Night one set the bar high for the remaining two days of The New Direction Fest. The Aquarium was packed with eager fans of regional stars such as Household, Remo Drive and Stars Hollow. The latter of which I found myself in the good fortune of interviewing.
Laid back and friendly are two adjectives I would easily use in describing the members of Stars Hollow. As this was my first New Direction Fest interviewing or otherwise, the fact that they were easy to approach and talk to cut the nerves down substantially. Something as simple as a genuinely warm greeting and introductions were just the start of a very enjoyable interview.
Comprised of Tyler Stodgill on guitar and lead vocals, Jesse Ledbetter playing bass and vocals and rounded out by drummer Andrew Ferren, Stars Hollow formed while at Iowa State University in Ames, Iowa. Of the band’s formation, Stodgill said,”Me and Jesse both went to college at Iowa State, which is in Ames, so that’s where we met, and I knew Andrew from my old band recording.”
The band also finds itself fortunate to live in a Midwestern city with a decent music scene. Ledbetter admits the scene is pretty fluid. “It kind of fluctuates because it is a college town. People come in and live there (Ames) for a few years and leave.” Ferren added, “If someone takes it over and pushes it, it does well, and if not then there is no accountability and eventually someone realizes it’s a sinking ship and brings it back.”
Their new EP “Happy Now” releases March 23 on Bandcamp.
Laura Ellen Brandjord (LEB): Do you think living/growing up in the Midwest shaped or influenced your music in any way?
Tyler Stodgill (TS): I’d say so in the sense that there was nothing better to do. At least for myself, I’ll say it was because there was nothing better to do and it was a good use of my time. As I’ve grown older, I’ve realized I like midwestern bands more because I listen to a lot of bands from this area of the country, but it’s not really intentional by any means.
Andrew Ferren (AF): I grew up in the country so it took me a while to start listening to local music. Like the first time I was on tour, actually, the last time was when I was 16. So it’s been almost 10 years and it was such a different time. And like Myspace was so prevalent and I was what I would call a ‘second generation’ emo kid. So like I was LIT-ERAL-LY the only kid that looked the way I did at my school. I’d in fact say it was harder to do what I was doing where I lived, but that being said, it just kind of happened and it all worked out.
Jesse Ledbetter (JL): I had a similar thing going on, but I had my cousins who played in bands. I was really young going to metal concerts not really knowing what was going on. So that was what the community and music scene was like when I was growing up. I didn’t really get into ’emo’ as an umbrella term or DIY stuff until I went to college, but I grew up in that ‘Midwest heavy’ sound. The only other kid that was like me found me within the first two weeks of school and we started a band together. We even drove to another town that had a decent record store.
LEB: What bands do you take inspiration from for Stars Hollow?
TS: All very different. I listen to personally a lot of Midwest emo from like 2010-2014. Unfortunately, most of the bands I’m really into broke up really early. But I’m also still weirdly influenced by the music I listened to growing up as a scene kid like From First to Last and stuff similar.
JL: I think that is what we all have in common.
TS: Yeah, I’d say it is our common denominator.
AF: I’m like the only one that doesn’t actively listen to new music regularly. I really only listen to Underoath’s first three records, From First to Last, Hit the Lights are great … I’ve been trying to keep up with current bands in our genre.
LEB: I have to say I really enjoy your guys’ musical arrangements. Even though the guitar has a lot going on, it doesn’t overwhelm anything else. You also have this contrast of brightness of the cymbal work and guitar against the darkness of the bass line and vocals. Does this balance naturally happen as you are writing songs or is it not until a track is mixed at the end that it’s achieved?
JL: I think that part of it comes from our writing process. A lot of times it starts out with Tyler writing a complete song on guitar, then jam it out with Andrew and then my part comes in at the end. I think that we all have such differing influences that the kind of way we write isolated from each other allows those influences to be felt in a really cool way.
AF: We never write in the same room. He (Tyler) usually comes up with the structure and him and I kind of figure it out and send the demo over (to Jesse), kind of like “here you go.”
TS: Yeah, I’d definitely say no certain vibe is intentional.
LEB: You guys are going on tour in support of your new release, right?
TS: The EP is coming out a month from today (Feb. 23). We are going on tour with Weathered and Formerly Bodies March 29 through April 7.
AF: Aren’t we coming back through here? I think I saw a poster here with our names on it.
TS: Yeah, we’ll be back here in about a month. We are basically touring to all the cities we’ve had a good time in and have been supportive of us.
LEB: What can fans expect from it?
TS: I don’t know. I do a little more; its not really singing but I have some actual notes throughout. So that was a big thing I guess, was moving away from just screaming for the sake of screaming to trying to incorporate some sort of melody to certain parts. And there is a few parts where it’s just actual singing, which is something really different for us. Our first EP was kind of pop-y but not really, and then on the split we did with some friends they were a little more serious. I’d say these are a lot more pop-y and fun … I want it to be fun, and I want it to be energetic.
LEB: I have a few, quote/unquote,”fun questions” for you guys to end on. First, if you were hypothetically separated, what band past or present would you want to play for?
TS: From First to Last. I want to be in First to Last really bad. I just really love their guitar work.
AF: The first thing that popped into my head was to be a touring drummer for Taylor Swift, unfortunately.
TS: If it was before this year.
AF: No, no right now actually. The other option would be Hit the Lights. Probably play guitar in that just because the band that I have listened to the longest without lapsing would be them. I listen to them all the time, and their guitar stuff is really good too.
JL: I’d like to be in My Bloody Valentine. Here’s the thing though, they do this 30 minutes of this like wall of noise and kind of send their audience into a trance or something. I would just get to be as loud as humanly possible with like a gigantic wall of amps.
LEB: One musician living or dead you would want to jam with?
TS: Who was the guitarist for Chiodos before he quit? Jason Hale? I would jam with him because that would satisfy like all ages of my obsession.
AF: I’d have to say Thomas Erak from The Fall of Troy. I’d don’t think I could keep up, though he is really good.