The Los Angeles band talks hospital gowns, real Hollywood living, and the state of punk music ahead of Wednesday’s show at ONCE Somerville
Starcrawler are the incarnation of a double-dog-dare: A dare to not look away; a dare to stare right into the eyes of frenzied madness and not quake in your boots when a mouthful of fake blood from lead singer Arrow de Wilde heads your way.
And most of all, Starcrawler are a dare to forget — a challenge that most people won’t ever bother to take on, because it’s ultimately impossible for anyone with good taste or good eyesight. And that’s just the way they like it.
“When you hate something, it’s still flattering because you’re still spending so much energy on the person, or on the band, or whatever it is. And we all hate things, you know?” de Wilde confesses to Vanyaland. “But being forgotten about, that’s more of an insult to me.”
Christening their sophomore album Devour You with a headlining tour that stops at ONCE Somerville this Wednesday (October 23), Starcrawler’s own de Wilde and guitarist Henri Cash dialed Vanyaland to talk hospital gowns, the grit of real Hollywood living, and the state of punk music (hint: de Wilde says it’s dead).
Victoria Wasylak: You had such a quick turnaround on your new album Devour You, seeing that your self-titled record just came out last year. What was it like putting together a whole additional LP in such a short timeframe?
Henri Cash: Stressful.
Arrow de Wilde: Yeah, it was definitely a lot of stress and crying, but I feel like that’s kind of how the best things end up getting made, you know?
Right. Was that your idea to put it out so quickly, or was that just the label?
Cash: That was the only part that was everybody else’s idea.
de Wilde: Yeah. Which I think it was a good idea, but we were just like, “Oh, fuck. Well, we have to write a whole album.”
Was that daunting? It’s one thing to write 12 songs that are so-so, but you don’t want just so-so songs on an album, right? You want really good songs. How long did it take you, at least for the songwriting process, to put together stuff that you really felt was good and you were confident in?
Cash: It was over a couple of months, and there were more songs than that. There was probably like 25 songs, but those 12 were the ones that made it through. And you’re never quite confident with the songs until you hear them as a final thing.
de Wilde: We kind of work the best under pressure, I’ve noticed. Most of the shit we do is last minute. All the videos we’ve done, we’ve done a week before they came out, like last minute, stressing out, crying about it. That’s just kind of like the way I’ve always worked, too. I think the only ones that aren’t like that, though, are “Tank Top” and “Hollywood Ending,” because we did that one a while before the album. But “Tank Top” we had actually written when we first joined the band and totally forgot about it. It was a voice memo, when I was looking through my laptop, like “there’s got to be some old shit in here that maybe we could use.” So I’m looking through [my laptop] and I found that, and I was like, “okay cool.” It was like, half done. The main bit was done and then we added a second chunk to it.
Would you say that you’ve evolved a lot as a band in that short year in between releasing the two albums? Because you’ve been touring a ton, and obviously you’ve been writing a ton in that short time period.
Cash: I mean, yeah. It’s not like we focused on growing, either. It was not an intentional thing. So, we spent almost three years in a band together, playing almost every night, and just from that you get tighter and know what the other person’s going to do. You listen to a lot of different kinds of music together and you expand your horizons.
California obviously is central to who you are as a band, but I always like listening to you guys talk about it. Because, for example, you’ve commented on Hollywood Boulevard, which everyone wants to see and everyone idolizes it, but it’s actually gross and seedy. You kind of showed that in your “Hollywood Ending” music video. What else do you think that people get wrong about California?
de Wilde: Well, people from California never call it Cali, that’s for sure. We were just on the street the other day, and we were talking to people. My shirt said “Hollywood” on it, so they’re like “Hey, you’re from Hollywood. Oh, you must be rich” and I’m like “Oh, no… that’s not how it works…”
Cash: Or they’ll say “You’re from Hollywood, how many famous people do you know?”
de Wilde: I think people have an idea that Kim Kardashian and all these random-ass people walk down the streets, [that] you’d see all these different celebrities every day. I mean, I guess you’d see celebrities more than at other places, like maybe like once a month I’ll see like some washed up reality star at Starbucks or The Coffee Bean, but it’s not what people think it is. LA is really different from what someone has never been there before has an idea of it.
