ANDI STARR FINDING A ROUTE OUT OF THE WRECKAGE: On the Release of “The World Will Follow,” Starr’s 6th album (Interview on April 3, 2011, with Geri Lord, music critic and writer, Los Angeles, CA)
Starr is currently in late stage production on her sixth album (her third studio release), The World Will Follow (projected release, May 2011). When in the early production phase, Starr sat down with her long-time collaborator and co-producer, S. Asher Sund, to talk about the vision. Wanting to deconstruct the “girl and her guitar” singer/songwriter image, the idea was to introduce the new, “electric” Starr, and especially to recover some lost sounds and influences from her childhood, particularly from bands like The Cure and Depeche Mode. Towards that end, she has received some co-production help from Jesse Siebenberg (of Supertramp) in Los Angeles and Jordan Richter (Sixpence None the Richer, Jars of Clay) from Portland, Oregon. The first single, “Little Bird,” has sat at the top of the ReverbNation charts for California (www.reverbnation.com/andistarr) since its release in May 2010.
I met with Andi Starr and her co-producer, S. Asher Sund, on a sunny Sunday morning at Palermo Coffee in Ventura, California, a coastal town of about 100,000 sixty minutes north of Los Angeles. After chatting about dogs and weather and the plethora of thrift stores in Ventura, I took out my laptop, and we began.
Q: The note I found on your Facebook page was that the two of you, when talking about the vision in the early stages of production wanted to, and here I quote, “deconstruct the ‘girl and her’ guitar singer/songwriter image…[and] introduce the new, ‘electric’ Starr.’”
Sund: Sounds like an action figure.
Starr: The electric Starr—oh yeah, baby, watch out! [laughter]
Sund: The singer/songwriter posing with her acoustic guitar was a dead thing for us. Pose with an acoustic guitar and you might as well pose in front of Starbucks, because that’s where you’ll be working.
Q: That’s funny. And I can see that.
Starr: I wanted to do something different this time, make something bigger.
Q: Bigger it is!
Sund: This album—Andi’s sixth—is really a culmination in terms of sound and song construction and arrangement. It’s what we’ve been working towards from the beginning.
[To Starr] Wouldn’t you agree?
Starr: Sure. I don’t want to discount what came before this album though. There were many good things going on, and some of my earlier songs will always hold a special place for me…in fact, just the other day when I was uploading my past albums for my web designer, I decided to take a listen to some of my old stuff, and let me tell you, it’s been years since I’ve done this. And I thought how precious—I had absolutely no clue what I was doing back then and was actually kind of surprised for a moment that I’d released these, but hey,my heart was there and that’s what matters to me most. Okay, so what was the question? [laughter] Oh yeah, I would agree that this album is more in line with where I’ve been headed all along, more in line with my musical tastes.
Q: And what are those?
Starr: Let’s see… The Cure. Depeche Mode. Artists I loved as a girl. And then came Radiohead... and Eddie Vedder. And most recently The National. Of course, I’m a sucker for anything classical or trippy, ethereal too. Mogwai, Sigur Ros… gosh, the list could go on forever.
Q: Aside from Eddie Vedder, you don’t mention artists so much as bands. And no females, which is interesting.
Starr: That is interesting. I was getting into The Cranes there for a while, and I’ve always loved Sarah Betten’s voice from K’s Choice.
Sund: But in the earlier days, the influences were mostly singer/songwriters.
Starr: Yes, absolutely. Cat Stevens was a great influence, and Joni Mitchell, Elliot Smith, Johnny Cash. Also Tori Amos, Stevie Nicks and the Indigo Girls. But that’s going way back.
Q: Because you’re so old!
Starr: Yes. [laughter]. Way back. Of course my last album New Warm World was definitely singer-songwriter. In my own way, of course. Not the major chord sort of thing.
Q: I have to say that I’ve worn my copy out. I love the understatedness of that album. And the lushness.
Starr: Thank you. That was definitely my coming out of Portland album, first arriving to the ocean, this town.
Q: I like the continuity between titles, from New Warm World to The World Will Follow. Two very different albums, yet thematically on the same plane. In the notes you sent along for the interview you shared this quote from Picasso, which you say you took as a starting point for the album: [reading] “‘When you begin a picture, you often make some pretty discoveries. You must be on your guard against these. Destroy the thing, do it over several times. In each destroying of a beautiful discovery, the artist does not really suppress it, but rather transforms it, condenses it, makes it more substantial.’” I’m wondering if we can talk about that a bit.
