Originally published on Swizzle-Stick.com
If you are ready to re-embrace rock and roll, give it a big old bearhug while wearing your 3/4-length sleeve Journey tour jersey, then the Other Star People are ready to embrace you. The four members of OSP, each with varying pedigrees in the rock kingdom, originally wanted to head in an electronic music direction while keeping the spirit of big rock. However, a chance meeting with famed arena rock producer Roy Thomas Baker (his Producer resume includes names like Queen, the Cars, Journey, Foreigner) led the band down a slightly altered path. As lead singer/guitarist Xander Smith told Swizzlestick, “When I heard anything from the Orb to Cardigans, I was like ‘This style of music [electronic rock] has already covered.’”
Smith, who made a name for himself in the L.A. goth band Chalk Circle, had been running around in the same circles as L7 guitarist Jennifer “Precious” Finch. When Finch decided to give the all-girl group her two weeks notice she sought out something fresh and new and hooked up with Smith. The two eventually invited bassist Junko Ito and drummer Todd Phillips (of Juliana Hatfield’s band and Bullet Lavolta) into the glam rock club and began kicking out glam-pop tunes with a strong rock and roll foundation. “You can’t really change the sound of a Les Paul going through a Marshall,” says Smith.
As the Other Star People plan to bring there glam revival to the masses via their debut, Diamonds in the Belly of the Dog, Smith and Phillips check in with Swizzlestick from a motel room in Raleigh, North Carolina.
What follows is an excerpt from that conversation.
Other Star People was featured on a recent E! special about a new club in L.A. called Club Make-Up. To me, that club epitomizes what I think of L.A. – everything seemed to be done to extremes. The people are glammed up, the club is ultra-trendy, the line to get in is a mile long. I was trying to figure out from the special whether or not the club is open 7 nights a week.
Todd: No. It’s just open the first Saturday of each month. It’s a real event. It’s incredible. There is a house band that plays behind the drag queens. Both Xander and Jennifer play in that band. Other Star People are doing our record release party at the next Make-Up.
So are you always on the guest list?
T: Oh yeah. I’m really good friends with the people that run the club, that started the whole thing. I met them through the band. Jennifer and Xander have been around L.A. for so long, they are tied into that scene.
Other Star People has come out of the gate as this big glam band, with lots of “ex-members of” and a pretty eye-catching website.
T: We made the decision to do this thing properly. Everybody examined what was missing from their former projects, what they were yearning for and sort of injected it into this band. What you are experiencing is exactly what we were shooting for – the grand ‘70s big rock, the stuff that we’ve missed over the last fifteen years. It sort of disappeared.
There are so many bands that write incredible songs but their live show is really boring. There are bands whose live shows are really incredible and their songwriting is really boring. I think with this band, the goal is to do everything with conviction, like bands had to do in the old days.
I wouldn’t have expected a band with members of L7 and Juliana Hatfield’s band to sound so glam and so pop.
T: A lot of it is based on Xander’s earliest rock memories of going to see Journey when he was 11 and just how huge and wonderful that experience was to him. Or like the first time he put on the first Cars record and every song is a complete winner and it sounds perfect. And then blending that with everything we’ve loved in the last fifteen years like the Pixies and Jane’s Addiction. But people love pop. Pop never goes away. Everybody is a pop fan.
Who would you like to tour with?
T: No Doubt would be perfect. They are labelmates, they are friends of ours. That would be really good. A Chili Peppers tour would be good. On a lower scale, I thought a double bill with Fountains of Wayne would be really great. I really like what they are doing. It would sort of make sense. That’s definitely the upper echelon of the possibilities.
And Fountains of Wayne has been touring with Imperial Teen who share the same genetic make up as Other Star People.
T: We’re really good friends with Imperial Teen. I think it would be fun to tour with them. They’ve been touring a lot since their record came out. I’m not sure if they’re going to do much more this fall. They are a band that can get any tour that they try to get. Everybody loves them. They are connected.
I think you guys win the image contest though.
T: Thank you. We worked hard on that.
Roy Thomas Baker produced the album which is a big score.
T: Yes, very big. We brought him in out of early retirement.
Was that set up through a connection that you had?
T: Let me pass the phone to Xander because he can answer this much better than I can.
Xander: Roy was good friends with someone named Dave Adderle who is vice-president of A&M. He was a producer before, he put together the Pretty in Pink soundtrack and helped develop the Go-Gos. He came and saw us play on our second show ever, when there were two people in front of us. We passed some tapes around and one got to Roy. We didn’t know that. Dave brought him to a show at the Troubadour right about the time we were getting signed. I threw a party after the show and Roy made his way over to my house. It was a backyard party and he pulled up in his Rolls Royce and he just started courting us and was really enthusiastic. He thought we had the best batch of songs he had heard from a band since he could remember.
Did you go through your record collection and pick out all the stuff he had produced in the past? Do you own a lot of stuff he’s worked on?
X: For me, it was like the earliest albums that I had actually paid for all said “Roy Thomas Baker.” So I knew right away. The rest of the band was very enthusiastic too. He does a pretty traditional big rock production. Everything is very analog, very natural. We were toying around with computerized stuff and, at that time, we weren’t sure if we wanted to go more in that direction ala Garbage. He was a very strong will and had a very strong vision so we trusted in him
So you would work with him again?
X: Oh, absolutely, if for no other reason than to sort of recapture the sound that we got on this record. It’s different than the live sound, but everybody agrees there is something different about the sound of this record – you know, the vocal production . . . He’s got some great equipment too. He has a studio at Lake Havaseu. We recorded on the 40-track that (the Cars’) Candy-O was done on! There is nothing like laying down bass guitar or drums and hearing it back. It just blows you away.
What kind of memorabilia does he have in the studio?
X: It’s amazing. We ended up using, on the song “Go To” . . . we wanted to do this cheerleading like [Queen’s] “We Will Rock You” drum beat at the beginning. We were sitting there and thinking about even sampling that song. He just went into his office and took the platinum CD off the wall. I didn’t even know those actually played, I thought those were fake. He brought it down and put it into his CD player and we sampled it. The beginning of that song is from his platinum CD.
It’s like going through the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
X: Oh my god, it’s amazing in there. You should take a tour sometime. He has autographed pictures of Brooke Shields when she was 10, in those Calvin’s. There are so many things in there. He has all the air-brushed ‘70s posters for Foreigner and all the bands he did. He did most of the Queen stuff that we are all big fans of. He didn’t do The Game, which we all really like. There was a point that he was trying to get his citizenship and Queen was still recording in England so he was unable to record with them for a couple of years. He moved on and was focusing on the Cars and Journey and some of the bands he was doing at that time. But, “Bohemian Rhapsody.”
Is that part of the reason you started the band – to get back to the music you grew up on?
X: We were just experimenting with songwriting. As we got closer to actually recording something, we realized that the music scene was being saturated by electronic music, we thought it had kind of been done. The songs were just so strong on their own we were like, “Why don’t we just plug in and do this AC/DC style.” I think that’s where it has it’s own unique feel – the songs aren’t traditional rock songs. They are really fast, quick pop songs only played as if they are dirtbag rock and roll. I think that’s what gives it it’s own flavor.