It’s so spread out. I know too, when people come from other places, New York people always think they can walk everywhere. And I’ve had some friends stay from New York and they’re like, “Oh yeah, I’m going to go walk to Hollywood and Vine right now.” And I’m like, “No, you’re not. That’s literally impossible. Sorry. That’s not how it works.” Yeah, it’s just funny because it doesn’t work how other cities do. I think that’s why a lot of people don’t like it, but when you’re from there, it’s like you don’t really know any other way. We’re used to being in the car, like singing along to songs in the car. That’s kind of how LA works, where everyone drives, or gets driven, and is blasting music in the car. I think also that’s why it’s such a musical city, because that’s the main time everyone plays music, you’re listening to the radio, or whatever the fuck you’re playing, and it takes pretty much 20 minutes or more to get everywhere in LA.
I think you’re in a really unique position, because almost every musical artist or band that’s “from LA” moved to LA, they’re not actually from LA.
de Wilde: Or they’re from Fullerton or Long Beach. They lie. That’s not LA.
How would you say that authenticity comes through in your music? Adding on to the “Hollywood Ending” video, in which you kind of tried to show how gloriously seedy it is in real life, and things like that.
de Wilde: I think that’s kind of a good way to describe our music, its kind of “gloriously seedy.” It’s glammy, it’s glitzy, it looks pretty, but it’s also very kind of like raw and —
Cash: Fucked up.
You started this band in an era where genres don’t mean a whole heck of a lot. Things really flow into each other. Everything’s really fluid. How did you find your voice or your style in an era where everything’s so ambiguous?
de Wilde: I mean, I think that helps because, I know if you’re in a punk band or hardcore band, you’re like, “Okay, you have to be like this. You can’t sing another way, otherwise it’s not hardcore, it’s not punk.” But for us, we weren’t trying to —
Cash: To be anything.
de Wilde: — to be one specific thing. Any time someone’s like “What kind of music do you make?” — I just say rock. I mean, that kind of covers so many different categories, but I don’t know how else to describe it, because I don’t think anyone’s really punk anymore. I don’t really like when people call it a punk band.
I’m interested that you said that you feel like no one’s really punk anymore. Why do you feel like that?
de Wilde: I mean, okay — if you think about it, you take a dude with a purple mohawk, and you take a nun. These days, if you’re on the street and you see the dude with the mohawk, you’re going to be like, “Okay, yeah, it’s a dude with the mohawk. He probably listens to blink-182 or some shit.” You see a nun, it’s like “Oh my God, creepy. It’s a nun. Oh my God.”
It shows the fact that it’s all kind of flipped around. I guess it all depends on where you are, but to me, it’s like you’re only dressing up as a punk or whatever, but no one actually has anything that they’re rebelling against. They can’t, because punk is a norm now…. There are way more people that are freaked out by Jesus than they are the devil now. I don’t know, maybe Christians are punk, I don’t know. [laughs]
I understand what you’re saying though, because one generation’s rebellion is the next generation’s normal. For your onstage performance, you definitely put a lot into making a really entertaining, boundary-pushing show. How did you develop that? I mean, I imagine you didn’t wake up one morning and say, “Hey, I want to put fake blood in my mouth and spit it on people.”
de Wilde: I mean, from the get-go of this band, I’ve been doing what I do, and it’s definitely evolved. It’s gotten, in my opinion, better and it’s become more of a performance than it was [initially]. From the first show, I spat blood, I was wearing a hospital gown with nothing under it. No shoes. I don’t know, I was like, “I want to spit blood and just like, fuck people up.” You can’t just do that in normal life, but if you’re onstage, people will let you do anything, almost.
