Star Spangles Interview
Cambridge Corn Exchange,
December 14th 2002

From R*E*P*E*A*T Issue 20

Like a breath of fresh air breathed into a stable made stinky by the twin turpitudes of Sum 41 and The Strokes, we bring you The Star Spangles. Four first cousins from cultural hotbed Central Islip, New York-birthplace of Willie Nelson, Marvin Gaye and Captain Lou Albano – the Star Spangles take their name from the poem "My Wild Irish Arse" by Beat icon Gregory Corso: "Yonder, a star! Its twinkle spangles my fundament, babe!"

Lucy: Your band have been quite quiet for the last few months. Are you looking forward to playing gigs again?
Katie Jane Garside: I think I give very obtuse ans
* The Star Spangles - who, what and why?
- Well I'm Nick and I'm the bass player, our singer's Ian, our guitarists Johnny and our drummer's Joey Valentine. And we're a rock'n'roll band from New York City, we're from Manhattan. And why? Because we all completely love music and we love playing music, it's that simple. We don't really have a plan or anything like that. The band's been together for about four and a half years, I've been in the band for about two years, the newest member. This is the first time we've been over to Britain, we got very lucky to get on a tour like this with Idlewild. It's because we're on the same label as them, we signed to Parlophone a few months ago, and for a first band that goes on just after the doors open we've been getting a good reception. No one's thrown anything at us and quite a lot of people have been watching us, we've met a lot of nice young kids and made some new fans. It's been a good way to launch our single "Which One of the Two Of Us Is Going to Burn This House Down" which came out on Monday. They only pressed a thousand of them so it's more of a taster, a way of getting people to hear about us, to get our name known. We don't really have singles in America!

* One thousand is the same amount we press on our label! If you could invite any bands from the past to a Christmas party who would you ask?
- The Ramones and The Replacements, that's it!

* The piece in this week's NME makes a lot of your attitude being important, is that right?
- Yeah that's right, though there are some things in there that they made come out nastier than I would have liked, but we do our own thing and we are very opinionated people, particularly our singer and guitar player. We've been around New York for a long time and we've seen the changes that have come through. We don't like things that are mediocre or inoffensive, you've got to have a love-hate relationship with the best music. [The Ramones come on the sound system, "Judy is a Punk"]
* It seems to me that in American guitar music on one side you have garagey-art bands like The Strokes and on the other cartoon punk bands like Sum 41, are you trying to do something different from both?
- I don't know much about Sum 41, I'm sure they've been around for a while …
* They have!!!
- The same with The Strokes, we want to make our own thing, we're just a rock'n'roll band and we're into punk music like this Ramones track playing now and The Dictators and Television, Husker Du, stuff like that. The time is right for guitar bands now, it's better than listening to DJs or pop…
* … or the sort of guitar bands that are massive in Britain at the moment like Coldplay and Travis which are sensible and mature and very popular …
- … and boring!
* I agree, that's R*E*P*E*A*T's position. One of the bands on our label, The Virgin Suicides, who are all about 17 years old, what tips do you have for them?
- Play as much as possible, play for eight people or eight hundred, play with bands even if you've never heard of them, just go out and have fun and play as much as possible. Even if you're not really tight, fuck it, just go and play, you'll get tight!
One show is worth ten practices! Then record your music and put it out if you're happy with it, there's no reason to wait, just do it!!!! There's more important things about being in a band than being musical; anyone can write a song, anyone can write a good song without being able to play more than three chords, it's not just about musicianship - it's about writing a good song.

* What about your stage "act", or whatever, is that important to you?
- We just go out there and play, we don't really have an act! It's a bit harder playing big shows as audiences are so far away from you and we're not used to that, we're more used to playing to two to three hundred people in New York.
* Are you doing any headlining shows while you're here?
- Yes, we just did The Metro in London and we did one in a little place in Brighton in a little place called The Free Butt [that is little - Ed] and we're doing another one in London before we fly back home. I like playing the small clubs, this size of gig is very new to us, it can be harder to get in to it on a big stage so we just do our own thing and try to make it work.

* As I said, The Virgin Suicides are all around 17 while The Manic Street Preachers, who originally inspired R*E*P*E*A*T, are around my age. Do you think that age, or the lack of age, is important in rock'n'roll?
No I don't think it's important, though of course it is to record companies! We played with The Soft Boys a while ago in New York and that was pretty cool and they're older guys and they rocked still!
* The Soft Boys? Years ago they played at The Portland Arms in Cambridge where we put on gigs nowadays, I believe you can get a bootleg of it!

