Several years ago, three members of the orchestral pop band Stars smoked pot in New York's Central Park and were arrested by an undercover cop. "It was really quite incredible," says bassist Evan Cranley. "We literally got out of jail, in a cab and jumped on stage. It was pretty rock and roll."
Fast-forward to a record-breakingly freezing winter years later, and these same "rock and roll" members cut themselves off from civilization by hibernating in a cabin in North Hatley, Canada. Unlike Jack Nicholson's snow-induced insanity in The Shining, to which the band has compared its experience, the result of Stars' anti-social behavior was 2005's Set Yourself on Fire. The Canadian group's third full-length album would also become known as its best, and push them to a level of success they'd spent years working towards.
Stars was formed in New York by frontman Torquil Campbell and keyboardist Chris Seligman, and soon added singer Amy Milan and bassist Cranley to create 2001's Nightsongs. Always thirsting for change, the group recorded its 2003 sophomore album, Heart, in the Set Yourself on Fire-like isolation of a small bedroom in Montreal. "There's definitely been a distinct sound from record to record," says Cranley, which he attributes to the band's location changes between albums. "We're not afraid of trying to live up to ourselves by any means."
With Set Yourself on Fire, the band has exceeded expectations to create an atmospheric, haunting album that mixes songs about heartbreak and youth with a politicized anti-Bush message. The band's ability to seamlessly combine aerial orchestrations with remorseful lyrics comes from each member knowing his or her place in the creative process. Cranley, who is also a member of label-mate's Broken Social Scene, says that "every band is made up of impossible freaks who do it their own way, but we're four individuals who kind of have a good thing going because everyone has a defined role."
Since releasing Set Yourself on Fire, Stars has garnered more attention from critics and fans, has been spotlighted on many Best of 2005 lists (this publication included), and are now on its biggest tour to date. Cranley sees this North American tour as the culmination of the band's collective efforts and a chance to hone its performance skills. "This is a place we all worked really hard and where we hoped to be one day and now we're here. So, we're really happy"