Patrick McGee of Stars

Thursday, 03 April 2008

According to a variety of sources, the truth and nature of psychosis is actually simpler than many people like to believe. It is, on many basic and fundamental levels, the act of embarking upon the same course of action repeatedly and reasonably expecting different results each time. With that rationale in hand it makes observing the practices of musicians incredibly fascinating: every couple of years, any given band will release a new album of material and then embark upon the practice of promoting it in order to assuage their fans and attempt to win the minds and hearts of more likeminded people. In that light it goes without saying that you don't have to be insane to work in the music industry—but it helps—and Stars drummer Pat McGee is the first one to laugh at what he does. Unlike most musicians though, after being bitten by the release of Set Yourself On Fire years ago, he was left shy when it came time to hit the road behind that album's follow-up In Our Bedroom After The Warand floored by the reception of the record. The road seems to be a little smoother this time out and, while still skeptical, the drummer is the first to admit that his outlook is a little sunnier. That does not, however, mean that he is any less critical of the business in which he works, where the industry has been and where it's going.

Bill Adams vs. Patrick “Patty” McGee of Stars

PM: Hello?

BA: Hi, may I speak to Pat please?

PM: That’s me.

BA: Hey Pat, it’s Bill Adams calling.

PM: Hi, how’re you doing?

BA: Not too bad, how’re you?

PM: Good thanks.

BA: That’s good, it’s very strange—I don’t mind doing interviews this early, but I’m not used to it.

PM: Well, they seem to come at all times in all sorts of places. I’m kind of getting used to that—especially when we’re going down to Australia. Right now, it isn’t uncommon to do interviews at five in the morning and that kind of thing.

BA: Sounds like a cheap thrill. I’ve got a comfy seat in Waterloo, but I’ve done interviews from here to Sweden. Never Australia though.

PM: It’s backwards down there.

BA: Is it?

PM: Apparently. I guess I’m going to find out tomorrow.

BA: Do me a favor—drop me an email after you’ve flushed a toilet down there and let me know if it actually spins counterclockwise.

PM: [laughing] I think that’s been confirmed.

BA: Has it?

PM: I think so.

BA: I need somebody I trust with their own eyes.

PM: [laughing] Sure—I’ll confirm it for you.

BA: Thanks. My uncle lived there for the better part of twenty years, but I don’t trust a word he says so I need someone I trust.

PM: I hear they’re untrustworthy but very friendly.

BA: Indeed. So when does that tour happen? You guys have pretty much been on the road constantly since the New Year.

PM: Actually, it’s been since September of last year.

BA: Oh really?

PM: Yup, we headed out last September, came home for Christmas, headed out again and we just got back from a three and a half-week trip to Europe.

BA: How was it?

PM: It was actually really fun; it was quite positive. We’ve been chipping away at that place for a long time and people are actually starting to come to our concerts now so it was great.

BA: Well that’s handy. I would think it’s always nice to not play to an empty room.

PM: It is man. Going up to Sweden five times and still playing to the same eighty people was getting pretty depressing.

BA: [chuckling] But that crowd has since grown?

PM: [chuckling] Well, we’ve been shunning Sweden for a while now, but it has definitely grown elsewhere. It has grown exponentially; I was pretty shocked at how many people came out this time.

BA: That’s cool, and I guess it answers my next question too—‘How has the response been for In Our Bedroom After The War?

PM: Uhm, well I think it’s been pretty good. As usual with a Stars release, people tend to be a little skeptical at first. People always refer to Set Yourself On Fire as being this big success that blew us into the mainstream and stuff, but if I remember correctly, that record wasn’t exactly what anyone could call an instant hit that everyone else seems to remember it being. We toured that record for two years and the reason we toured it for two years was because no one came on for the first year. [laughing] And then after the first year people started liking it so we had to go and do it all again. This time though, the response seems to be good and it still seems pretty fresh. The album has been out since July on the internet and then we released it in September so it’s still a pretty new record. I think people are still digesting it, but all in all I think the fans have grown and they’re giving great response to the new songs so it’s looking good.

BA: So in the grand scheme of things, the skepticism that seems to accompany each Stars release has been a touch shorter?

PM: Yeah—we seem to be cutting down the lag time a little bit on this one.

BA: Well that’s a good sign. Now as far as In Our Bedroom is concerned, how long was it in the making?

PM: I guess after we finished touring Set Yourself On Fire we took some time off, and then Chris, Evan and I started hanging out again September ’06, then we did some pre-production and started writing, and then we went into a studio here in Montreal—Breakglass Studio—and hung out with Chase and did some demoing. I think the whole process took about a year but I have a terrible time remembering things like that. My life just bleeds day to day and month to month but I’m thinking it took about a year from when we started writing to when it came out. Maybe a year and a half.

BA: That’s cool. You’re preaching to the choir here. My life has simply become a series of deadlines. I’ve kind of gotten used to it now, but it took around seven years to get used to it.

