Canadian power-poppers and retro-rockers Star Collector are back with a brand new album, Game Day – their first record since 2006’s Hundred-Bullet-Proof.
Based in Vancouver, the band’s current line-up is: Vic Wayne – vocals and rhythm/acoustic guitars; Steve Monteith – lead guitar and vocals; Adam East – bass, vocals; Adrian Buckley – drums, percussion and vocals.
Since Star Collector formed – their debut album, Demo Model 256, came out in 1999 – they’ve had 17 bass players!
Comeback single, Rip It Off, is an infectious blast of crunching, guitar-fuelled, fuzzed-up rock ‘n’roll, with a killer chorus, but, like many of the highly melodic songs on Game Day, there’s a darkness lurking just beneath the surface, as Wayne tells Say It With Garage Flowers, in an exclusive interview.
“I wrote Rip It Off, which, for all its cowbell and riff-y splendour, is a damn serious song. It’s about climbing up the mountain of expectations, then sliding back down into the chaos… and the masks we all wear,” he says.
“This album was influenced by some heavy, heavy stuff. I choose to leave the specifics out, but it was originally intended to be kind of a concept album. I kept the major song cycle intact and we added some ‘stand-alone’ tunes towards the end, but I’m really pleased with the way they all flow together.”
‘Since Star Collector formed – their debut album, Demo Model 256, came out in 1999 – they’ve had 17 bass players!’
New single and album title track, the swaggering Game Day, kicks off the record, which is their fifth, with a blast of feedback, and it has a great, Big Star-style guitar riff – think In The Street.
“Underneath the sweet bombast is a very personal lyric about facing up to demons, and making incredibly hard, life-defining decisions,” says Wayne. “It embodies the power and the pain, as it were.”
Hook, Line & Singer – great title – is an acoustic-led ballad with shades of early R.E.M, the jangly and soaring Green Eyes – one of the highlights – has a jangly, Matthew Sweet feel, and the epic Super Zero Blues has more of a groove than the other songs on the album, with a heavy bassline and a cool, vintage organ sound.
“I wrote Super Zero Blues from a dark place of wanting to understand how beautiful relationships can break down to so much chaos, that we feel dragged around on a leash by our own love and devotion,” says Wayne.
“It does offer some hope though at the end: “Maybe we’re all born to lose… those Super Zero Blues” – maybe we can come out okay on the other side…. I know… heavy, right? And you thought you were getting a happy-go-lucky-pop-combo interview… Ha-ha.”
And what about those 17 bass players? “I’ll spare you the gory details…”
How’s it going?
Vic Wayne: Hey, thanks a bushel for asking me to do this. Things are well here. Vancouver’s not the worst place in the world to be during a pandemic, or anytime, really) I think Canada’s done well compared to much of the world. Our British Columbia Provincial Health Officer, Dr. Bonnie Henry, is a medical rock star!
How has lockdown affected you, as a person and also professionally, as a musician/band. Have you had to radically alter any of your plans?
VW: The lockdown hasn’t changed much for me personally. Professionally, band-wise, yeah, it definitely sucks that we can’t gig or properly rehearse but, glass half-full, it’s been good to focus on finishing the album, making videos, etc. I’ve actually found it’s allowed me dedicated time to write too. I think about two thirds of our next album is written already.
Are you worried about the future of live music, post-Covid? What are your hopes and fears?
VW: Well, the future of live music certainly is a big black hole of a question mark, isn’t it? My hopes are that we can get back onstage before 2021 is out, but I’m fully prepared to keep writing, recording, and releasing music/videos, if that’s not realistic. I’m still holding on to my Squeeze concert tickets from last June!
‘Lockdown has allowed me dedicated time to write. I think about two thirds of our next album is written already’
How have you been coping with lockdown?
VW: I feel I’m coping well, but I do worry about my mom, who’s in a more precarious age group, and my three siblings and their families, who live in the US.
Let’s talk about your new album, Game Day. Was it written and recorded pre-Covid? When did you make it and where?
VW: Well, I started writing the album in 2017 and we had a final set of tracks in 2019. We recorded in a few places. I demoed songs acoustically in Seattle, Washington (pre-Covid), with Evan Foster (Boss Martians, Dirty Sidewalks, The Sonics) at a studio, No Count, that he co-owns, while we were gigging there.
