Born on the streets of Los Angeles, Starcrawler is a band possessed by the spirit of its own hometown, every movement charged with a manic electricity. Since forming in 2015, vocalist Arrow de Wilde, guitarist/vocalist Henri Cash, bassist Tim Franco, and drummer Austin Smith have gone from bashing out songs in the garage to winning the love of such legendary artists as Shirley Manson and Elton John. They’ve also opened for the likes of Beck, Foo Fighters, Spoon, The Distillers, and MC5, bringing their unhinged energy to an already-fabled live show—a spectacle that’s simultaneously lurid and glorious and elegant as ballet. On their sophomore full-length Devour You, Starcrawler captures that dynamic with a whole new precision, revealing their rare ability to find a fragile beauty in even the greatest chaos.
Produced by Nick Launay (Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, L7), Devour You takes the feral intensity of their 2018 self-titled debut and twists it into something grander and more gracefully composed. With its more elaborate and nuanced yet harder-hitting sonic palette, the album came to life at the famed Sunset Sound, where the band spent their downtime playing H-O-R-S-E at the basketball hoop and drinking lots of Mexican Cokes. Adorned with so many unexpected flourishes—choir-like backing vocals from a local Girl Scouts troop, tuba and trombone riffs courtesy of Cash (the band’s 18-year-old musical polymath)—the result is a selection of songs radiating both raw sensitivity and untamable power.
Heavy and swinging and brutally catchy, “Bet My Brains” shows the psychic kinship at the heart of Starcrawler’s songwriting. “That song came from thinking about the mole people in New York and Vegas and the Catacombs in France, and the underground village of people who live in the sewers of the L.A. River,” says de Wilde. “I was fascinated with the fact that there’s whole other world happening right under our feet.” Cash adds: “Arrow and I hadn’t even talked about it yet, but I’d already written something about the same thing—about how these people’s eyes adapt to pitch-blackness, and they end up going crazy from never seeing the sunlight.”
Elsewhere on Devour You, Starcrawler drifts from the dreamy piano lilt of “No More Pennies” to the rock-and-roll disco of “You Dig Yours” to the pure punk vitriol of “Toy Teenager” (a song about de Wilde’s refusal to be abused the fashion industry, and about how “people look at my body and just want to put me on a platter”). And on “Born Asleep” the band lets their love for country music shine, slipping into a modern-day murder ballad spiked with pieces of hazy poetry (sample lyric: “I remember when you cut your lip, sippin’ on a soda can/And the time when you fell and tripped, screaming at the ice cream man”).
Elsewhere on Devour You, Starcrawler drifts from the dreamy piano lilt of “No More Pennies” to the rock-and-roll disco of “You Dig Yours” to the pure punk vitriol of “Toy Teenager” (a song about de Wilde’s refusal to be abused by the fashion industry, and about how “people look at my body and just want to put me on a platter”). And on “Born Asleep” the band lets their love for country music shine, slipping into a modern-day murder ballad spiked with pieces of hazy poetry (sample lyric: “I remember when you cut your lip, sippin’ on a soda can/And the time when you fell and tripped, screaming at the ice cream man”).
All throughout the album, Starcrawler taps into the kinetic chemistry they discovered soon after forming—a process Smith describes as a “slow-burning candle of finding the right people to play with.” In assembling the band, de Wilde first contacted Smith after seeing a Facebook photo of him playing drums (“I hit him up and he came to my birthday party, and then he turned out to be a really good drummer,” she recalls. “Right away it was like, ‘Jackpot!’”) In searching for a guitarist, de Wilde next approached Cash, a fellow student at her performing-arts high school in downtown L.A. “I saw him one day and thought, ‘That guy looks cool,’” she says. “‘He’s carrying a tuba, he’s got long hair, I’ve seen him wearing Cramps T-shirts: he’s gotta know at least something on guitar.’” But while Cash has since emerged as a monster guitarist, her instincts were only partly right. “When I was younger I didn’t want to play guitar, I wanted to play the drums because my dad played guitar—although sometimes I’d take a broomstick and jam along to AC/DC live footage,” says Cash. “It wasn’t until Arrow hit me up that I realized it was meant to be.”
Starcrawler then finalized their lineup with the addition of Franco—an old friend whom de Wilde reached out to after a moment of strange serendipity (“I was in the car with my mom and stressing out about finding the right bass player, and then Tim and his brother turned out to be on their bikes right in front of us,” she says). With their early band practices mostly consisting of Runaways covers, the band quickly bonded over a shared love for L.A.’s most unglamorous spaces. “I’ve been obsessed with Hollywood Boulevard ever since I was little,” notes de Wilde. “People travel so far and spend so much money to see it ’cause it makes them think of Marilyn Monroe—when in reality it’s so disgusting, which is why I love it. But really a lot of the L.A. that I grew up with and reminisce about is kind of fading now.”