* Have you ever listened to The Manics?
- They're not very big in the States, all they know is that they had a guy who disappeared, I really don't know anything else about them. But I should do! What should I get, what should I listen to? The first album?
* Yeah, or the third album; 'Generation Terrorists' or 'The Holy Bible', which is more introverted and screwed up, Richey's album, it sold the least of all their albums but it's a huge cult record. Whereas 'Generation Terrorists' is more angry with the world.

* Your guitar player is called Tommy Volume, apparently, and of course there's Nicky Wire of The Manics. What other false names are you fond of?
- The best were probably all of The Ramones, I always thought that was great, it was very original. Apart from that, I don't know.
* It might not translate to American, but my favourite is probably "Tory Crimes" (real name Terry Chimes, now a respected doctor), The Clash's original drummer.
- No, it doesn't translate!

* What do you listen to while hoovering?
- I don't vacuum!! But at home I've been listening to Big Star, Cheap Trick…
* Cheap Trick, that's interesting. Thinking about the title of your single, whose house would you burn down if you had a chance?
- Mayor Blomberg, the Mayor of New York. He tried to ban smoking so it would be quite appropriate to burn his house down with a lit cigarette!
* And what would you rescue first if your house was burning down?
- My record collection. That's it. I don't own anything else apart from records!
* Do you own a record player? Would you like a copy of our last release, the Neo / Virgin Suicides split single?
- Yes I do have a record player and yes I'd love a single! I'll play it when I get home and put it in my collection.
* It's very limited edition numbered red vinyl and everything, let us know what you think of it!
- That's great, I will.

* Is there anything else you think I should have asked?
- No I don't think so, I think you've pretty much hit the nail on the head.
* So the most important question is, what's best, chips or cream buns? It doesn't translate to American either!
- I don't know what cream buns are! I'd rather have chips, I'd go with the savoury!
* That's the right answer actually. Do you mind signing this promo copy of the single for a web site competition? And can you think of a question that's fairly easy?
- What about what member of blondie was once in The Ramones?
* That's not easy!!! You'd better tell me the answer! Thanks very much.
- Thanks, and thanks again for the fanzine and the record!

Thanks to Nick for his time and to Mike at Infected PR for setting up the interview. I can't tell you the answer to the question as the competition is still running; mail me your answers to

wers to questions...It's never about looking forward to it. Actually maybe I should change the
script, maybe we are looking forward to it. (Laughs). It's difficult to say because the last few months have felt strange, it's felt like going down a plughole. I've got a real sense of vertigo at the moment. So I can't tell you that I'm looking forward to it. I will get through it and find where I land after that. That's what will happen.

Lucy: 'Taxidermy' and 'Drink Me' are quite drastically different in their musical styles, so what kind of sound can we expect from the 3rd album?
KJG: We don't know yet. We're playing a lot of new material tonight so you'll be able to judge that for yourself. When I'm this close up to it, it's really difficult to tell. I'm on a bit of a negative slant today, but usually with our music I can only hear the bits that have gone wrong rather
than anything that went right. When you reflect back on something it's very difficult to give an objective opinion, and I don't believe in objectivity anyway, I think everything's subjective. I just throw a deck of cards and
wherever they land, that's where she finds herself. I'm not really the one to explain my part in it, you must do that as the observer really, and of course that will reflect your part in the grand scheme of things.

Lucy: Do you enjoy playing live more than the creative process in the studio?
KJG: (Laughs) I don't enjoy any of it. It comes and it goes, ok? There's nothing like when you're writing and you manage to catch something by its
tail; when you're looking for those things underground that are skittering out of sight just when you're about to catch them. And when you catch them it is worth it, but it's a momentary pleasure. I've got so much noise upstairs, and I can hear things in my head that to me are absolutely devastatingly beautiful. I'm always trying to download them and get them
here, but they never get here in the right state, they're always very disabled and they don't even begin to imitate what I can hear in my head.
It's a frustrating process in the main.

Lucy: Your lyrics are simultaneously emotionally expressive and cryptic. Are you looking to be understood by your audience?
KJG: I'm always trying to understand myself, but it's like there's a point in the centre of the room, and there's a hundred windows to look at the same point from. All I can do is give you different angles on the same thing. God, you know, if I could find one conclusive thing in anything I would probably have something to put an anchor down on. But I cant, and I haven't met anyone that can. You can pick out anything you like in my lyrics, I don't seek to be cryptic. I love words for the sake of words, for me they're kind of free standing, and they don't really need to be explained. I think every word has its own character and colour and picture and the result you get with lyrics just depends how you put them together. You could just do it in a William Burroughs esque way, or throw the deck of cards, and you'd probably still find something that our tiny little minds would latch on to in order to gain some kind of emotional understanding. I don't think there's a constant, the only constant that there is for me is that there is no constant. I use myself as my canvas, I gut myself and fillet myself the whole fucking time, I'm always hooking myself out of the water, I'm always cutting my own head off and disembowelling myself, and as you can probably tell I'm quite angry about it at the moment. I'm very tired of it all, of my
process and how I find life, because it always seems to be about living and dying all in one breath. I'm getting pretty fucking tired of that.

