovert, and you’ll often find someone who ended up hanging back in the shadows as a kid.
“I was painfully shy, but also I’ve always liked being around people,” de Wilde acknowledges, on the line with the Straight from a Northern California stop. “It’s weird because I wasn’t one of those shy kids who just wanted to be alone. I like attention, but I didn’t know how to get it—how to put myself out there.”
That doesn’t mean that she was averse to trying.
“My first show, in general, was terrifying,” the singer notes. “It was a talent show in sixth or seventh grade. I really wanted to do it—I was singing, and my friend was playing ukulele or some stupid shit. We were Tumblr girls, and when we were walking up onstage I remember grabbing her hand and saying ‘Promise me we’ll never, ever do this again.’ And ‘Promise me that I’ll never ever do this again.’ I remember standing up there in front of the whole school, my eyes hyper-focussed on the audience. It was weird, and it was terrifying.”
The de Wilde who fronts Starcrawler today is worlds away from those beginnings, the 6-foot 3-inch, wildly expressive singer having figured out early on in the band’s existence that nothing entertains like a spectacle. And to watch her is to indeed be floored by someone who understands that, when you call yourself an entertainer, you better goddamn well entertain.
Early shows had de Wilde showing up onstage in a straitjacket, her mouth filled with blood packets that ended up sprayed all over those lucky enough to be in the front row. Those stupid enough to be standing there watching things through a screen had their smartphones kicked out of their hands, the upside being they were suddenly part of the show.
For the uninitiated, the quickest and easiest way to get a handle on the chaotic, explosive, and hyper-visual fucking brilliance of Starcrawler is the band’s videos, mostly DIY and often made in collaboration with de Wilde’s boyfriend Gilbert Trejo (son of character actor and all-round badass Danny Trejo). The band introduced itself to the world with clips like 2018’s “Chicken Woman”, where de Wilde starts by running blood-drenched up a deserted highway, after which things take a Texas Chainsaw Massacre-turn towards the truly weird.
There’s no point trying to convey the insanity of “Bet My Brains”, off the sophomore album Devour You, so let’s not even try. Instead watch, with the caveat that if you’re not floored you’re basically dead inside.
Where previous releases served up a mixture of turbo-charged glam, bombshell alt rock, and broken-glass pop, Starcrawler’s latest, She Said, smooths off some of the edges. And while that might sound like something of a backhanded compliment, it shouldn’t. Only the truly imaginative are happy making the same record over and over again. While 'matur'e isn’t perhaps the right word to describe a band whose members are still in their early 20s, She Said gives us a Starcrawler that understands the importance of nuance.
It’s perhaps no accident that the first line on the album is “I’m about to show you what I’m made of”. Along with her bandmates in Starcrawler—guitarists/siblings Henri and Bill Cash, bassist Tim Franco, and drummer Seth Carolina—de Wilde proceeds to do just that. Those with an endless appetite for cherry-bomb rawk will find plenty to love in “Runaway” and “Jetblack”, but She Said also serves up everything from’80s-L.A. paisley pop (“Broken Angels”) to cinematic alt-country (“Better Place”).
“We just kind of made the record with the idea of “Well, we’ll see what people thing,” de Wilde says of Starcrawler’s determination to break new ground. “I mean, we like it, and we’re excited it about. Other than that, we didn’t try to over-think things.”
And she hints that Starcrawler is careful to never over-think things, including the band’s vaunted live shows. One might suggest that de Wilde was in some ways born to perform—her mother is celebrated photographer and filmmaker Autumn de Wilde, and her dad is drummer Aaron Sperske (who’s played with everyone from Father John Misty to Beachwood Sparks).
The singer notes that she was lucky enough to have a perfectly normal childhood—which is to say no one ever pushed her onstage, or pushed her to let her freak flag fly once she became comfortable in front of the mic. Some things come naturally, even if it takes a while to embrace that.
“When I was little, performing didn’t interest me,” de Wilde says. “I think that being so shy was part of it—once I got to middle school I was like ‘All these bands are so cool, but I could never do that.’ When you’re super painfully shy there are all these things that you want to do, and deep down know you can do, but first you have to stop being so darn shy.’
“Forever, I was like ‘I guess I’m not going to change’. And then I guess I started to meet the right friends and become comfortable. Eventually I decided I was going to do it, even though I wasn’t a trained singer or anything. Basically you just have to tell yourself ‘You know what? I’m going to figure this out’”.
Starcrawler plays the Biltmore tonight (October 26).