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Star Club just want to make the people DANCE





Star Club just want to make the people DANCE

 Guaranteed you've heard their name or seem them play by now. They've taken the stage in so many spots around town, from The Firkin Tavern to various house shows to even Solae's Lounge up on Alberta, all with only a demo officially released. But post-glam grit rockers Star Club have honed in on the vibes they want to give off, and their new album Sixth Avenue Motel is their way of showing it.

Naming Romeo Void, Au Pairs and Delta 5 as some of the influence for the record, Nate Lown and Marcus Pizotchi, the driving forces behind Star Club, are mainly out to do one thing and on thing only - make the people dance. We sat down with them to talk to new record, their process and how they came to be to begin with... 

 

The Deli Portland: Why did you both start the band and when?

Nate: It started a little over a year ago. In May, we started jamming and playing. Me and Ben used to live together and Marcus was over all the time.

Marcus: Let’s go back to the backstory - he [Nate] was playing jazz music in a swing band locally, and I’m a swing dancer. That’s how I met Nate and that’s how Star Club formed, because basically the band is us and we get fill players. I was swing dancing to his music. We knew each other for about a year before we started hanging out. There was some shit that went down and we ended up bonding. We hung out for nearly a year and didn’t play music at all, he wouldn’t play music with me.

Why not?

Marcus: Well, I’m not trained. I didn’t know how to play, how to jam, apparently. I was just hanging out swing dancing and one day, Nate mentioned how he was so sick of jazz and how he wanted to play something fun, rock out and front a band. 

Nate: I had been thinking about starting a new band myself for awhile, at least six months or so. I needed another project, something that was more simple and fun.

Marcus: He grew up around rock music.

Nate: I played in different bands in high school and I wasn’t sure what I was looking for, exactly. I didn’t know what I wanted it to be like but I kind of came to the conclusion that whatever band I’m going to have, it has to just be with homies. People that are ride or die and going to be there all the time and going to want to practice whenever, make every show and go on tour. Eventually I was like, Marcus doesn’t really know how to play music but I know he’s going to be there.

Marcus: We also share some of the same interests, a lot of crossovers. A lot of soul.

Nate: Yeah, we’re into a lot of the same music, too. He already had a bass, so I was like ‘yeah, let’s play.’ I started writing simple songs and we started jamming on them. That’s how it started.

Marcus: It was kind of more punk in the early days, just a three piece. After a few times of practicing, we were looking at the stars one night and trying to come up with a name. We had a previous name that was really trashy.

What was the old name?

Nate: Coke Dick. 

(laughter)

Marcus: You don’t forget that name, that’s the thing about that.

Is that from personal experience or something?

(laughter)

Nate: No, not really.

Marcus: It just sounded right. It’s two four letter words.

Nate: It was a joke. We’d just sit around and come up with bullshit band names, but none of the other ones really stuck.

Marcus: Even as we booked shows we kept thinking of new band names and then that one night when we were looking up at the stars, I came up with the name Star Club. I just said it and everyone liked it. It’s so elementary and basic, but we found out it hadn’t really been used. I realized maybe a month later that I had taken this Beatles class. I learned about their roots and their up and coming time in Hamburg, Germany at this club called The Star Club, so I had kind of unconsciously pulled it up from Beatles’ history. But it just clicked.

How did Star Club get into playing house shows? Who helped you get into it? 

Marcus: No one. It was just me and Nate.

Nate: I had lived in this house just south of PSU with a bunch of jazz musicians. We played a couple of shows there, then Jose from Hush Yuppies asked up to play his house. We met him through Chris (Hermsen) from Sama Dams. He was my nextdoor neighbor and Chris wanted to go to the Firkin during the night of that big blizzard. We all went and Jose was there. I told Chris I was trying to find another band for a show we were having there and he said ‘Jose’s in a band, ask him.’ I walked up to him and did, and that’s how we met.

Marcus: Ultimately, we were just going out. That’s how we got involved in the scene. Nate communicated that to me early on about wanting to go to shows all the time. We were practicing everyday in the summertime, all day. Long hours, and then going out every night. We’ve just continued to do that for over a year now.

Yeah, y’all came up pretty quick from when I first heard of you last year. I can’t even remember how I found you, really, but I was trying to do some Deli stuff for you. I remember you didn’t have a Facebook and all I could find was your Bandcamp page with your demo on it. I've always been a fan.

Nate: Sweet! Awesome. We’ve come a long way.

