Music Features

Star Spangles (Interview)

In a time when New York has suddenly become the centre of all that is seemingly hip in music terms, the Star Spangles stand out. You could say it's because of their straight out and out rock and roll approach. No elongated guitar solos, no ear aching attempts at falsetto singing to be found here. But a major part of what makes the Star Spangles a hell of a lot more exciting, interesting and noteworthy is the attitude. They've obviously listened carefully to their record collections and took careful notes.

Of course, any band from anywhere near New York City is seemingly automatically lumped in with this whole Garage/Art rock movement that the mainstream media is quite happy to package and hand us. Frontman Ian Wilson already looks tired of talking about it. "We know our influences. That always happens and that's why we try just not to talk about the music we listen to, stop you getting pigeonholed."

This gig in sunny Sheffield will be their third in England, following a warm up gig in Brighton and selling out London's Metro venue the night before. Things are getting busy and luckily, No Ripcord managed to grab hold of Ian and drummer Joey Valentine for a few minutes prior to the gig.

No Ripcord: Supporting Idlewild on an arena tour is something of a coup.

Ian: For months we didn't expect to get it (the support slot)... but we lucked out.

Joey: After losing so many other tours...

No Ripcord: Such as?

Ian: There was something about doing something with the Vines... but I don't think that was ever really going to happen.

Joey: We might play with them, a few gigs in February. But it's up in the air. Everything's up in the air until you're actually doing it in this fucking business.

No Ripcord suggests a tour with the Vines could only be a good thing, especially since they're currently shifting large amounts of CDs. But are the Star Spangles fans?

Joey: Well... we're on the same label in the US...

Ian: I've never really heard their music... I'm sure they're really nice people... the lead singer looks like a really nice guy.

Joey: We met the guitarist...

Ian: Yeah... he was subtle.

Joey: Are we were not...

It's as this point that No Ripcord suggests that the single Which Of The Two Of Us... shares a DNA strand or two with the boss of Blue Collar Rock, Bruce Springsteen, and that if New Jersey's most famous son had been 20 in 1977, he'd have been writing songs like the Star Spangles do.

Joey: Yeah, we've been hearing that... we're fans.

Ian: But I never thought that song sounded like him at all

Joey: It has got the same kind of spirit...

Ian: We're like a squatter version of Springsteen.

It's at this point that Joey chooses to drop his own personal bombshell: "My mom's his tailor" he shrugs. No Ripcord raises a figurative eyebrow (being incapable of doing the real thing). What does she do, put the rips in his jeans? "Yeah! His 20-year-old jeans, she's put 10 more years in them. He puts food on our table."

Time to ask the New York question. It's suggested that the music press are hyping anything from New York in an attempt to create the Next Big Thing. The Star Spangles, however, are somewhat less impressed. "Yeah... people are just desperate." Muses Ian. "I'm not really crazy about bands from New York at all... the bands we like from there are mostly out friends... the Witnesses." People who hold romantic notions of New York may wish to look away now:

Ian: People in New York are more backstabbing. I mean, it seems over here the people, the bands, are more friendly, everything's on a more good-natured level.

No Ripcord: People seemed more supportive of each other?

Ian: Yeah, whatever scene is going on, it seemed everyone was there, none of that backstabbing going on. New York, y'know?

Joey: People talk so much shit over there.

Ian: Bands in New York usually hate each other. Unless you're a part of that whole hipster phenomenon, which we're not. Maybe that's why everyone hates us in New York...

Joey: This is true.

No Ripcord: Do you use that as a motivation to succeed? Stick two fingers up at them?

Ian: We don't even give them that much. That we've been lumped in with this 'garage rock' thing is ridiculous. We're not garage rock.... you get these bands like the Yeah Yeah Yeah's and the Liars, they think they're art-rock and it's just derivative (checks self) I don't know whether it's bad or good. Maybe it's a good thing. What I mean is that I don't hate any of these bands, but none of them seem to want to have any connection with us. We've been around longer, but we're still pretty much ignored in New York.

Anyone hearing this would probably think the same thing No Ripcord was about to ask. But wait:

Joey: Sometimes I question...

Ian: (butting in) Why we fucking live there...

Joey: ...I question these bands intentions, we're music fans first and foremost.

A real answer isn't forthcoming, at least for now. Though it's soon found out that the four members of the Star Spangles (guitarist Tommy Volume and bassist Nick Price complete the line-up) are not from New York City itself, but more the suburbs. No Ripcord notices parallels with the Jam, who suffered from similar problems getting established on the London Punk scene due to being from the suburbs also. However, attempts at explaining to the band their connection with Paul Weller, 1977 London and Woking are (somewhat understandably) met with some confusion. Though Ian notes the Jam as a "great singles band" and professes an admiration for the Sex Pistols.

From the first half of the interview, it would be easy to brush off Ian Wilson as another arrogant frontman, convinced of his band's greatness for no reason. Then suddenly, probably considering everything he's just said comes the other side. "We're not bitter, we're definitely not a bitter group." Joey chips in with "And we're not negative either" before Ian points out that "Angry, we're definitely angry."

No Ripcord: What's the reception been from the audience at your two gigs over here so far?

Ian: Great... the people here seem more receptive and open armed

No Ripcord: There is a tendency for American bands to get accepted here quickly...

Ian: English people like music a lot more then Americans

Joey: The fact we sold out the Metro last night was pretty incredible because we don't sell out in New York.

Ian: The thing, is the people who come to our shows in New York are our friends...

Joey: Or real music fans... of which there aren't many.

Ian: What I don't understand is all these people (in New York) going to see whatever is the "in" thing, which is now to be weird and play this art rock. I love art rock I've been listening to it for years, but these kids go out, buy a reissued record and think they know it all. They form a band when they're not studying for their exams...

Joey: And the songwriting gets pretty ignored...

No Ripcord: The current emergence of all these New York bands brings to mind what happened back in the late 1970s, with the Ramones, Talking Heads, Blondie etc...

Ian: Yeah, but all those bands were friends, and all those bands were great.

Joey: And they had classic songs... are many classic songs going to come out of the current New York scene? (withering) Not many, I'll tell you.

Ian: New York City is like a ghost town...

With tour managers hovering in view, No Ripcord asks the duo to sell their band. What does the average punter take away from a Star Spangles gig?

Ian: Honesty.

Joey: Integrity.

Ian: Reality... you don't get bullshit.

And you know the funniest thing? They're right.