Lucy: Do you think drugs stimulate or hinder creativity?
KJG: Well that depends on the drug, because I think most things arrive in the form of a drug really. I know in myself that if anything I am, much to my greater expense, an adrenalin junkie. My synapses don't work well enough to put pills in my mouth, I can't do that, despite popular opinion. I don't need any help breaking down, put it that way. There's not much holding it
together. If there was a drug that could put aline between two polar opposites and make them in to one thing I'm sure I would have it
intravenous, but I haven't found it. I think drugscan be a bit of a lazy way for creativity anyway, you're better off in the cold light of day in the mirror.

Lucy: As a band, you are distinguished by the extreme physicality of your live performances. Do you consciously make an effort to put on a show or do your performances just naturally come to you, and whatever happens, happens?
KJG: It's a bit of both, because you see, I think taking the stage is one of the most unnatural things anyone can do. In a way, just walking on stage actually creates an altered state - its not right, no one's meant to do that, unless you're a priest or a magician, or something like that. To put somebody who's very incapable in many ways in to that position creates a combustion reaction inside me. I know that, and I take the stage knowing that. Obviously there's all the usual things that affect my performance; if I'm on my 45th day of a tour I'm probably gonna be pretty fucking tired, so I'll be dictated by that. If I'm doing new material like tonight I don't
know what's going to happen, because we haven't built the train tracks yet. The beauty of playing live is when my drummer goes in to 5th gear or in to 10th gear, and for some reason there's something that hits me in the base of the spine and I'm gone, and that's Halleluiah for me. During the last few months a lot of strange things have been happening onstage, I think the process is changing. I don't know what's going to happen tonight, I've been having quite a tough time on stage, I feel like something's pulling me under, as if something's got me.

Lucy: So does the crowd influence your performances on stage?
KJG: Yes they do. I'm unkind enough to be pretty impersonal about how I do it, so I use them for me to kick against in effect, or to surf on, (I don't
mean physically surf). If you're in an empty roomand there's a couple of people at the back, it doesn't necessarily mean you'll have a bad show -
they might get the show of their lives. And then again when something's really heaving and going off, I get quite a distorted view of it, because I
can feel quite overwhelmed lose my sense of place in the situation. I lose control of myself. I don't know, I probably wasn't meant to do this, I
wasn't built for this. It wasn't a career option, I didn't start there and go there, I didn't pick up the things on the way. I've sort of gone round
and round.

Lucy: As the lead singer of the band, most media interest is focused on you. Do you feel pressurised by your position or do you enjoy being the centre of attention?
KJG: I've been here on this wheel long enough,(and I say this with a little bit of trepidation because I think you have to be really careful with this kind of thing, because the motivation to do it in itself I think is usually pretty corrupt) I'm not doing it for anyone else, I need a cheque through the door like anybody else does, you have to keep eating, you have to keep living. I'm looking for some sense of going home on my own terms, and people's critique of me is not relevant, whether it's positive of negative.
I do need a cheque through the door though, otherwise I'll have to go and be a butcher or something.

Lucy: What is the religious meaning behind the song "For I am the way"?
KJG: If you use the word religion in its truest sense, all it means is communion, it hasn't got any of the attachments to any written word. My
understanding of the word communion is loss of the sense. Another way of looking at it is you've got to get in to get out, and the only thing that I
know to be true is me, is this tiny little dot in the centre of the universe. It's the only thing that I know feels pain; I can see other people's pain and I can feel it in an emotional way, but not in a physical way. I find myself in the unfortunate position of feeling like I am the
centre of the universe and that everything is a projection, made by me - i.e. you two don't exist, you're something that I created. I don't wish that
sense upon anybody because it's not a good one. Through 'For I am the way' I'm saying that you've got to get in, because the only thing one knows to be true is oneself. And on a good day, if you stand on top of a mountain or go to the desert or stand in the ocean, and become completely inconsequential, linear time stops and you become everything and nothing. That for me is
communion, that's how I define religion. I thinkthere's a line in there which goes "Today the only bridge I have I burn" which sums it up really, because it is about cutting all lines of communication in order to really truly commune.

Lucy: Do you think that in the future your creativity will move from the sphere of music in to literature for example?
KJG: It's real hard to say. In a way, that sounds like a much easier life. But for all I know I'm deluding myself. I'm looking for someone to help me frame something at the moment, and someone is actually, someone's being really good to me. I would love to write, but I don't know if I'm good
enough to do it.