L.A. rockers Starcrawler want to prove that kids can still kick ass
Every 16-year-old dreams of starting a band. Arrow de Wilde was no different—except for the fact that she chased down fellow musicians at her Los Angeles high school and turned that dream into a reality. After two years of melting faces and blowing minds as part of Los Angeles’s thriving glam rock scene, de Wilde and her bandmates in Starcrawler have just released their self-titled debut LP on Rough Trade Records.
De Wilde’s mother, Autumn de Wilde, is a successful photographer, while her father, Aaron Sperske, is a drummer who’s played with Beachwood Sparks, Father John Misty, Ariel Pink, and started the Skiffle Brothers with Cass McCombs. But the younger de Wilde is hell-bent on proving that Starcrawler hasn’t evolved out of familial connections.
One listen to the band’s debut—produced by Ryan Adams—will dispel that notion. It’s a fascinating blend of old school glam and hair metal, with a forward thinking, punch-you-in-the-mouth rock ’n’ roll swagger. Taking cues from Ozzy Osbourne, Nirvana, and beyond, Starcrawler are out to prove rock ‘n’ roll is far from dead, and that kids still kick ass the old-school way. That’s not a metaphor—de Wilde likes to provoke audiences at her shows, even going as far as spitting on people and throwing elbows. If Elton John playing their raucous riffs on his BBC radio show is any indication, their message has been heard loud and clear.
WILL SCHUBE: Can you talk about how the band formed?
ARROW DE WILDE: I met Austin [Smith, drummer] first, through mutual friends. I knew that he played drums and I wanted to start a band. He was the only person I knew of that played an instrument and was into the same music that I was. We started jamming. I went to school with Henri [Cash, guitar], but I didn’t know him. I approached him at school one day right before summer. He was holding a tuba so I thought there was no way he could play guitar if he was holding a tuba [laughs]. I said to him, “You look cool. Do you play guitar?” He was weirded out, but he told me he could and we exchanged numbers. The three of us started making music and then we went though a few different bass players until I remembered that Tim [Franco], an old friend of mine, played bass. So it just kind of worked out.
SCHUBE: How did Elton John’s discovery of the band and “Ants” come about?
DE WILDE: One of his people emailed the band account and just mentioned, “Oh yeah, Elton’s gonna play ‘Ants’ on his radio show next week.” It was so unexpected, so crazy. It was really awesome.
SCHUBE: Ryan Adams produced your forthcoming LP. How did you link up with him?
DE WILDE: He actually saw us on Instagram and was curious. He and my mom have known each other for a long time. They were tight in the ’90s. They fell out of touch but he would see her posts on Instagram and he came to a show. He was really interested in recording us. A lot of people think that my mom got that for the band, but that’s not the case because he wasn’t really on our radar. I would have never thought of having him produce the record and asking my mom, “Can you ask him?” But when he approached us, it sounded like a really cool, really surprising idea. Even if I had asked my mom, she probably would have told me he wouldn’t be interested [laughs].
SCHUBE: Because you have successful artistic parents, I imagine a lot of people assume you haven’t earned your status, even though the music speaks for itself. Is there anything your parents have taught you as you begin this process that you’ve found helpful in dealing with your career path?
DE WILDE: Yes, especially my dad. I grew up around the music business and began to learn how it worked. He gave me so much advice when I first started this band. So did my mom, but he was very helpful in guiding me.
SCHUBE: Were all of the songs on this LP fully written before you entered the studio?
DE WILDE: They were all written beforehand, but there were a couple that weren’t completely finished. We asked Ryan to help make them sound more like songs. “I Love LA” was written but didn’t feel finished. It went through a lot of different changes and Ryan helped that out a lot.
SCHUBE: Aside from helping flesh out the unfinished songs, was there anything tangible Ryan helped bring to the record as the producer?