PM: [chuckling] Well, we did want to take our time with this record because our last tour was just exhausting and we just wanted to have some fun. We wanted to hang out again and enjoy playing music together and just get a new angle on our relationship in the band and see if we could still do it. And you know? We had a great time—it was really fun.

BA: That’s cool. Were all the songs written when you walked in to record or were you still writing during that process?

PM: No, we were fully prepared. I think we had around eighteen tunes and then maybe a few more sketches of songs and we walked in with fifteen or sixteen that we had in mind to put together on the album and recorded straight off. Then we had a little extra time at the end so we threw down some other ideas that may or may not see the light of day.

BA: As B-sides for singles?

PM: Yeah, we wanted to have a bunch of extra songs coming out of the studio for that kind of thing—B-sides and special request things and maybe some stuff for the future—but we ended up putting a lot more songs on the record than we had initially anticipated so we had a lot less in the way of cushioning. Nonetheless, we’ve still got a couple of nuggets in the can.

BA: That’s cool. Now, I know the first single has come out, are there plans for a second one or is the band playing that by ear?

PM: Now, help me out—which single has come out? “The Riot?” “The Night Starts Here?”

BA: Well, I guess that in and of itself answers the question, that’d be two.

PM: Well, I think it depends on the territory I think. I’m not really sure how they’re releasing it to be honest, but I know “The Night Starts Here” was a single in Europe and “The Riot” was the single here –

BA; Yeah “Riot” was the one here….

PM: Yeah, there’s definitely work being done on the next single—what it’s going to be I’m not exactly sure, because different people want different things. We had an idea for one thing, but then radio broadcasters had another idea and ultimately it’s a matter of striking a balance because different people in different areas want different things and have different ideas about what should come out. The process of choosing a single has always been funny to me—I’m not exactly sure how they do it—but I think the general leaning at the moment is either “Midnight Coward” or “Favourite Book” maybe. I can’t say for sure though.

BA: Fair enough, you said you’re going down to Australia?

PM: Today—yeah.

BA: Oh you’re leaving today?!

PM: Yup.

BA: Oh shit. So you’re really pressed for time and you’re still doing this—Thank you.

PM: No problem.

BA: Where is this tour going? Australia obviously, where else?

PM: We’re in Australia, I think, for ten days and then we’re jumping over to Japan for four days and then home for about a week before we go through the States again.

BA: Jesus—so your time is spoken for into spring.

PM: We’re heading into the fall.

BA: Already?

PM: Oh yeah. We’re booking up; we’ve got summer festivals and I’m imagining after the summer’s over and the festivals are done, we’ll probably do another North American tour. Whether or not we’ll go back to Europe right after that is unknown right now, but we’ve definitely got a big year ahead of us and we’re working hard. Most people go to work every day, we work sometimes; we’re in our working season now.

BA: Now, I don’t know if this band writes on the road, but is it feasible that a few more demos might surface?

PM: I think, in theory, we’d like to, but we don’t. I’m not sure why, but I think we all live so close together in a bus, bringing out the acoustic seems a little too much. I don’t why it doesn’t work that way, but I think it has something to do with the fact that we all tend to write together as opposed to one person coming up with an idea that we all sort of glom onto. We pick a time to focus on sitting down and working on things whereas on the road we’re just trying to have some fun and get through sound check, have dinner and play a good show you know?

BA: And try desperately not to hurt each other while you’re out.

PM: Yeah exactly.

BA: I know exactly what you’re saying. So you’re booked up pretty much through the fall, what other plans are on the books? Are there more plans on the books right now?

PM: Well, we’ve got lots of plans coming in from different places—what we’re going to do exactly I’m not sure. We’re still trying to figure out our festival touring, we would like to write some more tunes, I think we’d like to take less time with the new record and get it done a little quicker. We got pretty fancy on the last record with demo-ing and going into a big studio but I think we’d like to keep it a little more contained next time. It was a great experience, but now we’ve had that experience and I think we learned enough that we can get things done a little quicker. So hopefully we’ll do some writing and hopefully we’ll have some time off to spend with our friends, family and loved ones. As far as major projects are concerned, there’s nothing on the horizon yet. We’re not starting a clothing line or anything anytime soon, although we kind of have already.

BA: Have you?

PM: Not so much, but we are in partnership with a merch company who are planning a clothing company too. It’s all connected.

BA: Well, I suppose it has to be. That’s the business of being in a rock n’ roll band; not many bands make a lot of money from their album sales, but they make a fair bit off of tickets and T-shirts.

PM: Yeah, album sales are just a calling card really. It is funny how it does become a business and you start approaching it with a business mentality.

BA: ‘Can we do this without going broke?’

PM: Yeah. It’s hard; we’re very lucky. We’re pretty diligent about our work and we did spend many years penniless. We’re still relatively penniless in spite of our success, but it’s like anything; I’ve worked a lot of different jobs in my life—I’ve been in the restaurant business and it takes five or ten years before you start seeing a penny and that’s like any business. If you stick to it, you have to see it through for a while if you hope to make a living off it and that’s hard. It’s really hard to survive for years on the hope that you might someday make a living off of what you do because you love it.

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