STARBENDERS // INTERVIEW
INTERVIEW BY: Emily May
Atlanta-based pop band Starbenders has cultivated an impressive and passionate fanbase since forming in 2014, creating their own unique blend of pop, rock and roll, punk and glam rock. The band considers themselves a halfway home for wayward misfits and misunderstood and disgruntled members of Gen Y/Z and creates music that speaks of overcoming struggle and angst. They also do a lot of shows/events for charity, particularly addressing homelessness in their city. Consisting of Kimi Shelter (guitar/vocals), Aaron Lecesne (bass), Kriss Tokaji (guitar) and Emily Moon (drums), the band started working early on with producer Nico Constantine, Lady Gaga’s former music director and guitarist, and have released two EP’s, one full length, one 7-inch and six singles. The band has toured the US extensively over the years with bands such as Charlotte Kemp Muhl’s UNI, Rosegarden Funeral Party and Alice In Chains. They have toured Japan twice and signed a distribution deal last year with the Japanese Record Label BIJ Records for Japanese releases. The band will be releasing their new EP Japanese Rooms on April 19th and plan to tour extensively in support of the EP, with aspirations of touring Europe in the near future. Emily May spoke recently via email to Kimi Shelter regarding the new EP, touring Japan and what’s next. You can follow the band and stay up-to-date on all EP news and tour dates, as well as stream and purchase their music via the following links. Check out the video for “Never Lie 2 Me” below.
Starbenders has developed a partnership over the years with producer Nico Constantine. Kimi, you have mentioned that he’s become a great friend, producer and mentor. What do you feel that you have all learned from him over the years?
It’s hard to say what he’s done for the band in just a couple sentences. Most importantly, he’s shown us the value of a team. It’s a huge asset to have a producer and mentor that you truly trust. Everyone in this day and age has an opinion. It’s really important to listen to the right people and put the right people in your corner.
You have said that there were bands you were obsessed with in middle and high school and that you formed and started writing for Starbenders in the spirit of that music. You have referred to this band as the most YOU thing you’ve ever done. How do you feel that the band reflects who you are as a person and musician?
This band is the junction of all of our musical paths. It’s like some Captain Planet shit, “with our powers combined!”. So many people live their lives as unheard children and never really learn to have a voice. The band has allowed me to work through a lot of my past and make me feel truly whole.
You consider the band a halfway house for disgruntled and misunderstood Gen Y/Z. Have you had any especially memorable fan interactions or stories from those you have helped?
The people that showed me a better life and a better way when I was a kid I will never forget. I just want to return the gesture and be there as much as I can for anyone who’s going through a hard time or needs support. The stories aren’t mine to share, as I’m not looking for brownie points on someone else’s behalf.
You’ve mentioned that when driving on tour, you have all gotten in the habit of getting each other into the music you’ve recently discovered. Who are some artists you have discovered that you feel everyone should know about?
We’re about to tour with Palaye Royale, we really love the scene they’ve built!
You had the opportunity recently to fulfill a dream and tour in Japan. You have now toured there twice! Why do you feel they have so much more passion and respect for music then Americans? Did you have much free time to explore at all? Did you enjoy the cuisine?
I don’t know that we can say they have “more” passion than Americans, as the fans here are incredible. What I will say is that the experience of going out to shows, physical record stores etc. is still culturally significant on a grander scale. We were able to explore through our tour and covered as much ground as possible. It’s truly incredible. The cuisine is amazing. I believe Aaron ate something that was still moving. Haha!
You signed a distribution deal last year with the Japanese label BIJ Records for Japanese releases. What is your fan base and support like in Japan?
They’re incredible! It’s such a big world out there and it’s so important to go and experience different places and people. We have to make our own experiences.
Now that you have achieved your goal to perform in Japan, as well as a session with Audiotree Live, do you have any new or specific goals/milestones/touring locations that you are hoping to achieve going forward?
We’re about to hit the road when we get back from Japan. The goal is to tour as much as possible. I would love to get to Europe this next year. We’re all itching to cross the pond! I can’t wait to see Prague because I’m a vampy bitch.
You have referred to the band’s current line up as a dream line up. Why do you feel that the four of you mesh and play so well together?
Not everything in this world can be quantified in specific terms, it’s called MAGIC. Love and chemistry is something that we can’t break down into a formula. You’ll have to come see a show to understand!
The band does a lot of work to support various charitable causes/organizations, recently doing a tour to support Children of The Night. Have you been involved with charities since starting the band and what are some of your favorites? Do you tend to have a good response from the crowd towards the charities? Do charities ever reach out to you or do you tend to reach out to them?
We’ve done work for Lost n’ Found Youth and My Sister’s House here in Atlanta. We also just did a show in Orlando called 11:11 fest. We personally address homelessness in our city as much as possible and are open to working with organizations that reach out to us as well. Selfless acts are what the community needs. We aren’t running for public office.
You have done several music videos for your songs. What is your process like in making your videos? Do you usually have an idea in mind ahead of the filming for how you want them to look?
We work with Dominar Films our of Athens, GA. They’re incredible and handle all of the treatments and logistics. I love their art and like to step to the side for them to interpret our songs however they see them. Goes back to trusting your team!
I read that you and Emily recently appeared on 6 episodes of Paradise City, the upcoming made-for-tv spin-off of the film American Satan. How did that opportunity come about and what was the experience like like?
The answer to this question will reveal itself in due time, but for now we must remain mysterious. The experience itself was such a blast and we met so many people that were kindred spirits. It’s going to be the shit!
Your new EP ‘Japanese Rooms’ will be released on April 19th! What can you tell me about the writing and recording process for the EP? What inspired the songs? How do you feel it compares to your previous music?
In the western world we live in excess. We have more things, more space, more more more. When you first go to Japan, you find yourself bumping into everything. You feel like a giant. What you will grow to realize is that we don’t need the excess, it makes us clumsy. You have to think about the space your occupying. Japanese Rooms is the humble offering from our hearts for the people we would become. The gratitude for the culture.
You recently released a music video for “Never Lie 2 Me” off of the EP. What can you tell me about the song and the making of the video?
We shot the B footage over the course of a week so it was really cool to see the video and be reminded of everything we saw and did. “Oh yeah that was cool!” and “Oh yeah remember that guy?!”. Shooting on the rooftop with the drone was sick and we ADORED the whole crew. We both looked at each other as exotic insects.
What’s next for the band?
Well, I’m going to finish these questions. The gang is coming over in a couple hours and we’re going to rehearse. We’ll go around the room and share laughter. Then sweat it out. That’s the plan for the future, keep laughing and keep sweating it out.