Meet Evan Cranley: Stars Q&A
By: Kat Coplen and Katie McKenna
Stars’ lush compositions, delicate melodies, and stick-in-your-head-for-days riffs are the creation of composer and multi-instrumentalist Evan Cranley. He sat down with WIUX earlier this week to talk about his composing style, current favorite musicians, and secret invention ideas.
Kat: Can you explain the recording process of The Five Ghosts?
Evan Cranley: I really wanted to push the synthesis of this record. I thought it was a really good way to offset the cold subject matter of what we were talking about on this record; so kind of cold, impersonal sounding synthesizers against very stark lyrics about losing a loved one. We did a lot of writing for it in Vancouver, which was cool. That was great, we spent 10 days there in a room recording. We did another three months in Montreal finishing off the record.
Kat: I’ve read that you, along with Chris Seligman, are the main composer for Stars. Can you briefly describe the composing process?
Evan Cranley: Every time I start a record, I like to buy a piece of gear I’m unfamiliar with, like a synthesizer or a drum machine. I feel like when you learn a new instrument it can bring creativity to a place that you’ve never really experienced before. Within a limitation about learning about a piece of gear there can be things you’ve never discovered about the writing process before. We like to try to buy two or three or four pieces of gear before we start writing a record and it helps us to come up with new tricks and hooks and ornamentation that we’ve never done before.
Kat: You’ve used some non-traditional ways of releasing your records, including making In Our Bedroom After the War digitally available, and the Sad Robots EP, exclusively on your online store. Do you plan on continuing to investigate marketing methods that are less than conventional?
Evan Cranley: We kind of had a traditional release in June with our latest record, but the way we decided to center the marketing around it was to tour it in the month of May and June, and play the record in its entirety in sequence before we actually released the record physically, which means we actually leaked the record ourselves live. I thought that was a really creative way of getting fans rediscovering our new music. I think with every single release we’ll try to do something that challenges not only ourselves, but our fans.
Kat: The AV Club had this to say about a song on your latest album: “We Don’t Want Your Body” is a shockingly swaggering slice of bona fide death disco.” What is your favorite description of your music that you’ve ever read or the most gratifying thing that has happened to you?
Just on this last tour having these kids sing along to a chorus. That has to be the most flattering thing that can happen to you as a band because people are participating in your music. That by far would be the most gratifying thing.
Kat: You started your own label, Soft Revolution. Tell me about the label and why you decided to start it.
Evan Cranley: We decided to start it because we wanted to curate a home for ourselves and our music. I think that it’s really nice having your own imprint because then you can control your own aesthetic. And I think in the future we’ll start re-releasing and re-mastering old records, and maybe doing compilations of our own music on our own imprint. It’s just nice to feel a sense of control in this business if you can, especially if you want a long career. The band’s been around 12 years, but we’ve really been making music for 10 or 11 years. 10 or 11 years in the music is like 60 years in the workforce, which is insane. I’m proud of us.
Kat: You’re also a member of Broken Social Scene. How do you coordinate your time between both bands?
Evan Cranley: Between 1999 and 2006 was an incredibly crazy time for me. I was always on the road and I didn’t have a home for 2 and a half years because I was concentrating on both bands. But I’d really say that Stars is my favorite artistic outlet. Broken Social Scene is like an amazing kind of friend that I can go and pick up where I left off. I can play my horn and guitar and it will always be there. But Stars is what I think about the most and get frustrated over and love the most.
Kat: What is the best part of being on the road?
Evan Cranley: Watching the fans reaction to the new record. To watch 12, 13, or 14 year olds sing along to our music and the parents there that drove them there also singing along to our music.
Kat: You’re a multi-instrumentalist. Do you admire any other musicians who play a variety of instruments?
Evan Cranley: Steven Drozd from the Flaming Lips is an incredible musician who plays all of those drums on the Flaming Lips records. He writes a lot of the music, plays a lot of guitar, and a lot of bass. He’s definitely someone I really admire. I think he’s incredible.
Kat: If you had to give up making music, what would you do to be creative?
Evan Cranley: I would maybe work at a restaurant with food or I’d invent things. I have a really good idea, but I think someone might steal my idea. I think would open up a coffee shop or work on repairing instruments, like trombones or trumpets. I’d just get more crafty.
Kat: What are you listening to right now?
Evan Cranley: I like the new Yeasayer record, I think that’s really cool. I’m really looking forward to the new Dears records, which comes out in February. Generally, I don’t listen to a lot of music on the road because I’m so punished by sound all the time. I tend to just relax, but I listen to a lot of jazz and classical. We’re on tour with a band called Wild Nothing and I like them or a band from Montreal called Think About Life.
Kat: The music video for “Your Ex-Lover is Dead” has always reminded me strongly of the Michel Gondry movie Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Is there any connection?
Evan Cranley: There is a total connection. Kevin Drew, who directed it, was totally inspired by that scene where they’re on the beach in what looks like a snowstorm. It was about negative 20 degrees and that was us out on the frozen water in a lake on top of a mountain. It was really intense.
See Stars at The Bluebird tonight at 7:30 PM.
[P.S. Evan promised Stars would play "Your Ex-Lover is Dead." This show is worth checking out for this beautiful song alone!]
A version of this interview also ran on Live Buzz.
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