While they may be fresh into the industry, Starcrawler are making a name for themselves as one of the most energetic live bands around. Mixing hard rock with a classic rock sensibility and unbridled energy, they create rock that’s as fun to hear as they make it look on stage. Even with members as young as 17, the California rockers have already earned the respect of Elton John and the Foo Fighters, and had their album recorded by Ryan Adams. We caught up with drummer Austin Smith to talk about their frantic attitude, finishing school while in the band and how Ryan Adams found them through Instagram.
Northern Transmissions: What kick-started the band, and how long have you all been playing considering the talent you bring compared to bands many years your seniors?
Austin Smith: In 2015 the band was started by Arrow and myself, we knew each other through mutual friends and just started playing together. I could barely play guitar and she couldn’t either, so we were just messing around for a few months. We had a few songs, and then she met Henri at school and brought him to practice. Then we had our first show in February 2016, and we still didn’t have a set bassist yet. We needed to find a solid person to play with us and eventually found Tim.
NT: On that note, how are you guys balancing the school side of things with how fast the band’s picking up?
AS: I’m a few years older than Arrow and the others, so I went away to college for a while, about a year and half. Arrow just graduated and Henri is doing online school because he’s still 17, but when we were all in high school we could just balance everything and make it all work, even if it was infringing on their studies. I came back after college and had more free time from there.
NT: Was the blood and uniforms always part of the live show or did that develop out of necessity?
AS: Arrow had this idea about performance rather than a show where the band is just playing. She wanted to have this interactive experience. It’s really been since day one though, the first show we played she came out in the hospital gown and had the blood. It evolved but it was in our minds before we played shows.
NT: I understand Ryan Adams came into the circle through a weird Instagram coincidence, so what did he bring to the recording side of things?
AS: I think the way it worked out was, Arrow’s mom Autumn had shot with Ryan Adams in the early 2000s. He was following her and saw us in photos she’d posted of us, and he was really interested. We played a show in L.A. and he came out really excited. He said, “You can come by the studio, nothing needs to come of it, I just want to record you guys.” So over the course of two to four months we recorded the album, and that was our introduction to him. What brought to the process was simplicity, and just really stripping things down. A lot of our songs were pretty busy, just a lot going on. He was pretty stern about it, “No one wants to hear that, just keep it simple.” Only musicians care that you can solo fast or play drums really fast, but people don’t care so you need to make it simple.
NT: I also saw that Elton John played your music on his radio show, what was that like and has he reached out since?
AS: It was pretty unsolicited, because we just got an email one day saying Elton was going to play our song on his radio show. We were thinking, “Is this true? Is this real?” So we were hanging out one day with a bunch of friends, listening to the show and he played our song, we were all really happy. After we were saying “Holy shit, it really happened.” We haven’t had any contact since, but he’s played it a few times since.
NT: Something I thought was interesting was how you seem to freshen up the dirty hard rock sound that’s been going from the Runaways to bands like Eagles of Death Metal, was there something particular you wanted to say to avoid feeling too derivative?
AS: It’s pretty cliché but it’s really just a mix of all the styles we listened to growing up. Arrow and Henri have this insane, almost encyclopedic knowledge of classic and hard rock. Tim knows a lot of soul and Motown, so we have so many elements playing into each other. If something sounds cheesy or literally just sounds like another riff, we’re pretty good about rewiring it and changing it so it sounds unique. Our idea is just cut and editing each other.
NT: Do you face a lot of criticism or bias professionally from people considering how young you are in the industry, or is it mostly just questions from the press?
AS: We’ve been mostly getting hype because of our age, for what we’re doing. You’re going to get criticism regardless but I think you just have to not care in a professional sense and focus on the music.
NT: The records just about out, so what’s the rest of your year looking like?
AS: We’re leaving on tour in about two weeks to London, Manchester, France, Germany and the Netherlands. Then we come back home before an East coast tour in February, New York to Chicago. We go to Japan in March and then we have SXSW. The grand finale for the half-point of the year is opening up for the Foo Fighters at London Stadium, everything is leading up to that.
Words by Owen Maxwell