The Dreadful Starlings are a three-piece from Alberta who came to Toronto a little while ago with the express purpose of playing music. I first met them when they split a bill with my other band, Alex Bien & The Secrets, last summer at the El Mocambo. Shortly after this meeting, they began showing up to the Not My Dog open jam (where Heater Girl first formed) and in the year since they have become one of the night’s most highly lauded and anticipated regular performers. I chatted with them in their home a few weeks ago after Warren McGoey of Mass Transit Films shot this video of them playing in their living room.
The Dreadful Starlings are:
What’s youse guys’s name?
Iliya: Our name is The Dreadful Starlings.
How long have you guys been playing together?
J: Six years.
Iliya: I think it might be five, but we can say six. Well, how long have we been doing original material?
Steve: Ah, there’s the question.
J: Steve and Iliya were playing together way before I was.
Iliya: The band name itself is two-and-half years old.
Alright, so let’s get some basic stuff out of the way. The Dreadful Starlings: how’d you guys land on that name?
Iliya: A long list.
J: Alcohol. Long nights.
Iliya: Mostly wracking our brains, and “burning the candle at both ends,” as me mum would say. Three weeks we spent just thinking of band names. There was about two hundred and… something. We had this booklet filled with band names when we were hanging around with Tim Clarke (aka Rory Fireplace), our former keyboard player. Tim played a pivotal role in the formation of the group, much of our repertoire can be attributed to him, minus the odd arrangement. Lately Tim has taken more of a producer or creative consultant role for the band. Anyway, the name just sort of came up eventually. It started as The Dreadful Sorries, which kind of went to The Dreadful Spotties, then, at some point, we all decided on The Dreadful Starlings.
J: Although I think Orifice Uh Ohs were close too.
Whoa. Okay, I’m not going to engage on that one. So how long have you been in Toronto now?
Iliya: We’ve been in the city for a year and half.
Did you all move down at the exact same time?
Iliya: Within a few weeks of each other.
J: Iliya and I drove together and then Steve came with his family on a straight trip from Alberta.
Steve: 38 hours straight.
And how did you make that decision to come here from Canmore?
Steve: It’s either here or Vancouver really.
Iliya: The musical community in the Bow Valley is something very special and it’s not that we didn’t fit in or anything. We were just itching to go somewhere with a little more competition and a lot more artists. Like you guys. And we met you guys. And if we had stayed we never would have been exposed to your music and known what it’s like to go to such a sweet jam night.
Aw, I’m getting all misty here.
J: We’ve been really lucky with the amazing musicians we’ve met. If we’d gone anywhere else, we never would have heard the songs that we now know so well, and I wouldn’t trade that for anything.
At what point when you were playing together in Canmore did you finally make the decision to come to Toronto? When did you decide, “Okay, we need to make a go of this.”?
J: Iliya just told me, “Okay, I have a date picked out.” And that’s the moment I realized it was real.
Iliya: But we talked about it before that a lot. It first came up in passing in April of that year, 2010.
Steve: When we were doing our first recordings.
Iliya: We were done doing some recordings we were doing while I was in university. Which was technically our first demo as The Other People. This band was The Other People before it was The Dreadful Starlings but that name was taken so we had to change it.
Steve: Was that the reason? I thought it just sucked.
Iliya: There’s a band in Mumbai called The Other People so we couldn’t do that. Well, we breached the subject a few times in meetings and eventually we were like, “Yeah, it’s something that’s important enough to all of us that we have to try it.” Because I know, for myself, I would have been wondering for the rest of my life probably what would have happened if we had gone to Toronto.
Something a little more general: influences that all three of you can agree on. What’s something that all of you can point to and say, “Yeah, that’s where we come from.”?
Steve: Pink Floyd.
J: Pink Floyd.
Iliya: Pink Floyd and Jimi Hendrix.
Steve and J: Yeah.
Then the reverse of that question: What’s something that each one of you considers an influence or a band that one of you loves that the other two just rag on you for loving? Is there anything like that between you guys? What’s the guilty pleasure for each of you?
J: It’s not really a guilty pleasure for me but I don’t know if Steve and Iliya like Metric as much as I do.
Iliya: I have said a couple things about Metric. But that’s okay! Their music is great!
Yeah, let’s not draw any lines here. Anyone else have something like that?
Steve: I don’t know. I listen to so much different music personally. I’ve played in punk bands before.
J: I think a guilty pleasure shared by all of us is the closing theme of Spongebob Squarepants.
That’s not a guilty pleasure in the least.
J: It’s amazing! It’s so good!
Iliya: It’s a wonderful piece of music. Is that Weird Al in fact?
Steve: You were the one who told me that back in highschool.
What’s the songwriting process like for you? I know you had Tim in before, but lately, since you’ve been doing your own stuff now.
Iliya: Well that song that we just filmed is J’s entirely, minus arrangement things. There’s a few chord changes that I contributed. I say generally if she writes a song and writes the lyrics I’ll help with the music. I’ll also help with lyrics in that case as well. If I write the lyrics then she’ll help with the music.
