The Stargazer Lilies’ Dream Life
ABOVE: THE STARGAZER LILIES
The existence of The Stargazer Lilies represents a rebirth of sorts for former New Yorkers John Cep and Kim Field. With their previous band, dream-pop five-piece Soundpool, Cep and Field released three albums and opened for bands like Chapterhouse and Asobi Seksu. But after 2010’s Mirrors In Your Eyes, Cep and Field found that the new material they were writing was less suited to Soundpool’s synth-heavy setup. Having moved to the Pocono area, Cep and Field embarked upon what became The Stargazer Lilies, a more guitar-oriented, shoegaze-y project conceived by the duo, with added touring drummers EJ DeCoske and Johnny Lancia.
Having toured with Black Moth Super Rainbow, Cep and Field had developed friendships with BMSR frontman Tom Fec (aka Tobacco) and bassist/guitarist Ryan Graveface, who also runs the Savannah, GA record label Graveface Records. The association led to The Stargazer Lilies’ debut, We Are the Dreamers, being released on Graveface on October 22. The album was even “curated” by Tobacco. “We gave him all the material that we were considering,” says Cep. “We scraped up every demo, which was about two albums’ worth of material. He picked the material that ended up on the album.”
We caught up with Cep and Field after a late-night show in Stroudsburg, while in the van on the way to another gig in Boston. The Stargazer Lilies will play a record release show tonight at The Paper Box in Brooklyn.
FRANK VALISH: So you used to live in New York?
KIM FIELD: We lived in the city for a long, long time. John’s originally from Long Island, so he lived there longer than I did. We moved out a while ago, to escape the madness.
VALISH: You had two whole albums worth of materials written when it was time to gather songs for this album. Can you talk about the time you spent writing these songs, and what that was like after you decided to write separately from Soundpool?
FIELD: We hadn’t really decided that we weren’t going to do Soundpool, but we were writing at that time. We had started working on a group of songs, and it was just completely different stuff from Soundpool. We weren’t intentionally writing to start a new project, but it just ended up that the songs had a different feeling. The songs that we wrote at that time pushed us in the direction of this new project, and that’s how The Stargazer Lilies started.
JOHN CEP: Even in Soundpool, Kim and I did a majority of the recording. All three Soundpool albums were recorded at our house. I think that was another factor in what was happening. I kept expanding my guitar sound, and at a certain point, it was almost like it just sounded cooler with just the guitar on this new material, rather than the guitar and two synth parts on top of the guitar, which was what we had with Soundpool. The guitar just started taking over. Kim picked up the bass guitar and really started playing that too, so that was another factor that pushed us to be more guitar-oriented for Stargazer Lilies, where Soundpool is a little more textural, with synth textures and guitar textures all in a big pool of music.
FIELD: One thing we should also add is that the tempo totally changed. The last Soundpool album was very upbeat, and we just weren’t feeling that upbeat [when writing for We Are the Dreamers].
VALISH: Three albums into Soundpool, had things become frustrating at all, with the band maybe not going where you wanted it to go?
FIELD: I think things in general are probably always frustrating, with every musical project, unless you are hugely successful. So definitely. We poured everything into that band, and after a while, it was just like we couldn’t keep dragging those guys [keyboardist Mark Robinson, drummer James Renard, and bassist Sanford Santacroce] along with us. I think we all just needed a break. It was nothing internally with the band members. We all really love each other. We’re really good friends. We were just tired, feeling defeated for sure, after three albums and not really getting anywhere.
CEP: The sound of Soundpool had evolved. In the beginning, it was a little simpler. Mark, our synth player, played one synthesizer. Kim just played Omnichord. We had acoustic drums, guitar, and bass. But as the band evolved in electronica, we added electronic drums. Mark added an extra synth. Kim started playing synth and Omnichord. My guitar set-up started getting bigger. So it just became bigger and bigger and became harder and harder to pull off on the road. And at a certain point, the success of the band just didn’t really match what we needed it to be to pull off the sound we were trying to achieve live. That was another thing pushing Kim and I toward stripping down again, having fewer members and fewer instruments.