DE WILDE: “I Love LA” was a total mess before we entered the studio. He really made it what it is. There’s another song called “Tears,” which is the ballad. We wrote it but we didn’t really know what to do with it, how it should sound. Ryan really helped with it, stripping the song down to guitar, vocals, and some synths.
SCHUBE: How did growing up in Los Angeles help inform your musical style?
DE WILDE: It was great growing up there. There were so many different scenes you could check out. I grew up going to shows. On the weekends it was more going to shows instead of parties. It helps a lot to be from L.A. when you want to do something like music.
SCHUBE: Do you view the group as an L.A. band?
DE WILDE: We don’t really like to be put into categories. Sometimes it feels like you can’t get out of them. I guess so, though. It’s where we’re from and we have a fucking song about it [laughs].
SCHUBE: The band is often framed as a reinvention or reinvigoration of a dying rock ’n’ roll. Is that an intention of yours?
DE WILDE: Rock is a thing we all bonded over and wanted to make. At least I definitely want it to circle back and become as popular as it once was. But also, we’re just having fun. We’re just playing music.
SCHUBE: What were some of your favorite bands growing up that helped inspire this new LP?
DE WILDE: Definitely Ozzy [Osbourne]. Ozzy and [Black] Sabbath. The Beatles was the first band I ever fell in love with. But Ozzy made me want to make music.
SCHUBE: Do you ever get tripped up trying to pay homage to your favorite music while still developing a fresh, new sound?
DE WILDE: People say that we’re a throwback band a lot of the time, but I still think we’re doing something totally original. It’s not like I’m putting on a costume. I mean, I wear stage costumes, but I’m not trying to be exactly like my idols. I take inspiration and then I work it into my own thing.
SCHUBE: Does being called a throwback or having people attribute your success to your parents ever annoy you?
DE WILDE: It’s not that big of a deal, it just depends on how it’s said. It can be annoying sometimes, because people always have to put things in so many categories.
SCHUBE: Growing up in L.A., was there a concert you attended that made you realize you wanted to dedicate your life to music and performance?
DE WILDE: Before I started this band, I went to a lot of shows that my friends’ bands would play at. It was the only thing close to rock music. I loved those shows. A lot of random, glam inspired bands around L.A. really showed me music.
SCHUBE: Starcrawler’s live shows are already known for their intensity and energy. You like to provoke the audience on stage. Have you ever had an interaction turn bad?
DE WILDE: People get mad a lot. Those are easier to remember. Everyone gets really worried but they’re funny to me. People have gotten violent because I can be annoying. I like to spit at people and touch people. We were playing in a restaurant and I spit water all over their food and faces, and they stood up and a woman pulled out a knife and went outside to wait for me. She wanted to fight me or something. When we left the stage I ran up to the security guards and asked them to make sure I wasn’t about to die. It was funny to me, but that lady didn’t like it [laughs].
SCHUBE: Was it difficult translating that live energy to the recording studio?
DE WILDE: Not at all because we recorded it almost entirely live. We did overdubs, but all the tracks are done live, the same way we do it at practice. It was easy and felt like how it feels on stage to us.
SCHUBE: When the band first started playing shows, you were still in high school. What was it like balancing these two different lives?
DE WILDE: It was difficult because I went to public school and they’re very strict senior year about absences. You’re only supposed to miss seven days of school or something, but I missed 30. It ended up being fine, but at the time, it sucked going to bed at 2 A.M. and having to wake up at six for school. It was brutal. I’m so glad I’m not in that anymore.
SCHUBE: Considering many of your musical heroes are extremely famous, do you have ambitions of stardom?
DE WILDE: Triple platinum! That’s the goal! [laughs] I like making music but I think everyone, secretly or non-secretly, wants a level of success. Yeah, my dream is to have a tour bus and all of that cheesy shit, but even if that doesn’t happen, I’m still going to be doing this and it’s still gonna be just as fun.
STARCRAWLER’S SELF-TITLED DEBUT IS OUT NOW ON ROUGH TRADE RECORDS.