Stellastarr bassist Amanda Tannen
The New York quartet forges out on its own
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Much like its contemporaries Interpol and The Strokes, post-punk outfit Stellastarr enjoyed the fruits of the feeding frenzy surrounding overly stylized NYC bands in the earlier part of the decade. Unlike some of its contemporaries, however, the quartet eschewed its garage-rock sound in favor of more pronounced new-wave influences (in addition to borrowing from mopey British acts such as Jesus And Mary Chain and Joy Division). After releasing two records followed by rounds of relentless touring, the exhausted members of Stellastarr took nearly four years off before regrouping and recording the self-released Civilized. Prior to tonight's show at The Rock And Roll Hotel, bassist Amanda Tannen talked to Decider about groupies, major label woes, and being indirectly responsible for the birth of a child named after the band.
Decider: How are things different now that the band is releasing its music through your own Bloated Wife label?
Amanda Tannen: We have a lot more responsibility and a lot more work. It’s all kind of up to us to make sure that everything gets done and on time, which can be stressful, but it’s also very rewarding.
D: Was the split with your RCA nasty?
AT: It wasn’t nasty at all—it was very amicable, actually. We just decided to leave. We loved the label and all the people we were working with. When RCA merged with Sony, our second record, Harmonies For The Haunted, came out the same month that the merger happened, and we got swallowed and lost. No one was keeping track of what was going on with the album, and everyone who was working with us got laid off. Because of that, there was no way for us to come back from that within the label.
D: Will you guys release other acts on your own label?
AT: For now, we don’t have enough money. We’re taking this one step at a time.
D: What’s the worst part about being the lone female in a band?
AT: A lot of the times, I end up having to be in the motherly role of making sure stuff happens. It’s not necessarily like: “Oh, you poor baby, let me put a Band-Aid on that” situation. It is more like a strict “Be here on time!” kind of motherly role.
D: Which band member is the most difficult for you to keep in line?
AT: The hardest one? That would be Michael [Jurin, lead guitar]. He works on an entirely different time schedule than the rest of us and just doesn’t understand. He is perpetually 45 minutes late. So, with planning, we have to take into consideration the “Michael factor.”
D: You could get around the “Michael factor” by telling him to show up somewhere at 5:15 when you really mean 6 o’clock.
AT: Oh, trust me, we tried. He’d just end up being an hour and a half late.
D: What’s the best part about being the lone female in the band?
AT: Well, there’s no competition for men. [Laughs.] Oh, and when you are touring on a bus, people let you have the first shower. They figure since I’m a girl, I have more things to do in there.
D: Do you have a lot of male groupies throwing themselves at you on tour?
AT: No, not at all. That’s the other funny thing. The guys get all the pretty underage groupies that will do whatever. Me? I don’t get the pretty girls. I get the weirdos. I get, like, little 15-year-old boys.
D: What’s the strangest fan interaction you’ve had?
AT: This is weird, but I’m also really flattered by it. We got a letter once from this couple that had met at one of our shows, and they ended up getting married. We got an e-mail the other day saying that they had named their first child Stellastarr.
D: There’s a rumor that the band doesn’t like to play the track “Untitled” off the debut album live. Why is that?
AT: Well, the thing is it’s on an acoustic guitar. So, first off, it’s harder to play live in the middle of an electric set. It's another issue at the sound check. Number two, there are keyboards in there. Arthur [Kremer] plays both the keyboards and the drums, and there was no way to have him just play keyboards or just play drums, so that’s another issue. There’s so much that can go wrong. It’s the only song of its kind, so it ends up getting thrown by the wayside. It’s also a really quiet song, so the audience would actually have to be quiet, and it’s hard to bring an otherwise loud rock set down.
D: Shawn Christensen just sold two of his screenplays. Are you guys in any danger of having Hollywood steal your frontman away?
AT: He is pretty much bi-coastal right now. There’s a lot of downtime when we tour, and he wrote the first couple screenplays while we were on tour. So, there’s a lot of time for him to be writing while we’re making music. We’ve talked about it, and he says that it’s doable to be in the band and work on movies. So, hopefully, no. The thing is, we’re not doing the band because of any monetary gain; we’re doing it because it is a creative outlet for us.
D: Is there a chance the band will ever lose that ridiculous asterisk it often uses at the end of its name?
AT: We came very close this time. [Laughs.]
D: You guys are also known for coming up with a different story for the asterisk every time a journalist asks about it.
AT: Well, yes, we do. We all have different answers. There’s not really one good answer or one “real” answer. The asterisk was more or less about branding ourselves and coming up with something creative. We just wanted our name to stand out and be recognizable.