Where are you hoping to take the band next? You’re going to be doing your own tour as a headliner, now you guys are at the steering wheel.
Cash: We just put on a show and play our music and if it resonates with people, that’s great. But it’s one of those things where you just have to see it to fully understand it, and it’s going to be different every night. It’s just the natural thing that happens with performance, and if you get off on that, then you’ll probably like it.
de Wilde: The thing I always think about it is there’s no way everyone’s going to like it. It pisses a lot of people off. But it’s rare when someone forgets about it. You can hate it because then you’re spending all that energy and time, you’re still thinking about it. When you hate something, it’s still flattering because you’re still spending so much energy on the person, or on the band, or whatever it is. And we all hate things, you know? But being forgotten about, that’s more of an insult to me. That’s like “you’re nothing, I don’t remember you.” So I think that a goal of mine as a performer is make sure that you liked it [or] you hate it. You’ll never forget it, though.
How do you make music or perform in a way that is unforgettable but also isn’t “trying too hard,” and that isn’t contrived? I feel like you can’t force something like that, or if you did force it, people would be able to tell.
de Wilde: I don’t know, I think it has to come to you naturally, is the only answer for that. I mean, it definitely took me a while. I wasn’t ready to be a performer for a pretty long time, but I always wanted to [be one]. I would always listen to songs, imagining singing them, performing them, but I didn’t know how to do it in real life.
And it took a while for sure… Whatever the music feels like to me is what I put out. I kind of like to think of it like the music is controlling me, almost, like I’m a marionette puppet. I wouldn’t know how to do what I do with Starcrawler if I just was singing for fun, like in karaoke, you know what I mean?
I had read in an interview that you actually had said you were really shy years ago. Now you’re in front of a ton of people and you’re sticking a microphone in your throat. How did you get to that point? That’s a journey.
de Wilde: I mean, I’m still kind of shy in person, but it’s not like when I was when I was little kid. Around middle school is when it started to change, but I just didn’t like people, I didn’t like other kids. I thought they were ugly and stupid. I was very introverted. I didn’t like playing. I wanted to not be shy, that kind of thing. I would daydream about myself being super social and doing all this stuff, but I couldn’t do it. I lived in fear or something. I don’t really know why.
I think if you want to be shy it’s a different thing, then you might never change, but if you don’t want to and you just don’t know how, I think it’s just a matter of time before you kind of figure it out. Once I realized that there actually were a couple kids that liked the same shit as me, kind of similar, it definitely helped. It kind of just happened over time and lots of practice in front of a mirror.
Yeah? That’s such a cliché. But you actually did it!
de Wilde: Oh yeah. I didn’t have any friends. Like I told you, I didn’t like people. I only hung out with like, my mom’s friend, and then I had one or two other friends. Everyone else has all these stories of like, “Oh yeah, I was a rambunctious little kid.” It sounds like it was like so much fun! I was so the opposite.
Would you say you’re still an introvert now?
de Wilde: Mmm-hmm [negative]. I don’t like being alone. Now it’s like, I think I spent so much of my life alone, that I just was bored so much in my life. So now I have such a fear of being alone. Sometimes we’ll stay in a hotel where we all have our own rooms, and I’m like, “Uh…. I don’t want my own room.” [laughs]. If I’m alone for more than a couple hours I start going crazy.
When I look at you and I listen to you, Starcrawler sounds like you all grew up in rock and roll families. Arrow, I know your mom is a music photographer. I wanted to learn a little bit more about what it was like growing up in your respective families, because I think it really comes through that rock music has been something that has been fed to you your whole life, from the womb.
de Wilde: I definitely wouldn’t ever trade it for any other kind of growing up. When I was little I always wanted to be like the Brady Bunch. I didn’t really realize how awesome [my upbringing] was, or how much I liked it, I guess. I had dreams about having all these siblings and doing potatoes sack races and all that. And now I think it’s disgusting, I’m so glad I didn’t have a family like that.
