While Radiohead receives a ton of attention for its innovative sound and Death Cab for Cutie is constantly trumpeted for its profound lyrics, there may be no band out there with as much creative firepower as New York-based Stellastarr*.
No, that’s not a direct comparison between two of music’s most-respected heavyweights and a band still working on releasing its third album, but it is an acknowledgment of the plethora of ways in which Stellastarr* engineers its product.
“We do all of our own artwork and design all of our own merch. Basically we control all of our marketing, because we’re trained. We’re responsible for all of our artwork, from our music to our album covers. We throw out ideas for our videos … ” bassist Amanda Tannen says before pausing. “Well, we don’t know how to put a video together, so we hire directors for that. But we have ideas and they bring them to life.”
To date it’s been a successful, if fully immersive, venture for Tannen and her bandmates – lead vocalist Shawn Christensen, drummer Arther Kremer and guitarist Michael Jurin. Since first forming prior to attending the Pratt Institute to study art and design, Stellastar* has raised itself to become a recognized name in the Indie Rock world, touring with the likes of Editors, The Killers and Jane’s Addiction and climbing the charts on the strength of single “My Coco.”
“It was a real slow build,” Tannen says. “We were out writing and playing in the New York scene before we released [eponymous debut album] Stellastarr*. But one thing would happen and then the next thing would happen and it was exciting. We never wanted to quit it because we kept having great things happen.”
The origins of the group date back to Tannen’s initial experimentation in rock with Christensen and Kremer before college. The three were already experienced artists in other arenas. Tannen was a classically trained cellist, Christensen was a painter and screenwriter and Kremer was an actor and graphic designer.
“It started out as just three of us artists wondering, ‘What’s it like to work as a group?'” Tannen says. “We flourished and really enjoyed it.”
When they formed that first group, Ghistor, Tannen had never before played an electric bass and Kremer had been playing the drums for less than two months. A few years later they reformed with Jurin on guitar as Stellastarr* and eventually inked a deal with RCA.
“The reason I wanted to be in a band again was because I was working a desk job as a designer and it wasn’t fulfilling enough for me. I wanted something else and I thought playing music with my friends would bring a new light to my life,” Tannen says. “When we started doing well, it took over our lives.”
Since then the record deal with RCA has vanished and now the band is releasing its third album – the first since 2005’s Harmonies for the Haunted – independently.
Tannen is coy about how and when the band will put out its fully-recorded, but as-of-yet untitled album. However, fans attending the band’s Nov. 9 show at D.C.’s Rock and Roll Hotel will get to sample a few of the tracks, Tannen says. Currently a demo for new tune “Warchild” is posted on the group’s MySpace site and has received early positive feedback.
“Our fans were very excited to get the music and we were excited to show it to them,” Tannen says. “All of our fans want to hear it, we want to play it for them, we just have to figure out how to give it to them.”
With the amount of creativity this bunch has at their disposal, it’s a safe bet they’ll think of something.
• Stellastarr* plays The Rock and Roll Hotel Nov. 9 at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $14 in advance and $16 at the show. For more information on Stellastarr*, visit www.stellstarr.com.