The Politics of Love

An Interview with Stars' Amy Milan

by Emily Zemler


Canadian rockers Stars are ready with their third album of hushed, orchestral melodies that skirt the line between love and heartbreak. Set Yourself on Fire, undeniably one of the best albums to be released so far this year, leans more towards the heartbreak side, despite the fact that the band set out to make a “sex record”. Singer and guitarist Amy Milan took a moment during a hangover-recovery brunch to answer some questions about the new album and its themes, and to remind us why musicians and journalists should never drink when they have an interview at 11 a.m. the next morning.

PopMatters: How did you come up with the same for your new album?

Amy Milan: Torq put it into a search engine once and it was based on a Buddhist sect that in protest these Buddhists would actually set themselves on fire. Torq thought that in the political climate right now—so many people were demonstrating against the war and so many things and nothing mattered so we have to kinda set ourselves on fire as the final protest.

PM: Would you say your album is political?

AM: Not as an entity, not entirely. I think there’s some songs that have some politics in them for sure—politics of love, politics of politics.

PM: How is your new album different from your previous two?

AM: We recorded with a live drummer for the first time so I think that added a very different flavor. And people gave us some money to make it, which is also different. So we didn’t record it in a bedroom for the first time.

PM: Your bio states that you were going for a “straight-up sex record” with Set Yourself on Fire, did that happen?

AM: There’s some sex, I mean Stars always does the gamut of everything. Broken hearts always ends up coming up. I think people will have sex to it, for sure; so then in that case I think we did make a sex record.

PM: What, then, would you say is the main theme of the album? Heartbreak?

AM: I think “setting yourself on fire” is also about carrying all the relationships in your life and setting yourself and your own world on fire if things aren’t working out rather than staying stagnant. Because things are always changing and sometimes you just need to blow yourself up in order to start new and find new things in your life that will be better for you ultimately. I think that’s a theme, like “Your Ex-Lover Is Dead,” setting yourself on fire and finding beauty in that and also being okay with it.

PM: What would you say were the greatest influences on Set Yourself on Fire?

AM: The biggest influences on the album would be having the best sex of your life and also having the hardest time going through love.

PM: Do you draw from personal experience when writing music?

AM: I don’t know where else to draw from except myself. I guess “Elevator” on Heart wasn’t about my life—I don’t take an elevator home everyday—but from watching people and really liking humans I think I end up writing what comes into me somehow. The feeling of happiness or sadness of being alive, so it’s always coming from me.

PM: Your bio also refers to Stars’ role in the “quiet revolution”. What does that mean?

AM: That’s a Torq-ism. Torq comes up with these phrases like “set yourself on fire” and “it’s a quiet revolution.” He’s full of clever quips.

PM: How has Stars as a band evolved over the years?

AM: I think the more comfortable we get to be together, the more we fight and forgive, the better we get.

PM: How does being from Canada influence you?

AM: It’s cold here so we spend a lot of time indoors.

PM: It seems like everyone is being to notice all the Canadian bands these days, have you noticed that at all?

AM: There’s a lot of unbelievable bands coming out of Canada right now. Very good to know that the world pays attention to things like that.

PM: Why do you think there are so many good Canadian bands right now?

AM: I think it’s cold here. I’m really serious about that. I think that it’s cold and we had really good music programs in schools when we were all growing up.

PM: I read that you have a solo album coming out this year, have you started recording that?

AM: Yeah, it’s coming out in June. It’s songs I had before I even joined Stars five years ago, so it’s not like it’s come from something. I haven’t really had any time to do anything other than play in Stars. There’s no song that’s younger than six years old on the record. So it is a solo project but it’s a project that I’ve had since before I joined Stars, and I just really needed to put the record out.

PM: Do you still feel connected to the songs even thought they are so old?

AM: I’m calling the record “Honey from the Tomb” because [the songs] are so old, but I still love them. Like they are my children.

PM: Is it gratifying to finally be able to release those songs?

AM: It’s sort of nauseating actually. But it’s gonna be great. It’s complicated to try to balance everything we do all the time—Broken, Stars and this—but I plan on playing folk festivals when I’m 45, so that’s really why I’m putting the record out.

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