The Reinvention of Starwood
By Sandi DeVitis
It's a hot August night in the San Fernando Valley. I look again at the directions scrawled on a post-it note. Along with the street address, it says “go down the alley. Unit #6.” I figure I'll park in the empty parking lot of the closed video game store and walk down “the alley”; a decision I seriously question as I pass two Latino guys who leer and make clicking, kissing noises, while commenting things I don't want to imagine in Spanish. The mostly industrial area is otherwise quiet. Needless to say, I feel a little alien as I turn into the alley amongst a scatter of abandoned motorcycle parts and a small mountain of clear, Lucite, high-heeled shoes that are tall and skinny enough to pierce flesh. Which, I think, is the only possible use I'd have for them being a flip-flop and tennis shoe girl and all. “Yeah, they make stripper's shoes next door,” I'm informed later. (Who woulda thought? An entire industry dedicated to the footwear of exotic dancers.)
Later, I realize how the landscape was perfect for the task at hand: interviewing Starwood. The setting was dark, gritty, and just a little dangerous, seemingly the necessary atmosphere for making great rock n roll. Throw in some stripper shoes and motorcycle parts for good measure, and there you go.
The minute I step through the rehearsal room door, I feel like I'm home, even though most of these people are total strangers. The universal musty smell of rehearsal spaces all over the world, the girlie centerfolds on the wall, every other inch of wall space taken up by massive amps and speakers, it's completely familiar. I flop myself down on one of the prerequisite “jam room couches” and introductions are made. Since it's the band's scheduled rehearsal night, I tell them to go right ahead and don't mind li'l ole me. After some discussion as to the set list, Starwood rips into what has become my favorite on the cd, the punk-tinged “Subculture.” It's even better live and raw. Rehearsal room sound is awesome; you get the sound that God and Jim Marshall intended, right from the amps and drums, not filtered through house speakers in a club with someone unfamiliar with the band running sound. The rest of the set is just as good, loud and only a little obnoxious (and I mean that in a good way….). After the obligatory smoke break, I gather the troops to do “the interview.”
Guitarist Joe Steals immediately snatches up a Les Paul and begins noodling, furthest band member from the tape recorder. The rest of the band are relaxed and maybe even eager: drummer Joey Scott is sprawled out on a “jam room couch,” bassist Marten is perched on the drum riser and vocalist Lizzy is casually draped in a folding chair. “Tell me about the band name,” I query.
Lizzy starts. “It's based on the [Hollywood] club in the 70's that had punk, metal, new wave, disco; anything you could think of. There were no boundaries on that club. It wasn't just a “rock club,” it was a “music club.” And we kind of based the band around that, we wanted to be able to put punk, metal and pop all in the same song. We wanted a band without boundaries. In other bands we were in there were boundaries, you couldn't necessarily put other things in there or move in different directions, but with this band, it's all good.”
“It's all rock n roll,” Joey Scott adds. The band all nod in agreement.
This isn't the first album Lizzy's produced, but it is the first he's put his name to, along with Joey Scott. The entire band had a hand in the recording, arranging and pre-production processes of this album (“If It Ain't Broke, Break It!”). Some of the songs are ones that Lizzy wrote a while ago and then brought into the studio for Starwood to tear apart and put back together. “Some of the songs we'd taken apart ten different times after we'd recorded them,” Lizzy says. “We just wanted to put our own stamp on them. We learned a lot from making this record, because when you're mixing and matching all different types of music you gotta know what works and what doesn't work. And some of the stuff didn't work right away, and we had to figure out what it was that didn't work. In a way it was trial and error, which helps us for the next record; we kind of know what will come together the next time.” The songs on the album achieve the goal of being ecclectic, while still retaining cohesiveness. “We tried to make everything sound like it came from the same band. We didn't want to have one punk song, and then a rock song, we wanted to have music that had all different elements in one song,” Lizzy comments. I want to know how the recording process went.