Starr: Absolutely. I think it’s kind of funny really that this album started when I thought it was close to being done…
Sund: And literally, I think, it’s marked by her flying off the road at 65 miles per hour.
Q: I want to hear more about that, but I understand that you, Asher, have to leave soon?
Sund: Sorry, yes.
Q: No need to be sorry. But before you go, I’d love to hear you two talk about the creative process, how you work together. It’s been almost ten years?
Sund: Nine years, actually. Six albums.
Q: Wow. Okay, so what’s it like?
Sund: It goes very slowly at times. But sometimes it goes fast. How’s that for clarity? [laughter]
Starr: It’s been a lot of work, a lot of learning, but a lot of fun.
Sund: Yes, fun, for sure. It’s kind of hard to know how to answer that. It’s kind of mystifying to me, and I like that in a way.
Q: How do the two of you work?
Starr: [laughter]. Oh well, it’s so intense giving birth to a song sometimes that we yell and scream, “throw a few wobblies,” as I heard Thom Yorke say once, then lay down the sweetest, most soothing songs. But if you’re meaning how a song gets from a chord or melody to a final mix, it changes from song to song, for sure.
Sund: One thing that happened at least lyrically for this album went like this: Andi would come up with this really haunting or catchy chorus, and then I’d help fill in the story around it. This album is more fictional that way. Or she’d have just the flickering image of a person, like this girl that kept showing up, and I’d help build the story.
Q: On which songs did this happen?
Sund: Songs like “El Amor,” which you haven’t heard. “Happy Ballad.” The end of “Little Bird.”
Starr: And “Delilah’s Response.”
Sund: Other times though, especially for some reason with piano songs, Andi would have this really haunting part, or even an arrangement, and I’d see images. That’s what happened with “Ticket-Taker.” She had the intro part, and it was during the fair here at Ventura, a big time thing in August every year. I kept seeing this image in my head of a carnival guy, a ticket-taker, and the words came to me.
Q: That’s a great song, very epic.
Sund: I love how that song turned out both lyrically and musically. Andi’s piano part is incredible. Her lyrics, “I’m on a tilt-a-whirl,” really provide a hinge in the song for me. And Jordan’s [Richter] synth guitars helped a lot.
Starr: I remember getting those synth parts, and it was quite the surprise, especially since I had just been youtubing the thirty year reunion tour of Roger Waters and “The Wall.” Jordan’s guitars felt very “wall-ish” to me. Very trippy, but in a good way.
Q: Thank you for speaking with me.
Sund: No, thank you! It’s been great.
Q: [To Starr] So what else is different about this album, especially as it relates to your body of work?
Starr: Song construction, for sure. We really honed in and tightened arrangements. And getting a lot of good help. That always helps! [laughter] Help helps. Also vocals. Cari Cole, a renowned vocal coach and grammy-nominated singer from New York, helped me a lot. Her vocal exercises have been a new addition to my daily routine, allowing me more vocal strength, more freedom to step out of the box and try new things. Of course, without losing myself, without having to be perfect. I’m always going for the emotional core.
Q: The emotion is there, so raw, heartfelt, genuine… and there is a new rock quality to your vocals. I feel your every note!
Starr: Thank you.
Q: You mentioned in your notes that you had a band and then didn’t.
Starr: I had some great guys who joined me at the beginning of this project, and we had some wonderful moments, like playing “Little Bird” together. But music can be a very personal and tricky thing. I’m thankful to those guys for all they gave, I really am, but I wasn’t sure after our firsttwo studio sessions that this was the album I wanted to release. Certainly, I didn’t hear enoughof myself in the earlier versions of the songs. And then I had the accident…
Q: Yes, this accident. Tell me about it.
Starr: Well, I was driving, taking my mother and twin sister to the airport at five in the morning, and I was bumped by a car on the left at which point I started doing this groove thing between lanes.
Q: Getting your groove on.
Starr: [laughter] Exactly. But this was more like a spastic groove thing, back and forth between lanes. We flew off a ten-foot embankment, thirty feet in the air, spinning as we went and then landed in a parking lot. Thank god there were no cars parked there, and so no impact. I stuck the landing, breaking off the wheels.