We did a show or two with Boss Martians here in Vancouver a number of years back and Evan and I stayed in touch. I admire his music and loved working with him. He really tuned in to the emotion of the songs. In fact, we used one, Hook, Line & Singer, on the album. The rest were done at Echoplant Studios, here in Vancouver, with engineer, Matt Di Pomponio, and then at our drummer Adrian’s home studio, Chez Meow, plus we did some bits at Steve and Adam’s home studios and in Portland, Oregon respectively.
One of the amazing things these days is you can record at home and send files around. As the producer I would get, say Ad’s bass parts, then we’d jointly make decisions, refine them and then forward to Adrian to add to the musical jambalaya. It took a year almost to the day to make Game Day and I’m extremely proud of it.
What were the sessions for the album like?
VW: They were great. The band was excited to be making a new record after a hiatus and, though it’s our fifth album, it was our first with Adrian, as our long-time drummer, Ringo, had a little boy and moved to another province.
We did part ways with our bassist, Shane, who’d played with us for about nine years, but my younger brother, Ad, who grew up with many of the same influences I have (The Jam, The Who, The Vapors, Echo & The Bunnymen, Julian Cope, the mod revival, The Fabs, Alice Cooper – yep, that’s not a mistake, his original band was wicked!) joined us, from afar, to record the majority of it.
‘Steve and I have always had a natural chemistry with our guitar playing. Basically, he plays the real stuff and I hack away like a bozo with a butter knife, trying to carve a pineapple’
We did use three of Shane’s tracks as they were top-notch. We also had Kevin Kane (The Grapes of Wrath – one of the best Canadian bands ever, in my humble opinion) who’d we’d worked with on two of our previous albums, play a wicked guitar duel with Steve on Funeral Party. Evan did some backing vocals, and on organ we had Derek MacDonald – he used to play with Adrian – and Reece Terris, who used to play with Steve and I. Great fellas and musicians – every one of ‘em.
What did you want to achieve with the new record. Did you have an idea of what you wanted it to sound like? What influenced it lyrically and musically?
VW:This album was influenced by some heavy, heavy stuff. I choose to leave the specifics out, but it was originally intended to be kind of a concept album. I kept the major song cycle intact and we added some ‘stand-alone’ tunes towards the end, but I’m really pleased with the way they all flow together.
Musically, Steve and I have always had a natural chemistry with our guitar playing. Basically, he plays the real stuff and I hack away like a bozo with a butter knife, trying to carve a pineapple – ha-ha! My only attribute as a player is that I used to be a drummer, so I do have decent rhythm and a sense of tempo. Ad is a killer bass player and, every time he’d send new ideas, I was like a kid in a four-string candy store. He also has a fabulous voice, so we had him sing too.
‘This album was influenced by some heavy, heavy stuff. I choose to leave the specifics out, but it was originally intended to be kind of a concept album’
Adrian just let the Keith Moon-hellfire break loose on tracks like Game Day and Super Zero Blues, cowbelled when cowbelling was needed on Rip It Off, and even did a bit of John Bonham on Funeral Party. Him joining us was a bit of an unexpected bonus. He also has a really strong voice, so Bob’s your uncle!
Steve was his usual easy-going, stellar self, playing and singing the shit outta the songs ’til he was hoarse, and his fingers bled. I added some acoustic and sang a bunch, et voila… Game Day was born.
Who writes the songs? What’s the process?
VW: They usually come about one of two ways, I write ‘em or Steve and I write ‘em together. On previous albums I co-wrote with others (Kevin Kane, Dave Lawson, who played with Ad and I in our mod band as teens and was actually the lead guitarist in Star Collector for our first album, Demo Model 256, but since [second album] Black-Eyed Soul that’s generally the way it happens.
I’m the words guy (“I told you that English degree would come to no good, Vic!”) and either I do the music myself as well, or Steve and I will hack away until, you guessed it, his fingers bleed and I get fed up with said pineapple…ha-ha!
On this album I wrote a lot of it on my own, as the aforementioned heavy-on-the-heavy took me away from Vancouver for a couple of years, so I had a lot of time to muse and reacquaint myself with my acoustic… and the songs just poured out. Steve and I did co-write a few, mind you, which is the perfect segue into your next question…
The title track, Game Day, is the opening song on the new record. What can you tell me about it?
