From Capelton Hill

Stars

From Capelton Hill

“Stars records have always dealt with crisis,” vocalist Torquil Campbell tells Apple Music about how his band soldiered on through the pandemic. “We’ve always artificially created the crisis in our songwriting because crisis is exciting—drama comes from pushing people to a moment of breaking, right? But then the crisis actually became our reality, and I think our reaction to that was to seek some sense of peace within it. Now that the drama is real, is there a way we can go to some place of circumspection about it and not let it drown us?” To find his footing, Campbell retreated to his old stomping grounds in Capelton Hill, a remote community near North Hatley, Quebec, where his family has spent its summers for generations. The annual ritual of opening and closing their seasonal home there served as the conceptual lodestar for the Montreal indie-pop band’s ninth album, From Capelton Hill, a record that’s brimming with nostalgia for happier times but rooted in the sobering realization that our days are numbered, pandemic or not. “When we were making the record, I wasn’t like, ‘Oh, we’re making a pandemic record,’” Campbell says. “But a lot of the lyrics on this record acted as ways for me and [co-vocalist] Amy [Millan] to talk to each other and keep each other above the waterline. We were trying to be brave for each other.” Here, Campbell and Millan give us a track-by-track account of how they pulled through. “Palmistry” Torquil Campbell: “I was watching a documentary and there was this conversation about a girl who had driven to Beachy Head, which is a very famous suicide jump place in England. This girl had driven there and spent her night sleeping in the car. And I just loved the idea of this person being on the precipice of death but not yet in the place of death—she was in that liminal space between being alive and being dead. Over the past couple of years, I’ve been writing this play about ghosts, and I’ve been trying to get in contact with my dead dad—I’ve gone to spiritualist churches and mediums. So, I’ve been even more obsessed than usual with the idea of talking to the dead. It’s pretty classic subject matter for us, which is, ‘How do we hold onto the things you cannot hold onto?’” “Pretenders” Amy Millan: “This is really a love letter to Stars and just remembering how I left Toronto and moved to New York [in 2000] and showed up in Williamsburg, and I didn't really know the guys in the band very well, but instinctually they felt like family. Torquil was like, ‘I’m going to show you New York!’ He took me Uptown to Angel’s Share, which was this really fancy bar that had exotic cocktails. I had come from the Legions of Toronto, drinking draft beer and playing bluegrass, so it was a very new world to me.” “Patterns” AM: “This is about finding your people. It’s about me finding [Metric’s] Emily Haines on my first day of school when we were both new kids in Grade 11. It’s about Torquil and [keyboardist Chris] Seligman and [drummer] Patty [McGee] and [guitarist Evan] Cranley, and it extends to [Broken Social Scene’s] Kevin Drew and my whole crew of people—we’ve just been through so much together, and we constantly forgive one another for whatever terrible thing we’ve done. And we’re still playing music together.” “Back to the End” TC: “I didn’t realize how much my sense of identity was linked to being in a band. I thought I was a dad and a husband, and the band was my job. But [the pandemic] fundamentally shook my sense of being alive—the uncertainty of whether we’d ever go back to any sort of life that we remember was real. There really was that question of, ‘How do we do this? Will we ever do the things we did? And can art provide me any solace anymore? If I sing this song, will it make you feel better?’” “That Girl” AM: “This is one of the songs on the record that’s very much about life in a pandemic, and having two kids in the house, and everything’s shut down and you couldn’t even go to the playground. It’s coming from a place of fear and sadness.” “Build a Fire” TC: “This song is a message to myself, which is, ‘You have to ignite something within yourself. Nobody’s going to give you that.’ The world outside was always the thing that ignited me. I’m a people person, and those people were gone. I had to build my own fire. That’s one thing that I gained from the pandemic: I am a much more self-sufficient musician than I was before this happened.” “Capelton Hill” TC: “It’s the only place I’ve really known as a regular home in my life. Every spring, all the shutters get taken off the windows and we sweep up the mouse shit, and there’s this incredible feeling that the house has survived another winter and that it’s the same. All the newspapers from last year are piled up, so you’re literally living in a past. But then, at the end of the year, you have to close it, and there’s this concrete moment where you are forced to recognize that there’s a finite number of times left where you’re going to open and close this house. It’s a way that life reminds you that this doesn’t go on forever.” “Hoping” TC: “I was watching Casablanca one night, and I was like, ‘Jesus Christ, this fucking film is the best script ever written.’ Almost every line is a famous line, one of which I stole: ‘now that I’m reasonably sober.’ That was the first thing here, and a lot of times songwriting is like Sudoku—you just have one thing that works, and you fill in the gaps around that thing. I tried to make this song something that would alleviate the questions on the record. What are we going to do? We’re going to continue to hope. It’s an act of defiance, really.” “To Feel What They Feel” AM: “In your darkest moment, everyone else seems happy. I live in Montreal, which is a very romantic city. There’s always some couple entwined, and there’s groups of people playing the guitar or juggling—there’s a lot of people expressing their joy. So, this song is about feeling really lost, and that there’s no hope. It’s interesting that this song comes after ‘Hoping’—it’s kind of the opposite feeling!” “If I Never See London Again” TC: “This was the song that was written in the darkest time for me. A lot of it is a reminiscence about being in love with [my wife] Moya and going to London with her and reversing the story of our song ‘The Vanishing,’ which is on [2003’s] Heart and is this kind of thriller story about two lovers landing at Heathrow and one of them leaves the other while they’re sleeping on the plane and disappears. Moya always hated that song—she always felt like it was, like, me fantasizing about leaving her. But a lot of this song is reminiscing about what that city meant to me and to us.” “I Need the Light” AM: “I really struggled with the song. I was ready to take it off the album because I didn’t want it to seem too bootstrap-y. I actually changed the lyric, which fixed it for me: The line used to be ‘I feel the light,’ and then I changed it to ‘I need the light.’ It’s like [Neil Young’s] ‘It’s gonna take a lotta love to get [us through the night].’ This song is a tough one for me because I don’t really believe it! But I wanted to lie myself into feeling good because I was not feeling good.” “Snowy Owl” TC: “Writing it in North Hadley with Chris, that’s where I started to feel very strongly that this record needed to be From Capelton Hill—it needed to come from this place where things don’t change, where you have a friend for 42 years and you’re still together, and this house is still standing, and this band is still making music. And these two characters that Amy and I have embodied for so long and have had so many dialogues in so many songs deserved a moment on this record where people would want to catch up with where they were. And so, I feel like this song is very much about those two imagined people who we’ve never named but have lived in so many of our songs and continue to have really fucked-up lives and aren’t able to leave each other behind.”

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