Marcus: Instagram was our main platform, really. Before we had a Bandcamp, we had an Instagram. We wanted to combine our band with film photography.

Who does the shots? I like the aesthetic of your Instagram.

Marcus: Me and Nate.

Nate: Thank you.

Marcus: Yeah. I wanted to do something that wasn’t just one person in the band and their life. I wanted to combine art and music. Nate was shooting film. I had done it before and he got me into doing it again. We wanted to do all black and white pictures that we took, but now we’re starting to incorporate one other photographer friend and we’re going to start posting his stuff, too. It’s a collaboration, but a very curated selection of photos and posters. It’s just for the band. We all have our personal Instagrams but I felt like it could be one thing that represents us a little better.

Nate: That was the plan, not doing Facebook and only having Instagram. Eventually, people kept asking me about Facebook.

A lot of Portland does its booking through Facebook.

Nate: Yeah! We’ve gotten a few show offers from there. People connect on it. I don’t really like being on it but it’s part of just being involved with what’s involved. That’s where people find the shit they’re going to do now, is through Facebook.

Marcus: It shot us up a lot more than Instagram did. 

So why Sixth Avenue Motel? What is the significance of that?

Nate: I lived right behind Sixth Avenue Motel.

Marcus: That’s where we formed.

Nate: It’s right there in southwest, just south of PSU. We liked the aesthetic of it.

Marcus: The aesthetic of 70s motels in relation to 70s rock and proto-punk, and the vibes. We were calling ourselves ‘motel rock’ and we just like this idea of this shitty motel and the culture that’s there. It’s weird. People live there and it’s weird to us and we’re curious. We’d be walking by drunk and see something really weird happening in the motel.

Nate: A lot of strange shit would happen there.

Marcus: It’s definitely a drug slum motel.

Nate: Also, when the band was first starting people would ask us what we sound like. We had that common problem of saying ‘kinda like this, kinda like that,’ so we just started telling people ‘motel rock.’ That was our original genre. Picture yourself in a shitty 70s motel and there’s a band playing in the corner, that’s what we sound like. (laughs)

Marcus: It’s loungey, but a sexy, energetic motel room party? It’s kind of fancy free shit. It’s gritty, yet it’s glamorized. You have this motel that looks nice, but it’s dirty when you pull the sheet up. That’s the vibe. We were struggling with a name. The picture on the cover of the new album is of the Sixth Avenue Motel in the 50s. That picture is a black and white original photograph. We wanted to get our own but we just couldn’t get one as good as that one, with the old cars and the same sign.

Nate: Aesthetically, I love it. It’s not super deep. 

Marcus: We like neon signs. It represents nightlife and excursions. It just had a nice ring to it, too. I like that whole David Lynch paradigm where on the surface everything seems normal, but underneath it’s not. Our music, we thought, was like that vibe. They’re pop songs, but then something isn’t quite right as well.

Nate: That’s a good way of putting it.

Marcus: Well and that’s the feeling we want people to thrive on. They like it and they feel like it’s catchy, but what is that other feeling? You can’t really put your finger on it. People compare us to other musicians to try to do that.

How do you feel like you incorporate that grittiness into the way you write your songs?

Marcus: No effects. We don’t drown out silence with post enhanced sounds. We want it to be raw. It’s better for us because we just plug in and we play. We don’t have as many technical problems. It’s risky.

Nate: Another part of my idea writing for this album is that I wanted a certain simplicity to it, and I wanted a lot of contrast. I wanted it to sound minimal. We have a lot of these freakout loud parts that I wanted to use as the contrast of intensity instead of pedals that you turn on all at once. I wanted to create that effect but manually, with our instruments. 

Marcus: It’s a lot of stuff. The lyrics that Nate writes are pretty concise, usually. It’s about a moment or a feeling that happened. All the songs are about a feeling, like “Can’t Get Anything Done” or “Breaking Down.” 

Nate: I try to keep the lyrics pretty simple as well. Sort of descriptive, but just enough to get the idea there. I don’t want to expand too much. I try to cut the fat as much as possible. 

Marcus: The vibe of the song should represent the feeling as much as the words. We can’t rely on the words, like singer-songwriter type music, to convey a point 100%. When you don’t hide anything or put on anything extra, you’re not glorifying anything.

Nate: “Rains in the Tropics” is about searching for a place that you’re going to find happiness in materialism.

Marcus: And you give up everything to get it.