VW: Steve and I wrote Game Day together, sitting knee to knee, à la Lennon and Macca, at a friend’s house in Seattle, while touring, and it is one of my favourite songs we’ve written together. It’s full of mod-flash bass and drums and Steve’s ‘tip of the chapeau to Big Star’ riff, but underneath the sweet bombast is a very personal lyric about facing up to demons, and making incredibly hard, life-defining decisions. It embodies the power and the pain, as it were. The words alternate between two voices as well, which is important.
The first single was Rip It Off. It’s classic-sounding power-pop, with a great guitar solo/sound…
VW: Why, thank you. That’s so kind of you, but the guitar solo/sound was all Steve. It’s melodic and kickin! *Note to self: design a t-shirt for Steve with that on the front*. He did a really great video for it too. It’s on our new YouTube channel, along with our first video, Skyscraper, and lots of live/TV clips from touring Europe, the US and here at home.
‘Steve and I wrote Game Day together, sitting knee to knee, à la Lennon and Macca, at a friend’s house in Seattle, while touring, and it is one of my favourite songs we’ve written together’
I wrote Rip It Off, which is, for all its cowbell and riff-y splendour, also a damn serious song. It’s about climbing up the mountain of expectations, then sliding back down into the chaos… and the masks we all wear.
I found a brilliant quote, which we used on the album sleeve: “The Japanese have three faces. The first face you show to the world. The second face you show to your close friends and family. The third face, you never show anyone” (Unknown). That’s Rip It Off right there.”
Super Zero Blues has more of a groove than the other songs on the album – at least on the verses – with a heavy bassline. It has a cool organ sound too.
VW: Super Zero Blues is our epic album track. We had Curtain Call on Hundred-Bullet-Proof [ fourth album] and Start To Shine on Flash-Arrows & The Money Shot [third album], so I guess it’s par for the course now to have something that spans my secret love for Alice Cooper, my not-so-secret love for Echo & The Bunnymen, and prog rock! Ha-ha. I think, musically, it really brings out the band members’ strengths.
‘I wrote Super Zero Blues from a dark place of wanting to understand how beautiful relationships can break down to so much chaos, that we feel dragged around on a leash by our own love and devotion’
Steve’s minimalistic guitar, which comes crashing in on the choruses, and his melodic-amidst-the-bombast solo; Adrian’s steady Tomorrow Never Knows-ish playing, which disintegrates to chaos at the fade; and Reece, who guested on organ, doing a whacked-out solo in the middle, which you referenced.
Shane played bass on this one and his groove and tone are perfect for the song’s mood. This was one I wrote from a dark place of wanting to understand how beautiful relationships can break down to so much chaos, that we feel dragged around on a leash by our own love and devotion. It does offer some hope though at the end: “Maybe we’re all born to lose… those Super Zero Blues” – maybe we can come out okay on the other side…. I know… heavy, right? And you thought you were getting a happy-go-lucky-pop-combo interview… Ha-ha.
I really like Hook, Line & Singer – great title! It’s one of the slower songs on the record – a stripped-down, acoustic-led ballad, with some nice organ and an electric guitar solo on it too…
VW: So, this is the one we kept from the sessions I did with Evan in Seattle. I originally envisioned it with a full-band arrangement and me singing up an octave. This is the beauty of demoing and bouncing stuff off others you respect. Evan really felt it would be better with my lower Ian McCulloch baritone, which, frankly, is infinitely easier to sing with, as it’s like my talking voice.
‘To be honest, it’s hard for me to listen to Hook, Line & Singer sometimes, but it’s fucking real’
He said he heard a little Johnny Cash in it, and the mournful lyric would really stand out if it stayed stripped-down. Once we ran it a couple times, I was like… “umm, yeah, agreed!”
Though it’s different from the rest of the album – no drums/bass, and minimal guitar/organ – it’s the emotional centrepiece of the whole thing. Derek played some beautiful organ and Steve’s solo hits the right tone emotionally and sonically. It’s the first new song I’d written after our hiatus and it got me back writing with a vengeance. To be honest, it’s hard for me to listen to it sometimes, but it’s fucking real.
