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L.A. Beat

Starpainter evolves from The Utilities into new country style sound and new CD

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As people change , evolve and grow up and move away, so do their bands.The Utilities have evolved into Starpainter. Photo by Richard Amery
Local indie rock band the Utilities, tweaked their line up upon the departure of long time drummer Drake McCheyne, reformed, embraced their love of alternative country and country music and rebranded as Starpainter.
Starpainter, featuring Joel Stretch - guitar, vocals, Keys; Colby Stolson - bass; Tyson Wiebe - guitar, vocals; Mick Hayward - drums, percussion and guitarist Joel Gray, just released their debut album “Bury Me With My Family.”  which they record with Jesse Northey at Moose Farm studios, north of Edmonton.

Frontman Joel Stretch answered a few questions about the album through e-mail.
“Starpainter is a sort of continuation and rebirth of The Utilities. The sound is a little different and the lineup changed. It felt like a new band so we renamed it. Drake (McCheyne) played on this record (beautifully) but that was his last hurrah with the band, so we decided we'd get a new lineup figured and put this out as the first record of a new project. Drake and I started The Utilities when we were kids so without him playing drums it felt like the end of a chapter for sure,” Stretch noted, adding this CD is more song focused.

“This record is more song-first than any of the stuff with The Utilities. The melodies, lyrics, and chord progressions got workshopped pretty hard leading up to recording. This is also a roomier record than any of The Utilities records were, too — we wanted to capture the sound of a band playing together, not just individual parts. The sound is a bit more twangy, but continues the trajectory we were on with The Utilities in many ways too,” Stretch added, noting they band members have always loved country  and folk influenced music.

“Lots of what we listen to is folk and country and that element reared its head a little more on this record. The Flying Burrito Brothers, Wilco, and Neil Young are a few favourites that get played a lot in whatever vehicle we're driving around to shows … there have been elements of twang or alt-country or whatever word you want to use from the very beginning of the band, but it’s true that this is more of a country record than stuff we did under the old name,” he continued, noting while there is no overreaching theme to the CD, he wanted the  songs to fit together.

“We wanted the songs to fit together, so we made some rules that we sometimes broke but mostly stuck to. We tried to use just guitars and organs for melody instruments for example. We were also very purposeful about keeping the songs short and the arrangements tight.” The CD has already been receiving airplay from radio stations like CKUA.

“CKUA is my favourite radio station. It means a lot to have their support. The hosts and all the behind the scenes folks at CKUA are genuine music lovers and it comes across in the programming. I want to especially thank Grant Stovel and Amy Van Keeken for including our songs in their programming — it makes a big difference for our band,” he noted.

Stretch focussed on melody when he was writing the songs.
“I was writing mostly short, melodic songs for this record. Songwriting is sort of mysterious to me. I can usually get six or seven songs out of any given process and then have to find new ways of working. I'm always having to find different doors into the same room. Some of the songs, “County Line” and “Grocery Store” and maybe a few others, started with lyrics and I worked backwards from there. Wild Azaleas started with that omnichord beat you hear on the recording. Most start with an intro or verse melody that I'll write lyrics for and build the song kind of front to back in that way,” he continued, adding the lyrics are about all kind of relationships.

“The lyrics focus on regrets and on relationships of all kinds. Switching towns and people moving away comes up lots too. The inevitability of death makes its way into a lot of these songs. My songs aren't exactly autobiographical, but I am inspired by conversations and stuff that happens to me or people I know. I listen to conversations and write about the way I'm feeling a lot of the time, but I always take whatever liberties to just make stuff up too,” he wrote, noting they chose from many different songs, but chose the ones with a similar mood and feel.

“We had a lot of songs to choose from. We wanted to set a mood on this record, so we tried to pick songs that made sense together and arrange them in a way that felt like a strong album, not just a collection of songs. We had 20-something to choose from and we narrowed it down to 12 that we recorded. Ten of them made the final cut for the record,” he noted, adding it is tough to choose favourites.

“I feel proud of Slammin' on the Brakes and Mark of Cain. But it’s hard to choose. I’ll probably have a better answer to this question in a year or two, I’m too close to the songs right now to be a good judge.”

 They enjoyed working on the record with Jesse Northey.
“We did this record mostly at a beautiful country studio called Moose Farm, a little ways North of Edmonton. It’s an old guest house that’s been converted into a studio. It has high ceilings and lots of natural light.  The studio also has bedrooms and a kitchen so we’d stock up on groceries and beer in town and drive out and stay out there recording all day — felt like a buncha kids on a sleepover. We also did some guitars and singing in Drake’s living room. This was the most fun I’ve ever had recording. It was a little bit less formal and I think that had a positive effect on the end result. Jesse Northey engineered and co-produced and mixed the record. I can’t say enough good things about his work. He is unbelievably good at making records. He’s got great ears and sets a tone that brings out the best in our band. He made all my dreams for this record come true,” Stretch noted.

They didn’t have any guests on the  CD. Stretch added some lap steel to “Strange Corridors.”

Joel Gray has since joined the band to add extra slide guitar.
“Since recording the album, Joel Gray joined the band and plays slide guitar masterfully. He’s been playing those parts and more live, I’m excited to make some recordings with him playing on them,” he continued, adding audiences have responded positively to the new CD.

“I’ve appreciated the support and kind words people have been sending us. I wish we could drive around and play shows in support of the record. That’s more where I get a sense of how people are responding to what we’re up to. We’ll definitely take a long drive and play as much as we can once shows are an option. Until then, we’ll do our best to keep engaging people with the record online. I really do appreciate the folks who’ve reached out to say they’re into it.”

Stretch said he is missing being able to play shows in support of the CD.

“We’ll give the album a proper release show and take a nice drive around when we can but I’m definitely missing that part of it,” he noted.

— By Richard Amery, L.A. Beat Editor

Last Updated ( Wednesday, 10 June 2020 13:34 )  
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