VALISH: You have been quoted as saying that We Are the Dreamers was created among “turbulent emotional times.” Can you talk a bit about what sorts of things were going on at this time you were writing this record that fed into the creation of the album?
CEP: There were kitty cats dying and heart attacks and bankruptcies. You name it. Lots of stuff was going on.
FIELD: Basically, every three months, we had a major trauma. It was going on for years. Literally, every three to six months. We couldn’t get a break from it. And that really starts to wear on you. The music you are hearing now is how we were dealing with that. It’s kind of the only place to turn to try to keep our sanity for a while.
VALISH: How long did you spend writing and recording the album?
FIELD: It was two and a half years in the making and then another six months after it was finished before it was really released. When we say two and a half years, we were working all that time on the record. Some of the songs didn’t make it on, so there are things that people haven’t heard that we were working on, but we were working diligently that two and a half years.
VALISH: Was it a nerve-wracking process giving Tobacco that two albums of material and allowing him to pick what he thought was the best for the record, and were you surprised by any of his choices?
CEP: Absolutely. The record came out different than we imagined that it would. A few songs, maybe four or five songs, that we were pretty sure were going to be on the record didn’t end up on the record. He really surprised us. The unusual thing, which I didn’t expect, was that he actually picked most of our latest material. Some of it was just not even ready to be put on a record yet. The nerve-wracking thing was, Tom is a very happening guy. His band, Black Moth Super Rainbow, and his solo project, Tobacco, are really happening things, and he has a lot of stuff going on. So I just felt like it was sort of a burden. I don’t think he saw it that way. But I was put in the position to try and get him to go through all this material and pick what was going to be on our record.
FIELD: I don’t think it was nerve-wracking, in the sense that we totally trusted him. At the point when we handed him the material, John and I didn’t know what we were listening to any more. We had listened to those songs so many times and had been working on them for so long, so we welcomed somebody else having the control over what’s good and what sucks. It was a relief in a way that we gave somebody else that responsibility.
VALISH: Like you said, the songs were created in such an emotionally charged time, I imagine it must have felt like somewhat of a relief to have someone else make decisions about songs that were so intimately close.
CEP: Absolutely. And I think it helped give us perspective on the material too, to have someone from completely outside. There are a lot of people around us that had heard a lot of the material, at least five of the songs that were floating around. Tom was completely separate from all of that. So that was really great and refreshing. Also, it gave us some affirmation, the fact that he was picking the newer demos. We were concerned about whether we were maintaining or pushing the envelope, getting better as we went along. So we got affirmation from him. And also, the very last track of the album was definitely a song I absolutely did not want on the record. But he saw the record differently than us. We had it overly homogenized, and he broke up the homogenization of the album by including things that were a little different and things that we didn’t think were going to be on the record. So that was refreshing. It ended up being a really awesome experience.
VALISH: What happens with the rest of the tracks? Are they going to be put together, do you think sometime in the future for another release, or are we done and moved on?
FIELD: We’re working on another release. We’ve written a lot since then, too. So we have a lot of brand-new stuff, a lot of stuff in the works on top of the older songs. We have tons of material. We should add that the reason we didn’t chose a lot of those other songs, is that we were trying to keep the album to 36 minutes. Thirty-six minutes is a pretty short period of time, so that’s also why some of the stuff didn’t make it on, because there was just limited space.
CEP: Because Ryan Graveface runs a very vinyl-centric label, he does the releases the old-fashioned way, based on what fits on a vinyl record comfortably. When CDs came along, all of a sudden they can fit much more material on an album, because a CD could fit a lot more content. So all of a sudden, all the record companies wanted longer records, which wasn’t necessarily the best thing for album-oriented rock, because people lose their attention span after a while. So the fact that he likes to keep his records to 36 minutes or under because that—what fits on to one 33 1/3 vinyl 12-inch—is actually what’s really best for music.
WE ARE THE DREAMERS IS OUT TOMORROW, OCTOBER 22, ON GRAVEFACE. FOR MORE ON THE BAND, VISIT ITS PAGE ON GRAVEFACE’S WEBSITE.