Starr: Yeah, I know. In terms of this album, it really shook me out of the collective dream I was in. I realized that even though the music was feeling good beforehand, it wasn’t completely me. I needed to put more of myself back into the songs. So I think the album really beganthen… I guess I just needed to stop, drop, and roll.
Q: Or not roll, luckily…What songs speak to that experience?
Starr: “A Song That Never Dies” speaks directly to it. There’s a line I sing in that song, “Surrender is the moment of bliss.” And then there’s “Ticket-Taker,” where I sing, “I’m on a tilt-a-whirl.” And it was like I was on a tilt-a-whirl. It was that moment when I let go of the steering wheel and suddenly had no control that really changed things for me.
Q: I’ve heard that about near-death experiences. It changes people. I guess, for either good or bad.
Starr: Yeah, exactly. For me it was good and bad. Everything stopped, which was a good thing. That feeling up in the air spinning to my death was ironically one of the most peaceful moments because all the noise just went away. I was floating, and I thought why are we all ever in a rush to get anywhere?
Q: And the bad?
Starr: The bad part, or I guess now it’s good, was that the old songs didn’t hold me anymore. I say “old” with air quotes of course. I guess they were sort of babies really, only a year old, and luckily, it wasn't a total loss—we were able to restructure and reconstruct—which is the good part, the transformational part.
Q: Back to that Picasso quote.
Starr: Yes, back to that. In almost all cases, the songs had to be destroyed to be made more substantial, more beautiful… I needed to feel the emotional resonance of each note, whichdefinitely slowed the process. I mean, three out of the seven songs we first took into the studio were completely changed lyric-wise. One song didn’t even end up making it. Two others were rearranged, cut down, instrumentally stripped, and well, I just wasn’t sure what was going to happen, how this whole thing was going to turn out.
Q: When you’re talking, I’m for some reason reminded of the album cover, which I love by the way.
Starr: So do I! Photographer Bill Hendricks took that picture, and I knew immediately it was the cover. Earlier in the year I had cut a quote out of a magazine that said, “She’s got earth.” And that’s what that image does for me, and hopefully what the album does for others. I wanted to feel the earth, the dirt, the complete and sometimes crazy joy it is to be here... complete in our raw true selves. And the picture captures that for me. It shows my symbolic return, or not to sound too cheesy, my rebirth.
Q: So it sounds like one of the good things that came of your accident was that you became very clear about what you wanted.
Starr: Yes, clarity for sure. Also, I realized that no matter what, I wanted to have fun too, you know? Go crazy and write songs that I could see myself singing while jumping up and down on stage. Why not, right? I think this world could use a little bit of joy right now…
Q: I hear what you’re talking about. I just feel justice when I listen to these songs. They’re very uplifting.
Starr: Very cool, and yeah, some of the lines in theses songs have become almost like mantras for me, like “Do what you love and the world will follow,” from the title track. Or “You’re a song that never dies, a reverberation that feels the skies.” And one of my favorite lines to sing from “Already Gold”: “When will you know you are already gold?”
Q: Some positive messages there!
Starr: Yeah, crazy huh? Of course, I still have my ballads, which will always be such a big part of who I am.
Q: Like “Delilah’s Response.” And “Little Bird.” What deep, lovely songs!
Starr: Thanks. Those two are very special to me.
Q: So if you wanted to leave your fans with one thing that might sum up your last couple years in the making of The World Will Follow, it would be what?
Starr: Gosh, taking the time to stop, reflect and go inward has been essential for me in order to continue on. It’s so easy to get lost in the fast lane, drowned out by everyone else… so walking by the ocean and taking time to really make sense of where I was and where I wanted to go has been such an important discipline in order to really feel the happiness of my work.
Q: Not an easy thing for most of us to do—stopping!
Starr: Yeah, ironically it seems hard for a lot of us to just turn off the noise, doesn’t it? But you know, after the accident, I didn’t really have a choice. I mean, of course I did, but part of me just said, “Stop.” And in many ways I’m still doing that. I’m still stopping, as I sing in “Already Gold,” and I’m still coming down.
Q: And yet it might be sometime.
Starr: What do you mean?
Q: I mean this album really lifts. I can really see it taking off. You might not be coming down for sometime.