J: It usually starts with the lyrics though. No, it usually starts with the… For me, I have a book of lyrics and then I have all these licks running through my head and then every once in awhile I’ll just put two together.
Iliya: For me, I just write mumbo jumbo stuff and then sometimes it will be in an accessible form that I think might be at least worth advancing and saying, “What would this sound like if we tried to do something with it?” Sometimes it doesn’t work, so you put those ones in the closet or whatever.
How long do you sit on something before you bring it to the rest of the band?
Iliya: Sometimes months. Sometimes years.
Steve: How long did it take for “The Worst of All” to really come into itself?
Iliya: “The Worst of All” was written before we were The Dreadful Starlings. It was written on a New Year’s Eve before we went to a gig as The Other People at a place called Crazy Weed Kitchen in Canmore. That was the first time we played it. I think I had just been in a classical music course and was very in tune with what the chord scales were at least. And the lyrics came to me a lot later than the music had. Or only half the music had come to me and later when I had the lyrics I realized that this one part was not like the other parts and therefore it needed another musical direction.
How do rehearsals go for you guys?
Steve: We look at the list and then we just say, “Okay, let’s bang it out.”
Iliya: (indicating the setlist taped to the wall) It’s just a small list right now. That’s what we played at The Horseshoe.
Steve: Unless there’s something to work on. In which case we break songs down-
Iliya: Take care of business.
Steve: -until it works.
Iliya: We have two categories of songs: songs that we know and can pull off and any moment. In any state. Say, in a bar.
Steve: Like “The Night, The Night”
Iliya: Yeah, ones that we’ve been playing so long now that they’re second nature. And then there’s – well, we haven’t officially started a putting them on a “beat-to-death” list – but there’s other songs where we just haven’t played them the same number of times as the others and so they’re less reliable. So we try to beat the crap out of those ones every now and then. Play them five times in a row or more. Whatever it takes.
Do you have any sort of pre-show rituals?
Iliya: We get our stuff together mostly. We put it in a cab. Calling a cab is a big part of the deal.
Steve: Go for dinner together.
J: If we have time, yeah.
Iliya: And if everyone’s in the mood for the same thing.
J: It’s a weird mood before shows.
Steve: We all live together, right. So we’re always together. When we’re not at work we’re here.
Iliya: Lately, we just started trying something at the last show we played at the Dog (NMD) which was; one person counts to four, and then passes it off, then the next person has to count at the same speed, then the last person has to count at the same speed, and then we go around again. It seemed to help. It seemed to get everybody in the same “time zone.” Adrenaline does funny things.
What’s the worst show The Dreadful Starlings have ever played?
Iliya: I don’t think I’ve ever thought about that. Probably tried to block it from my mind.
Or just some sort of ridiculous circumstance at a gig.
Iliya: Well, your drummer (referring to Shane MacPhearson of Alex Bien & The Secrets, in which I play bass), when he was just starting to be your drummer, busted my amp.
Oh right! That was that night that we met.
Iliya: That’s right! Yeah, so that was pretty stressful. I don’t think I’ve ever been that out of sorts before going on stage and then manage to at least smile. A few times.
J: There was also a period where ten shows in a row the monitors would be fine, and then right before we go on they would break mysteriously. And nobody knew why. The sound guy would be freaking out and it would make us really stressed out. It ended up being something that I just thought happened. I’d go to a show and be like, “Oh, the monitors haven’t broken yet.”
Iliya: Like it was a matter of course.
J: Yeah, and now that hasn’t happened to us in a while.
Iliya: It was like, they’re just starting to set up the equipment and then, all of a sudden, someone touches one wrong thing. We weren’t even on stage, we’ll be at the bar or something and we just hear *BANG* and then the sound man goes “Oh fuck.” And then we’re like, “Oh shit, there go our monitors again.” That’s okay. We haven’t had that problem for a while.
Really makes you appreciate when they are there now. You’re not one of those spoiled people on stage going, “Can I get more monitor?” Now it’s like, “Oh my god, there’s monitors!”
Who are your favourite acts in the city?
Steve: One of my favourite bands to go see at this point is The Ruby Spirit. They’ve got such an amazing live show and a great sound.
Iliya: Very, very exciting.
Steve: You know, aside from “the gang” at the Dog.
Alright then, I guess one more question: How awesome is Heater Girl?
Iliya: Heater Girl is awesome.
J: They’re okay, I guess.
The Dreadful Starlings will be playing every Monday night in June at Not My Dog (1510 Queen W.) Heater Girl will be joining them on their last week on June 25th along with the Mip Power Trio. For more information, visit their facebook page at www.facebook.com/thedreadfulstarlings and follow them on twitter at @drdflstarlings.
To see more of Warren McGoey’s videos, visit his youtube channel at http://www.youtube.com/user/WarrenMTF
Thanks for reading,
Aaron “Danger Friend” Florendo