Stars of Track & Field
Borrowing a lyric from UK Indie band Belle & Sebastian as a band name, Oregon’s Stars of Track & Field are about to release their Wind Up Records debut that couples sonic ambience with larger than life melodies. Having already completed a tour with the man who played emo before there was such a thing- Jeremy Enigk- they’re about to go out again with Twilight Singers, whose lineup includes Afghan Whigs’ Greg Dulli and Screaming Trees’ Mark Lanegan. Touring with indie rock icons is just the begining for this band, whose drummer, Dan Orvik, I had a chance to speak with while the band was en route to Seattle.
How did you get turned on to music in the first place?
Oh, my mother- I suppose. She used to play The Bee Gees, Abba, Saturday Night Fever– 8 track, ya know- when I was growing up, for as long as I can remember. I loved music and I think I started playing piano around 6 or 7 years old. I grew up listening to the radio, and then when Mtv came ’round I was all about that- I was a junkie. Pop music in general just kind of grabbed me by the balls and never let go. Well, sometimes it let go actually. When I was in my early 20’s I kind of steered away from it and started listening to jazz. But, pretty much, that’s where it all started for me.
Since your name is Stars of Track & Field, did any of you play sports in school?
Yeah, actually, everybody was really athletic- and there’s still a lot of athleticism around. Jason was a really good baseball player until he injured his shoulder. He actually could have been a pro ball player- really fuckin’ good. Kevin was good at a lot of stuff. [Dan shouts out to Kevin who is driving the van they’re all in on their way to Seattle for a gig] Kevin? What sport would you say you excelled at the most?
(Kevin) Sport? Chess club it’d have to be.
(Dan) The funny thing is, Kevin would never challenge me to chess ’cause I would always win. Backgammon and checkers, too- I would probably win. I was a pretty good gymnast growing up, and soccer and baseball- all the normal stuff- but my mom wouldn’t let me play football ’cause I was too small.
Did you all grow up together?
No, actually, I met these guys about four years ago in the Portland area. I grew up in the Bay area.
You’re about to tour with Greg Dulli and Mark Lanegan. How did that come about? Were you fans of theirs?
To be honest with you, we were all pretty unfamiliar with their music. it’s kind of interesting, depending on who you talk to. I have a lot of friends who like the Afghan Whigs and just swear by them, and of course the Screaming Trees with Mark Lanegan. I’ve probably heard more music of theirs than I know, my problem is just retention. Names of songs, lyrics. It’s probably been a long time since I’ve heard any of those bands’ material. And I don’t know any of their current material. But I’m really excited for us.
The last tour we went out on was with Jeremy Enigk, and we’d never heard his music at all. So we had the unique experience of falling in love with his music live, and never having heard anything recorded of his until five weeks into the tour, and then it was just the greatest thing to hear this music recorded that we had been hearing live for 5 weeks. I mean, I don’t think any of us are going to be going out and listening (to Twilight Singers’ music, in advance of the tour) because I would be stoked if something like that happened again.
In your music I can hear influences that are all over the place, but a couple of names that come to mind are The Postal Service and U2. I’m wondering what kind of music you were listening to when you guys wrote and recorded the album?
Well, wow… When we were writing the album we were spending a lot of time in Portland. I mean, I can only answer for myself, I can tell you what I liked listening to, but I can’t speak for those guys cause we have such a wide array of influences. There are a few bands that we all agree on, but… What were we listening to when we made the record? I was listening to a lot of Mexican radio, and Yma Sumac, I was listening to Mr. Rogers…
Well, ya know, I listen to a lot of radio… I know that those influences, you can’t really hear them in our sound. Just all across the board. It’s hard to answer that ’cause we recorded the album a year ago. One record I know we were all into was Spoon’s “Gimme Fiction,” but I think that was after the record was made. Ya know, I’d never even heard of The Postal Service. Someone said, “Oh, you sound like The Postal Service,” and I was like, ‘Who the fuck is that?’ They were like, “Oh, that’s the side project of (Ben Gibbard from Death Cab For Cutie)…” and I was like, ