“You’ve never been dumped? You poor bastard,” says Brent Sasaki, the bassist in Vancouver’s Shimmering Stars. The Line Of Best Fit has just admitted to having not – as yet – had our heart broken; a seemingly fundamental experience in life’s rich landscape of emotional turmoil, and a central theme on their recently-released album, Violent Hearts, a sublime blend of Phil Spector-ish lovelorn melodies given a lo-fi sheen. A first listen is like hearing some long-lost Beach Boys demos.
The Canadian trio are in the UK for a short promo tour. We meet in a Manchester bar, the venue for tonight’s hastily-arranged show. The three band members are hideously polite and are dazzlingly charming company. Singer-songwriter Rory McClure does most of the talking and his far too handsome to be a local. Brent Sasaki and drummer Andrew Dergousoff rotate between bigging their singer up, and keeping his ego neatly in check.
Formed barely 18 months ago, Shimmering Stars have quickly created a timeless sound – innocent and sincere and without any hipster pretentions. It is a heady concoction. And the word is spreading. Even though their Manchester show was only confirmed two days ago, there is a decent turn-out. The crowd is rewarded with a glimpse of a special band. Shimmering Stars are great musicians, chat happily between songs (and when McClure’s guitar amp dies mid set) and have the tunes. This is what music should be like all the time. When did it get so complicated?
You played your first ever UK show in London last night, how was it?
Brent: The Lock Tavern was great and we got to take a peek at the neighbourhood. The show itself was great and I’ve been totally blown away by the amount of people came out to support a band they have probably never heard of.
And this is the first time you have been in a band that has toured outside North America?
Rory: For sure. It is surreal. We are at that point, which is probably the best point for a band, where it is just flattering that people even care and come to your shows.
So, let’s start at the beginning – how did you meet each other?
Brent: We’ve actually known each other for a long, long time – fifteen years or so. We are all from a town in British Columbia. It’s called Merritt, which is close to Kamloops. Merritt is the country music capital of Canada.
Rory: We come from a very austere and rich pedigree in our town. I am being sarcastic.
So Shimmering Stars is not your first band by any stretch?
Andrew: We’ve all be in different bands; this number five or six for me. I know these guys have played together for 20 years in many different bands.
Did you say 20 years? Were you playing in bands as toddlers?
Brent: Without giving away our ages, we all look very young; fresh and innocent. But, taking up the story, what happened before Shimmering Stars was that I moved back to Vancouver in 2005 and it just happened to be that these guys were looking for a bass player for their band at the time. We played with that band for about a year before we became Shimmering Stars.
What happened to the previous band? Was there a moment of inception for Shimmering Stars?
Rory: We were playing in that band and we were being pretty much completely ignored by Vancouver in general. I started doing some other recordings for Shimmering Stars and it was just a diversion from what we were doing and it was more based in a very classic tradition. What we were doing before was more indie-rock noise stuff and this came about really unexpectedly.
We then get interrupted by the support band who begin their soundcheck. Realising it was a pretty stupid idea to conduct an interview in the venue with another band playing, we decamp outside and enjoy the late summer evening. Later, when the support band take the stage, their ridiculously ragged performance suggests they weren’t taking the soundcheck too seriously.
Sorry about that. Where were we? Okay, I suppose when you listen to your album, the obvious question appears to be about your influences. Much of Violent Hearts pays homage to bands like the Everly Brothers and Phil Spector. How did that come about?
Rory: Basically, I have always loved the Everly Brothers and we were all exposed to early rock and roll and 50s/60s pop stuff. I had an obsession with the Everly Brothers for a while and I really wanted to try and recreate that specific sound. It kind of feels that every so often there are certain references that become popular. For a while Bruce Springsteen was a common reference point for a number of indie bands like Arcade Fire and The Killers. It occurred to me that there seems to be no contemporary bands that have tapped into what the Everly Brothers were doing; the very stripped-down, early pop with simple arrangements and purely melody-based music. So, I decided that would be an interesting direction, while bringing a more contemporary indie spin on that sound. When we play together, we all grew up listening to Sebadoh, Pixies and Guided By Voices so, whether we like it or not, it comes out sounding that way.
It must be very hard to write simple songs – the melody cannot hide behind anything?
Andrew: Rory has always done simple recording by himself. Due to the environment we were in, with lots of bands playing harder punk thrash stuff, we got drawn into that, but inside, I think he has always had this softer edge to him in the way he writes songs. What he has always done well is write simple pop songs.
Rory: There is something difficult about not trying to be too inaccessible or challenging, and instead trying to write very honest and sincere songs. It’s not very indie or what indie rock has ever been about. That’s more about noise and irony and detachment. So, that is what kind of attracted me to this whole 50s/60s thing, however contrived or manufactured it might have been, there was this apparent sincerity about it. That’s really wonderful. It’s a nice antidote to a lot of what has happened in the last couple of decades of pop music.
Lyrically, Violent Hearts seems to touch on the age-old tragedy of failed relationships. Again, that would be in keeping with your influences.
Rory: It’s the abuse of failed relationships. It is terrifyingly autobiographical. It is about being honest – it is common knowledge to write about what you know. I don’t think it should pretend to have some sort of insight into anything you are not familiar.
So, are there any folk back home who might identify themselves in one of your songs?
Rory: There may be a couple of ex-girlfriends involved but I am sure they are not flattered.
Again, we are interrupted – this time by a passer-by. “Can you tell me where Thomas Street Café is, please?” she asks, although TLOBF is clearly doing an interview. We are on Thomas Street. It is a small street. We muster some collective politeness and send her the wrong way.
Gosh, this is turning into an assault course of interruptions. Anyway, we were talking about the lyrics. I love the whole Phil Spector thing with songs about heartbroken teenagers where it is almost like the end of the world for them.
Rory: But that raises other interesting questions. What came first the heartbreak or the kind of music that told you to feel heartbroken?
Well, I am a biological scientist by training, so I would say that hormones have been around a lot longer than pop music, so I am going to say that the heartbreak came first.
Rory: That’s interesting. As a biologist, you would probably need to cross-reference with a sociologist and do a cross-cultural study. The idea of adolescence or teenagers is very specific to Western culture. There are other cultures where adolescence isn’t a period of intense hormonal warfare and identity crisis and all of that.
Rory: Go to Samoa.
I may well move my family to Samoa before my kids hit their teenage years. Thanks for the tip. But having said that I also think that we live in an age where being in your 20s is a very difficult period in many people’s lives.
Rory: I totally agree. A lot of the themes in our music discuss the very specific and unique position our generation is in within the privileged Western world. Kids that have limitless freedom and possibility, but at the same time we don’t feel compelled to have children or get real jobs and I think this is a distinct feature of the last 20 years. You would think that would be a really wonderful thing, but at the same time there is this anxiety of being able to do anything but not knowing what to do and feeling guilty about doing nothing. So, I hope that message is conveyed, somewhat.
It does, I get that. So, where do Shimmering Stars go next? Making a record which explores such a particular genre of music is wonderful, but I’m intrigued to know how you see yourselves developing, and avoid becoming ‘boxed in’ by your sound.
Rory: I think definitely moving away from the direct 50s/60s references. I personally am really interested in exploring the shoegaze atmospheric territory. I think there is a link between Phil Spector’s music and the shoegaze bands that I love. I listen to My Bloody Valentine and I think their songs are not quite as distinct and fully-realised as I want them to be. So, some sort of hybrid between having all this atmospheric lush production and having great songs.
So, I’m thinking of the Everly Brothers produced by Kevin Shields?
Rory: There you go. That’s bang on. Perfect. Phil Spector has this ‘Wall Of Sound’, this overwhelming effect where you can’t distinguish between stuff, and so sonically there is a similarity.
Violent Hearts is out now via Almost Musique