As an antidote to the toxic mildness overtaking so much of the city, Starcrawler’s live show has only become more outrageous over the years, an element strengthened by their increasingly telepathic connection. “We all know each other in a much deeper way now,” says Smith. “Like, Arrow knows exactly when I’m going to hit the crash cymbals, so she moves to match up with that. It’s completely changed how we play together.” Prone to spitting fake blood and slapping phones from the hands of crowd members, de Wilde has proven to be a once-in-a-lifetime performer, captivating enough to command a room with just the widening of her eyes. “We want to put on a real show and give people some kind of escape from all the shit going on in the world,” she says. “And with the album, I want people to put it on and feel excited, and hopefully get goosebumps. I always want there to be a dramatic response.”
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There's a difficult to describe, yet timeless quality to certain songs that transcends genre or era. It's something that you can't fake or contrive and it's what lies at the core of Skating Polly's music. The multi instrumentalist duo of Kelli Mayo and Peyton Bighorse started their band in Oklahoma in 2009. They recorded their debut album Taking Over The World in 2010 and achieved instant acclaim from underground music icons like X's Exene Cervenka (who produced 2013's Lost Wonderfuls) and Beat Happening's Calvin Johnson (who produced 2014's Fuzz Steliacoom.) After the release of 2016's The Big Fit, Veruca Salt's co-frontwomen Louise Post and Nina Gordon reached out and said they wanted to write with the band. What started as a writing session ultimately became 2017’s New Trick EP. Now armed with a third member—Kelli’s brother Kurtis Mayo—the trio are about to release their latest full length, The Make It All Show.
The album is the culmination of a very busy year in which the band played over 100 shows, performed at major festivals like Riot Fest & The Capitol Hill Block Party, toured Europe with Kate Nash and reunited with Cervenka for two separate legs of X’s 40th anniversary tour. Speaking of Cervenka, the musical legend also co-wrote the song “Queen For A Day” with the band, a song that sees the trio stretching out both musically and lyrically. “It was great having both Peyton and Kurtis to consult with this time around and writing with Exene was also amazing because she’s one of our biggest influences,” Kelli explains. “We went into the studio right after a lot of touring, so we were pretty tight. We kind of internalized the last year, with the world going crazy and our personal lives taking their own weird turns and we let the songs be guided by that.” she continues. “This album sounds very Skating Polly, but our music’s evolved enough that you wouldn’t mistake any of these songs as being from a past record. The songs are definitely more complex.”
For The Make It All Show the group once again teamed up with producer Brad Wood (Liz Phair, Sunny Day Real Estate). “We have a really great rapport with Brad and this was definitely my favorite experience making a record so far,” says Bighorse. “Brad always knew how to capture the right tone because he understood the overall feeling we were going for.” Kelli agrees saying, “The record wouldn’t be what it is without Brad. He’d set something up and be like “this might work” and it would be perfect.”
Admittedly the female-driven alternative acts that inspired the band such as Veruca Salt, X, The Breeders, L7 and Babes In Toyland (the later of whom Skating Polly toured with in Europe) aren't typical reference points for most of today's up-and-coming bands, but maybe they should be. “The thing that we identify with in a lot of those bands is that they can be really aggressive and loud while also being super melodic,” Kelli explains, adding that the new dynamic in the band helped them be more expansive when it came to their sound and arrangements. “Everything happened very smoothly when Kurtis became part of the band. It just felt natural having him there and writing with him.” In typical Skating Polly fashion, the trio will still be switching instruments live, something that’s become a hallmark of their performances and one that opens up more possibilities with the additional instrumentation on The Make It All Show.
Speaking of live shows, Skating Polly really need to be seen in a club to fully grasp what makes them so special. “It can get pretty chaotic when we're playing. People have said it feels like it could fall apart at any moment but in a good way,” Bighorse says with a laugh. “We try to make our music honest and engaging and I think that's what drew us to people like Nina and Louise or Exene; you can probably guess a lot of the acts that we love, but we’re able to keep making music that always sounds like us,” Mayo explains. “We really try to make the songs the focus instead of trying to flaunt technical musical abilities,” adds Bighorse – and that honesty and optimism is why everyone from legendary musical figures as well as hardcore fans have gravitated toward Skating Polly's music. The Make It All Show is the most fully realized work by Skating Polly yet and hints at an even brighter future for one of rock’s most promising acts.
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