March 2004
By Steven M. Housman

stellastarr* Is Born

Here we have a band that’s not only been created unconventionally, three out of the four members all had actual skills and authentic talent in other areas before coming together to form their band stellastarr*. They were all artists and one actor/artist before combining their musical forces. It’s as if everyone knew their niche and where they belonged without much discussion. That is a rarity in the world of rock and roll.

The band is made up of Singer/guitarist Shawn Christensen, bassist Amanda Tannen, drummer Arthur Kremmer, and guitarist Michael Jurin.

Jurin was actually the last to join and the only one that wasn’t among the trio to begin with. As fate would have it, Michael happen to be renting out Arthur’s old digs, and when Arthur went to pick up his mail, he and Michael met. They got to talking and it turned out Michael was the missing link the trio was looking for. They decided to all get together for a jam session. The foursome clicked so beautifully, stellastarr* was born after just one session.

This New York City foursome had something most bands lacked, originality. What’s most refreshing is the down-to-earth attitude of the members as well. Their sound is as fresh and alive as if they’d been playing together for years. Their debut CD carries shades of Bowie, The Cure, The Pixies and The Cars. Don’t get me wrong, they definitely have been influenced by the 80’s, but their music carries a most updated sound and lyrical intelligence, a factor most new rock bands are lacking.

I sat down with bassist Amanda Tannen and basically asked her everything from her classical training to becoming a graphic artist and switching gears to become one of the most talked about and exciting new bands of 2003. We addressed the differences of US and UK audiences to her unprejudiced feelings about being featured in a gay men’s magazine. (stellastarr* was recently featured in a piece I wrote for GENRE magazine). She was so matter-of-fact about it, I almost felt a bit foolish about asking her the question to begin with. The band plays so extraordinarily well, they were recently invited to return on Carson Daly’s national late night talk and rock fest after a hugely successful run last summer. I could go on and on about how refreshing this new band is, but the proof is in the disc itself. Have a listen and find out why their new self-titled RCA disc is so phenomenal. stellastarr* shines bright.

To begin, I have to ask you where the name stellastarr* came from?

Basically, when we started playing music, we were very jammy. We had a lot of songs that were about the heavens, so it originated from stuff like that.

I understand you all met at the Pratt Institute while all studying art. Do any or all of you still practice or even pursue your former goals?

Not all of us. Michael came in after we had graduated from Pratt, he went to Temple. He was actually living in Arthur’s old room. Arthur went out to check his mail and found Michael there and asked him to come play with us. We still do practice our art. Sean is a painter, he went to school for illustration. Arthur still does graphic design, he went to school for 3-D animation. And I do graphic design and went to school for advertising.

I understand you were also a cellist.

I was, not so much anymore.

So, was your passion classical?

Yes, from Elementary school through High School I studied and played the cello. And yes, I played classical.

I couldn’t help but hear definite shades of such 80’s groups as The Cure, The Pixies, and even a bit of Bowie. Was that intentional?

It’s definitely not intentional. It’s kind of like all of our early influences were from the 80’s. It just kind of comes out that way, but it’s definitely not intentional in saying, “Hey, we’re going to make this sound like that from the 80’s.” We all grew up in the 80’s so it’s just imbedded.

Who were and are your personal musical influences?

My personal favorites are David Bowie, the Cars, Sonic Youth, there’s so many. Growing up, I listened to the Police and Dylan a lot.

I understand you have been featured twice on National television on Carson Daly’s Last Call-How were those experience?

That was a lot of fun. Our first experience with television was very quick and very exciting. We had a lot of people come out to the show, so the audience was basically filled with our fans. It made it a lot easier; they were screaming and making us feel more comfortable. The second time we were much more at ease.

Who writes your compositions?

We all do together. Someone will come in with a melody or a guitar riff and we’ll build a song off of that.

I assume you know this interview will be presented in a gay publication. Any thoughts about that?

No, everyone likes music. I haven’t any prejudices.

One of my personal favorite songs is “My Coco.” Is there a story behind that song or any particular song that is more personal to you than some of the others?

Not really. They all have different meanings so it’s hard to say which song is more personal to me. There are certain songs I really like playing on. I think we all put our hearts into all of them. “My Coco” is really a fun song to play, just because it’s bouncy and dancy.

I understand you have great fanbase in the UK. Do you feel the fans in the UK differ from the fans in the US?

When we went over there, we were very well received. Everyone was overly excited about us, it was just a really nice reception and we weren’t expecting that at all. It felt really nice. Over here in the States, it seems you have to prove yourself a little bit more.

How long has stellastarr* been touring and how long will it continue?

We toured a lot at the beginning of the summer 2003 and then we went to the U.K. in August. After that we toured a lot for the album release. It came out last September and we’re really happy with the success. Due to the success, we’re still on tour!

© 2004 Steven M. Housman. All Rights Reserved.