Editors’ Notes Since forming in 1999, Montreal-based electro-pop combo Stars have amassed a songbook densely populated with lovelorn souls struggling to survive in the big city, documenting their intimate exchanges with novelistic detail and animating them through the method-acting roleplay of singers Torquil Campbell and Amy Millan. (For their 20th anniversary in 2019, they even turned that literary lens onto themselves, debuting Stars: Together, a theatrical production that was part rock concert, part live biopic.) While the music tends toward the deeply personal, it can be equally anthemic: "I think the number one obligation of a great pop song is to make you feel simultaneously celebratory and heartbroken,” Campbell tells Apple Music. He walked us through some of Stars’ key songs—which have made the band one of the most beloved in Canadian indie rock.

“Elevator Love Letter” (Heart, 2003)
“This was one of the first songs that Amy wrote with us, and it was the first time I felt like we had made a song that, sonically and songwriting-wise, was at the level I was hoping the band would get to one day. It's a Toronto song—it's about how lonely the city is and how cold it can be. Amy had gone to LA and she came home and was staying with her mom in this big high-rise apartment. And she was just struck by the existential loneliness that those big towers breed. I think that idea was very central to us—we made a lot of songs about how lonely you can feel in big urban spaces.”

“Ageless Beauty” (Set Yourself On Fire, 2004)
“That was our first song that anybody played on the radio, and I remember being incredibly excited by that. All those songs on Set Yourself On Fire that kind of went big, they were all like My Bloody Valentine crossed with The Carpenters. That was what I wanted Stars to be: a noise band where the noise was soft.”

“Your Ex-Lover Is Dead” (Set Yourself On Fire, 2004)
“I remember having that first line, ‘God, that was strange to see you again,’ and, like sudoku, the rest of the lyrics kind of just wrote themselves in 10 minutes after that. But the song took weeks to finish, because there wasn't a chorus, there wasn't a traditional rhyme structure—it was just me saying something. So to figure out how to do it musically required a lot of finesse. But I think that's why it hits people so hard—it's talking about a simple, relatable event. You run into somebody that you used to be with and you haven't seen in years and you want them to know that they didn't kill you, that you moved on.”

“Take Me to the Riot” (In Our Bedroom After the War, 2007)
“I've always been intrigued by people's reaction to this song, because people always take it as this romance between environmental protesters when I thought I was writing about the worst forms of humanity: drug dealers, Nazi skinheads, gutter punks. Lowlifes, basically, but lowlifes who were falling in love in a very pure and glorious and romantic way. And that's been an obsession of mine for a long time: Even bad people fall in love. Love is an amoral force and it acts upon everyone in the same way. It doesn't discriminate.”

“Dead Hearts” (The Five Ghosts, 2010)
“The Five Ghosts was the first record we made where critics were sort of like, ‘Eh, f**k it, they might be done.’ But in terms of streaming numbers, ‘Dead Hearts’ is the biggest song we have, because it’s been in a lot of movies. I wrote it while my dad was dying, as this kind of desperate hope that I would be able to talk to him after he was dead through a seance or something. And it's a song that I find little kids really dig—we were playing Denver and there were two 10-year-olds in the front row just weeping and singing every word of that song. Maybe it's because children are more in touch with the idea of ghosts than older people are.”

“Hold On When You Get Love and Let Go When You Give It” (The North, 2012)
“There's pretty much nothing wrong with this song. There's [Evan] Cranley’s bassline, which is like if Peter Hook could play bass better. And there’s the lyrics, which to me are the greatest lyrics I've ever written. ‘Take the weakest thing in you and then beat the bastards with it’ is a f*****g good aphorism! Everybody feels that way: that they have nothing to fight with, and that they go out into the world void of weaponry and get beaten down by much stronger forces. All they have is their weakness. And that's the central philosophy of Stars: The thing that is least beautiful about you is the thing that is most powerful and most revolutionary. Like my father taught me: Never pick a fight that you weren't certain you're gonna lose—that's what makes you an artist.”

“No One Is Lost” (No One Is Lost, 2014)
“There was all that EDM shit going on and I was listening to lots of pounding dance music and party music at that point. And I was always jealous watching these [EDM] videos of seas of people with their hands in the air dancing. And I just had this idea: What if we did a really cheesy song that was like, ‘Put your hands up,’ but instead of following that with ‘and we're all gonna party,’ we say, ‘You're all gonna die and we're all gonna lose and we're all scared...so let's f*****g party!’ I'm proud of that sentiment because it makes people happy and sad at the same time. And I think the number one obligation of a great pop song is to make you feel simultaneously celebratory and heartbroken. All the best ones do, from 'Waterloo Sunset' to everything after it.”

“Fluorescent Light” (There Is No Love in Fluorescent Light, 2017)
“All of the lyrical iconography of this song is very much taken from the first things that really influenced me, like The Blue Nile and this Deacon Blue album called Raintown, which was a big, big record for me in the '80s. It’s that idea of living in a rainy northern town and people are looking for glamour and beauty in their mundane, ordinary lives. You know, morning comes and you have to go to work and you put your coat on and wait at the bus stop, but at night you have this opportunity to become this other person. This song sort of touches on every imagistic obsession of Stars. I like writing songs that are just the details.”


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