Nate: But that place doesn’t exist.

Marcus, what is your favorite song to play on the album and why? 

Marcus: “Nightmare” for the longest time has been my favorite because of the energy. It’s so fun to play live and it’s one that’s more in the vein of my style. It’s more post-punk and drivey. My bass part is drivey and I get to play a lot of notes. It’s dark, because it’s about a nightmare. I’ve always had that darkness about me whereas Nate is much more colorful. We definitely like a lot of the same old music but contemporary music, like 80s and on, we part directions. The other one, upon listening to the record for awhile, is “Breaking Down.” It’s so minimal and trenchy. It’s the kind of song that you’d have to get to know Star Club to love. It’s where Nate’s weirdness is highlighted and not obscured by pop. It’s the music person’s song, though we also want to do accessible music.

Do you have the same view of what might be considered accessible?

Marcus: We’re pretty on the level about what’s accessible. When we write our more poppy songs, we almost always agree. We never play a long solo, ever. Period. And that’s part of what makes the accessibility. Those decisions we always agree on. We keep it minimal and that keeps it accessible.

What are some of the things you disagree on when it comes to the songs you make?

Nate: I feel like sometimes we’ll have disagreements but we work them out, like over chords.

Marcus: When it comes to music, we communicate really well, and that’s what’s good.

Nate: As soon as we finished the record, I started working on our new set. I want it to flow even better and I think it’s starting to. I’m always thinking about the next thing so it’s hard for me to back on the record.

Marcus: We had a set of like 14 songs that we were going to try to record. We chose 10 out of them. We’ve probably got like 20 to 30 songs that we’ve done away with. 

How did you choose the ones that you did for the record?

Marcus: Just talking every night, playing them and seeing the crowd’s responses. Nate would often feel uneasy about some of them. He’s really impulsive about those types of decisions. If either one of us decides that a song doesn’t work, it’s gone. We do away with it.

Nate: And just write a new one that’s better.

Marcus: That’s the motto. With our new set, we know what we want to go for. But when we wrote Sixth Avenue Motel, we were still trying to figure it out. It’s a pretty early record. The demo was brutally early, we didn’t know what we were doing at all. On Sixth Avenue Motel we have “Nightmare” and “Saturday Night” and a couple songs we knew were good. Also, a lot filler and that’s the record. With our new set, every song has already been designed with that frame of mind. We’ve figured out the vibe now.

Nate: It’s easier to decipher if it’s going to work or not. We had more disagreements when we were first trying to get stuff ready for the record.

Marcus: The band figured out its vibe and now we have to do it that way. It’s like there’s another power in control. We made the music and it’s hit the ground running and we have to keep up with that image and that sound.

How does that work with Tony (drummer) and Peter (aka PQB, sax) who aren’t really a part of the songwriting process?

Nate: I write most of the sax lines and we tell PQB how to play it. Tony writes the drum parts.

Marcus: We’ve been trying to beat the jazz out of him this whole time.

Nate: Yeah, I don’t want it to sound jazzy at all. People see a saxophone and in their head they think jazz.

Marcus: Or blues.

Nate: I’m definitely influenced by jazz, but I don’t want anything we make to sound like jazz.

Marcus: Jazz people don’t think we do though, it’s the rock n’ roll people that do. 

Nate: Peter is getting more and more understanding of how minimal we want it, though.

Marcus: It should be more of a texture. We want the tones and the lines in there. It was a hard decision adding sax in the first place. We went back and forth trying to decide whether we should do it or not. It was either add nothing or add a sax.

Nate: And if we wanted to deal with adding another person for scheduling and figuring out how to work with them. It had crossed my mind to add keys, but the sax just seemed more raw.

And I feel like that sets Star Club more apart from what’s already flooding Portland’s scene.

Nate: Yeah! That was one of the main goals, to do something that is new.

Marcus: The number one goal, above having fun or creating something new, was to make people dance. We love to dance, we go dancing, and we want to see people dance. We want to see people move in this town. 

Portland is a kind of hard place to get people to do that, though.

Marcus: The sax makes people dance. It’s like the calling to dance. 

Nate: Still trying to make that work though, making people dance.

 

That's what Star Club boys will of course be trying to do at the release show Friday, 9.1 at Bunk Bar along with Wave Action and Boink. Grab a copy of Sixth Avenue Motel there, but listen to "Nightmare" below.

[NOTE: This interview has been edited for length and clarity.]

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