Green Eyes is one of my favourite songs on the record. It has a Matthew Sweet feel. Do you agree? There are some great, crunching, loud guitars and an infectious melody…
VW: I must admit, in our close circle of friends and family there are quite a few who agree with you and rate this one highly. It was the last one chosen for the record but there ya go… beauty is in the ear of the beholder. Or should that be belistener? Now I’m just making up words!
Steve and I wrote this together, around his guitar riff, and it’s about my dad and my three siblings. He was a wonderful guy, a doctor, who died far too young, at 62.
Musically, yeah, Matthew Sweet, and a couple of people have said The Who. I even hear a bit of R.E.M. in it… Ad’s bass carries the song along à la Bruce Thomas of The Attractions. Adrian and I did handclaps, and Steve played a bunch of really cool parts for the solo.
What are your plans for the rest of the year?
VW: Well, we’ll promote Game Day as best we can, even if we can’t play it live for a while, We’ve made some brilliant connections within the power-pop community and already after only a few weeks of Rip It Off being out, the support has been super and duper – and much appreciated.
We’ve received radio play from the States to the UK to Spain already and made it on to compilations and playlists. The lockdown has been good for one thing, and that’s writing. I’ve got a handful of new songs done, and Steve and I co-wrote a couple more, so our next album is in utero… now to be able to go rehearse and record it… *fingers crossed emoji*.
‘We’ve made some brilliant connections within the power-pop community and already after only a few weeks of Rip It Off being out, the support has been super and duper – and much appreciated’
What music – new and old – have you been enjoying recently? What’s been your lockdown soundtrack?
VW: Hmmm… let me do a quick mind scroll: The Rosenbergs, The Lucy Show, Hoodoo Gurus, Fountains Of Wayne, Odds, The Grapes Of Wrath, The Black Keys, BRMC, Echo & The Bunnymen, The Smithereens, TPOH [The Pursuit of Happiness], Danny Michel, Elephant Stone, Big Star, Secret Affair, STP, Slydigs, and, of course, The Jam, The Kinks and The Who.
One new album I was really impressed with is The Psychedelic Furs’ Made of Rain. I also love Rock and Roll (Save My Soul) by Dirty Sidewalks, My Heavy Soul by Plasticsoul, Kissing A Fool by The Pop Cycle, Heart Of Stone by Black Nite Crash, and The Gospel According To Saint Me by Veruca Salt.
Here’s a few that might seem left-field for me: The Water Lets You In by Book of Fears, You Could Be Wrong by The Mastersons, Montreal Rock Band Somewhere by Happyness, and Pumped Up Kicks by Foster The People. Plus, Spoon, Temples, Tame Impala, Mother Mother, New Pornographers and Jets Overhead.
I could fill up a couple page, but there’s a bunch. One project that kept me musically engaged during lockdown was I posted a Treasure Hunt on Facebook every day for 120 days straight. Each day I’d pick five – sometimes more – songs that I love by each artist, trying to focus on artists that aren’t commonly known. It was fun, nostalgic and had me discovering lots of stuff by these artists I didn’t previously know as well. Many are listed above. I’d often hear from the musicians themselves and their fans also replied – it had a great communal feel about it.
What’s your preferred way of listening to music – and why?
VW: I love listening in the car, especially on long drives – though I haven’t taken many lately – and late at night, in my AirPods, when I can totally zone out and drift in the wonder of other people’s vivid creativity. Not to sound like an ethereal surfer dude *Spicoli: “Then I’m winging off to London to jam with the Stones!”*
Funny, though, I also love cranking up a mix of stuff while cooking! Ha-ha… it just makes peeling the garlic so much more pleasant.
Finally, do you know one of my favourite Canadian artists, Jerry Leger? He’s an alt-country / Americana singer-songwriter from Toronto. You should check him out – he’s great!
VW: Well, to be honest, I wasn’t familiar with him, but, after that recommendation, I’d be a fool to not have checked him out, so I did and yeah, good stuff.
I see that Michael Timmins [Cowboy Junkies] produced him, which really works for his authentic style. I really liked a home vid he did of the song Ticket Bought. Thanks for the tip. And thanks for your keen interest in my outfit – not my clothes, obviously, but my band. Although I am writing this in my pyjamas, but, rest assured, with a wicked pair of shades on.
Game Day by Star Collector is out now on CD and digital / streaming platforms.