Montreal’s Stars are almost an indie-music fairy tale. Critically acclaimed, financially viable, and starting their second decade, the band released its fifth studio album, The Five Ghosts, on June 22. Amy Milan, guitarist and vocalist for the group, has nothing to say that would dispute this assertion. As the band prepares for a set of headlining gigs in the United States, Milan took some time to discuss the joys of performing, the band’s “sweetie pie” fans, and the growth opportunities stemming from a political debate with Fucked Up’s Damian Abraham.
You’re always referred to as “acclaimed” or “beloved." At some point, is it hard being Stars?
It’s kind of interesting that we’re referred to that way, because every album that we put is not as good the last one. It’s not until we put out the next record that the previous comes into its own. We’re a little bit cursed to have retrograde brilliance.
What adjective would you use instead?
Definitely Seinfeldian. I think I’ve just made up a word, like Sarah Palin. Being on tour with Stars is like an extended version of the Seinfeld, where they’re trapped in the car together, but not in a bad way.
You’re hitting some large festivals, including Lollapalooza, before your tour. Do you change anything about your music when you play a big festival?
One of the reasons we’re accepted in so many different venues is that we never changed what we’re trying to do, whether we’re playing for three people or 30,000 people. We try to be ever-present and honest. If we can be there in the moment, the show will always be a success. There is more intimacy at a smaller show, and a better chance to make a connection to the audience.
Do you think a big festival or a club is the right venue to see your band?
I think you should try both, really. One of our concerts is a pretty intimate affair, and that’s a great way for people who love the band to interact with the songs in a new way. Festivals are great too, though. They blow my mind with how much music people are able to ingest over a two to three day period. There’s always so much going on. I would say that if a person wants to see Stars, come see us in concert. If someone wants to go a party with Stars there, go to a festival.
If you could pick the perfect place to see your band, what would it be?
Seeing us in Canada is different than seeing us anywhere else. Canadian fans have ownership of the band. During a show there’s always so much energy. I’m thinking specifically of a show at Metropolis in Montreal, where the entire crowd was singing along with every song. In Canada, we’re theirs, and there’s a special kind of love. I would also recommend the Malcolm Bowl in Vancouver, which is a beautiful outdoor venue.
How did you map out your current tour?
I leave that to the professionals. I just do what I’m told. We try to hit as many places as possible, and every night there’s always some kind of surprise to keep it interesting. When you’re on tour, you spend so much time waiting around. You’re really only working two hours a night. The place doesn’t end up mattering that much; it’s enough to get out on stage and work out some of the pent up energy. Part of the discussion this time was keeping ticket prices affordable. Touring is never about the bottom line. It’s about being in the town and creating a lift when you can. Now it’s the economy, before it was eight years of the Bush administration. We’re there to give people a short respite from their every day problems.
You’re playing a pretty packed schedule in the end of September and the beginning of October. How do you prepare for those stretches?
I feel a little bit silly talking about preparation for a tour. I think about somebody who works with Doctors Without Borders and is out there working 16-hour days treating the sick. It’s difficult to muster up any “feel sorry” for a musician who gets to go out and play music on tour. It’s all I ever wanted to do.
Has there ever been a time that you just didn’t want to go out and play?
No. Never. Not at all. When I was a little kid, I had a brass bed, the kind with four columns. I used to pretend that the columns had buttons. I would program it and pretend that the bed was taking me to a different place every night. Going out on tour is a kind of wish fulfillment for me. I want to be out there meeting the fans and going to all the different cities.
You’re being pretty literal, since the band is doing meet-and-greets as part of this tour. That seems very brave.
Our fans are pretty docile sweetie pies. We did one last week, and it was a genuinely wonderful experience. It’s been 10 years, and they’ve been with us. It’s not a big deal to pose for a couple of pictures or sign an album. Sometimes I do feel a little incredulous; there were a couple instances of tears. It’s nice on the one hand to think about someone so happy to see you that they actually cry, but I find myself wondering what I’ve ever done to deserve tears from this nice person.
You’ve decided to boycott Arizona for the time being. How did the band arrive at that decision?
We were in rehearsal talking about the bill, got all excited about it, and decided to join the boycott. SB 1070 is a terrifying, racist, Nazi bill. We went to play a festival in Houston, and as we drove through town, I couldn’t stop thinking about how many of the people I saw would be asked for their papers in Arizona. It’s so disgusting. We love our fans in Arizona, but we really can’t play there at this point. I know that we’re not going to bring down the economy of Arizona with this boycott. Most people were like “Who the fuck are Stars?” when it hit the news there, but it did get publicity for the issue, which I think is really important.
You entered into a Twitter discussion with Fucked Up’s Damian Abraham, who disagreed with your stance. Can you see his point of view?
We love Damian and were really glad to get his perspective. He’s very passionate and makes a good argument, but really it comes down to seeing it two different ways. He wants bands to play raise awareness, but we can’t play in a state that embraces these kinds of policies. A lot of people were discussing the issue on our Twitter and webpage, and ultimately, I think that’s the most important thing to come from the back and forth. People need to be talking about this bill.
This is the pretty standard exit question: Why should people come out and see Stars?
I’m really not the person to ask this question; I’ve never been any good at making people do something. If you want to see us, come on out to the show. If not, stay home and watch Jersey Shore, instead.