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September 2022
Feature

Stars Hollow: "I want to be a better person, and that is crucial to the album's concept"

It's taken Stars Hollow five years to get around to releasing a debut album, but taking the more considered route is sometimes worth the wait.
Published: 12:10 pm, May 05, 2021Words: Rob Mair.
Stars Hollow: "I want to be a better person, and that is crucial to the album's concept"

It's been quite the day for Stars Hollow's Tyler Stodghill. Not only has he had to contend with this 40-minute chat, he's also spent the entire morning being interviewed for a position in a counselling programme at graduate school. Life, as they say, comes at you fast.

"I think it went really well," he says as we talk over Zoom. "I did well in undergrad, and I feel like I'm good at interviews – professionally, at least. In these types of interviews, I tend to ramble because my brain's going a million miles an hour. In professional interviews, though, I know when to shut up," he laughs.

Appropriately enough, we're here to chat about Stars Hollow's excellent debut full-length 'I Want To Live My Life', a coming-of-age record about facing fears and having the courage to make life happen, rather than passively waiting for it to come to you. It feels like an appropriate title as Tyler tackles life on multiple fronts.

And while the Iowa trio are on an upward trajectory, the success of 'I Want To Live My Life' means Tyler could be forced to make some challenging career decisions as he tries to combine professional and musical ambitions.

Indeed, one reason why it's taken them nearly five years to record 'I Want To Live My Life' can be found in the desire to grow away from music, as Tyler explains.

"My outlook my whole life has been that music is very secondary to me. I love it – and I love doing it – but it was drilled into me at a young age that making a career out of this is really hard, and it's very competitive. I've put a lot of stock into what I want to do professionally, and I don't regret that, by any means.

"But trying to write a record while also focusing on college, it was difficult. We also decided to fund it ourselves so we could have a finished product to show labels – but that leads to roadblocks. COVID has been a huge one, obviously – I mean, we started recording in 2019, and we were hoping to finish in early 2020 – and that really messed with the timeline.

"And also, I am really slow at writing. I'm extremely critical, and I can mess around on the guitar and think something is cool, and then five minutes later, think that it sucks," laughs Tyler.

Yet this attention to detail is evident throughout 'I Want To Live My Life'. For example, a gentle guitar line from the opening track finds its way through '…' and closing number 'But Better'. Meanwhile, the same lyrical themes – of being afraid of making the step forward to seize the day – also carry through these tracks, highlighting the ideas of being scared and wanting to live a life of purpose and meaning. Indeed, taken as a triptych, the title of these three songs – I want to live my life… but better – spell out the meaning of the record perfectly. They're even lyrics that can be found in their entirety in the closing song.

In draft versions of the record, a bomb under the bed served as a metaphor for the fear that stalks Tyler, but in the final versions, this was replaced by the much more intangible idea of a monster in the closet – something which everyone can shape to their own personal nightmare.

"The concept was pretty much the first thing that came about," says Tyler. "And I think a lot of the songs that came out are about the fear of living my life or being held back by things that have happened to me because I'm scared of them happening again or focusing on a personal pain that means you might never leave your house – or hardly leave at all.

"So, I started writing with all these themes in mind, but also the idea that I want to be a better person for myself and for other people, and I think that is crucial to the concept."

Yet, for Stars Hollow to have any success at all, they've had to get on the road and make it happen themselves. Des Moines, Iowa, isn't well-known for its emo scene, but is well-placed for bands to reach other cities, lying almost equidistant to Minneapolis, Kansas City and Omaha, and only five hours' drive west of Chicago.

Consequently, to hit the right radars, they've had to break out from their thriving local scene and tour the mid-west hard.

"When Stars Hollow started, I was at the University of Iowa in Ames, and the scene was thriving. I had a Facebook memory today for four years ago, which showed I'd booked a show where Oso Oso, Ratboys, and Sinai Vessel were all playing in a basement, and they all now play huge rooms.

"For us, because we put so much focus on touring, I don't feel like we put as much stock in our local scene, which I feel bad saying.

"What's interesting now is we're starting to see younger people coming to the shows, and because the younger kids are involved, they jump around and show you they're having a great time, like when Origami Angel came through."

Indeed, any success Stars Hollow may have could lie with today's teenagers taking the band to heart. Every six years or so, a new wave of acts rises up to take the place of the last, like Modern Baseball and The Hotelier picking up the baton from Algernon Cadwallader and Snowing, and so on.

Each wave brings with it their own record labels – Stars Hollow find themselves on the undeniably hip Acrobat Unstable, for example – and a sense that they're ripping up everything that's happened before and starting over for the next generation.

For Stars Hollow, this has meant seeing 'I Want to Live My Life' offered to an audience that has already bought into the label's ethos – a "healthy hive mind," as Tyler puts it. At the time of writing, the first press of 'I Want To Live My Life' has almost sold out on pre-orders alone, with discussions of announcing a second press at an advanced stage.

While Tyler plans for life away at grad school, the success of his band might put those plans on hold for a little while longer. We're sure the irony of putting his life on hold as his band takes off isn't lost on him… 

Taken from the May issue of Upset. Stars Hollow's debut album 'I Want To Live My Life' is out 7th May.

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