It was a lot of fun because my mom would take [in] those bands at our house, and I’d get to miss school and hang out with whoever, and they’d stay the night. I had so much fun as a kid, but like I said, that’s why I liked hanging out with adults more. Because I was like “adults are fun.” They could take me places and buy me food and we’d do fun stuff.
Do you have a particular memory of someone your mom was working with who stayed over that was like,”Whoa, holy shit”, that really stands out as a big deal from your childhood?
de Wilde: I mean, hm. Again, I didn’t realize. It wasn’t like, “well holy shit” because it was just “my mom’s friend Ben” or whatever. I was little, it wasn’t like I knew that they were part of this super influential [world].
I mean, that’s a hard one. I definitely… I don’t have many memories of this. We lived with Elliott [Smith], and I have memories that house, and I have such fond memories of just that specific time when I was so little. My parents are still together and we had so many people living with us. It was so cheap, too. It was in Echo Park, but no one wanted to live there. It was awesome. I can remember stuff from when I was like two years old.
Like, I can’t remember stuff people said two minutes ago, but I can remember random [stuff]. It’s not like full-on memories but it’s flashes of images. My dad’s friends, his bandmates would always stay over at his house, or we’d stay over at their house and have barbecues, and it was a lot of fun. I don’t really have a specific story, nothing really crazy.
Cash: And then, my dad was a musician, and so he was always playing music, and my mom played piano. I played guitar. My uncles are musicians as well. When I grew up, my uncles played professionally, and when they came over, they were always the funnest people to be around. They still live in LA. One uncle, when he was coming through, he played with Ryan Adams, coincidentally. But when I was like two or three, he came through and he stayed at our house while they were playing on Conan O’Brien. And I just remember seeing him beforehand and then watching it on TV and then trying to air play guitar with a broomstick.
And my parents always bought me music things, like CDs, even when we went to Best Buy or Target, I would be able to pick out a CD. And so I would pick up AC/DC and Ramones stuff, and just the kind of stuff that makes you want to move around and be entertaining, that kind of music. Then when I went to school, I played in the orchestras, violin, tuba, weird shit. But I just think all kinds of music feel good to do. And especially when you’re kind of a weirdo, if you want to play music and you don’t really fit into the norm, I guess, it’s kind of like a safe place.
It’s funny to hear you say like playing the tuba because I don’t think people think that’s “rock and roll” ordinarily, but it takes a lot to be a really multi-dimensional musician, you know? There’s so much more to rock music than a guitar.
Cash: I wanted to play guitar in the first place. I wanted to play guitar when I was really little, so I learned how to play guitar. But then all the other kids I didn’t like played guitar, and it made me not want to play guitar as much. Then when I met Arrow, she asked me if I played guitar and I said yeah, and then I started jamming with them and that’s when I really realized that I was going to have to play guitar. That was going to have to be my thing. Because you know, you dance around with so many instruments, you never know what’s going to like end up being “your thing.” I had no fucking idea that it was going to be guitar, but I’m really glad it was. It’s a lot better than being Mr. Tuba Man. Mr. Tuba Man doesn’t get shit. [laughs] There’s tuba on our new record! Yeah, I got bored.
Really? Is that genuinely how it wound up on there?
Cash: I just stuck it in, I wanted to be a show off, but I wasn’t sure everybody else would be down, but so I kind of snuck it in with the producer.
de Wilde: It’s very simple, it’s not like you think “oh, it’s a tuba song.”
Cash: And the intro to “She Gets Around” is with the trombone, but nobody knows it, because it’s hidden. But it all sounds good. Nothing sounds like, “Oh, they’re fucking geeks” or something.
STARCRAWLER + DAN LUKE + TEST MEAT :: Wednesday, October 23 at ONCE Somerville, 156 Highland Ave. in Somerville, MA :: 7 p.m., $13 advance, $15 day of show :: Advance tickets :: Facebook event page