- Photo courtesy of Shervin Lainez
- Wish I might: Stars (Torquil Campbell, far right)
It’s a relief to hear that Stars is still for fags.
Seven autumns ago, “Stars is for fags” was emblazoned in pale-purple letters on a unisex American Apparel tee. It would become an iconic tour T-shirt, but more than that, it was a statement about “reclaiming weakness,” says Torquil Campell, the Montreal synth-pop band’s co-lead singer and songwriter. “When people try to diminish you and take your power away, they’ll use any word they think is going to do that. And for me, having pride in my vulnerability is a very empowering thing. If you’re the kind of person who’s been ostracized, who’s been bullied, left out, called a fag because of something inside of you that actually is an expression of beauty, of uniqueness and otherness, we’re a band for you.”
Stars is 15 years, eight albums and six EPs — including this September’s three-track Lost & Found — into its career as ringleader for the “weak" and "soft” kids on the dance floor, who may now be approaching middle age, but still embrace that forever-teen dedication to feeling all the feels.
Stars emerged from that early-2000s Canadian scene with Arts & Crafts labelmates Broken Social Scene and Feist. It was an era when it seemed like all good music came from the north. Stars’ gold-selling breakthrough Set Yourself on Fire was released around same time as Arcade Fire’s Funeral and Metric’s Live It Out. Metric’s Emily Haines, a close friend of the band, even lent her vocals to a few of Stars’ early tracks, before Amy Millan became a Stars fixture — “the other half of me,” as Campbell explains, “the most beautiful singer I’ve ever heard.” The first time Millan sang with Stars, in a school gym where the keyboardist’s mother taught, Campbell says, “I fell to my knees and begged her to be in the band. It was instantaneous. I knew we had a connection I was never going to find in someone else.”
It’s this he-said/she-said push-and-pull that works so well for Stars. There is no one voice, no one truth in life or in love. Stars songs reflect that — the plurality of perspectives. The ebb and flow of loneliness and hope, of wearing one’s heart on one’s sleeve, and being completely unapologetic about the power of vulnerability. “Put your hands up, ’cause everybody dies,” Campbell crooned on last year’s “No One Is Lost” — the perfect refrain for those who grew up on Morrissey and My So-Called Life, and just can’t seem to nail down that elusive, detached “cool,” no matter how many rock ’n’ roll shows we attend or even perform.
“The world doesn’t want you to be weak, the world doesn’t want you to be soft,” says Campbell. “And a lot of why I’m in a band is to beat those motherfuckers. … I have this crew of people I’ve found who see the world the same way I see it, and it continues to be a visceral thrill of having found my gang, and not feeling alone in it anymore.”