“We enjoyed experimenting on this CD. I had never experimented that much before, I'd always know exactly where [the song] was going. Because some of these were songs I'd written a long time ago, I didn't want to repeat myself, I wanted to go places I'd never been before,” Lizzy states. Joey Scott elaborates, “That's definitely the way this whole record went, we would do something the way we would normally do it, and then take it off in a completely different direction. Just try to see if we could get something different out of it, creatively.”
Lizzy sighs. “It was really frustrating, though. Probably one of the most frustrating records ever to make. Mostly because we didn't know what we were coming up with or what we would end up with. But that's where true art comes from.” This time, I feel my own head nodding along with the band. Marten adds, “It's exciting because it's a brand new style of music and it's fresh and new and it's very energetic. Everyone has a reaction to this music, the reception is never lukewarm.” Which is an understatement; like The Darkness, it seems that people either love Starwood or hate them. But isn't that the case with most great bands? I think it's an enviable position to be in.
Because of their “controversial” sound and because they are nowhere close to being a death metal band, their pairing with Metal Blade Records seems odd, even if some of the band members have ties with the label dating back to 1985. “Metal Blade wanted to branch out and do other things. Their whole thing is to do things that major labels don't do. At the moment, the major labels aren't signing bands like [us], but then again, there aren't many bands out there doing what we do.”
Joey Scott contributes, “They've had the Goo Goo Dolls on their label before, and it worked out well, so they are willing to take chances.” Marten comments, “They're definitely committed.”
“It's really cool that they're behind the record this much. They all love it over there,” Lizzy says.
Starwood have enjoyed continuous airplay on Yahoo's! LaunchCast internet radio station, “Real Rock.” I question them about their thoughts on the new music delivery channels, namely internet and satellite radio. “I love it – any kind of airplay is good airplay, but I wish I knew how many people it was reaching.” Lizzy shakes his head. “It's definitely catching on, especially satellite radio. People are so sick of commercials that they're flocking to it. Just like TIVO, it's so popular because people don't have to sit through the commercials,” says Joey Scott.
Joey Steals stops playing the Les Paul long enough to comment, “I hang out with a lot of people who listen to the alternatives to radio, so it's definitely out there.” Then he's back to the fretboard.
What about plans to tour? “We PLAN to tour,” Lizzy laughs. “We don't know if anyone else has plans…”
Marten, taking the serious approach, says, “We're looking to hook up with a major tour, supporting a bigger band to get the music out to more people. It's all in the works right now.”
Lizzy joins in, “We're looking for any opportunity to play a show to a type of audience that would appreciate what we do. There are not really any bands out there doing what we do, so it makes it hard to find bands to play with. We'll go out on our own if we have to, whatever it takes.”
Rumor has it that there's a video in the works. “We're shooting a video in a few weeks. We'll be shooting a video for “Girlfriends,”” Marten informs me. “We actually have two different directors working on two different treatments,” Lizzy says, “one for “Girlfriends” and one for “Subculture,” and they're both probably going to be done at about the same time. They're both going to be pretty fun, I think,” he laughs, eyebrows raised. The band laughs, too. “We're still working on the ideas, but we already have the production team together. And like the cd, it's difficult because we don't know what we're going to end up with. We know that we want it to be a video you've never seen before, make it fun, and have it be a reflection of the album.” Sounds good to me, but no one really asked for my opinion on the subject.
Before we wander our separate ways, I have one last question. “What did each of you listen to in your cars on the way here tonight?”
Lizzy: “The Wild Hearts.”
Joe Steals: “The Bay City Rollers.” The room explodes in laughter. I call him a liar, trying not to expel Diet Pepsi from my nostrils. No other answer is forthcoming.
Joey Scott: “The Darkness.”
Watch out for Starwood's music at a party near you. This band carries on the Hollywood tradition of good music, good times and a touch of glam (if you consider “glam” a sound and not an overly-feminine, made-up look.) I think Starwood will surprise a lot of people, and have a chance to really make their mark in today's topsy-turvy music industry. That is, if alternative radio channels have something to do with it.
After the interview, I warily walk toward my car. Yep. Still have four tires, complete with rims. The rock n roll Gods were good to me tonight. I do have thoughts about going back for a few shoes. I have an art project in mind….
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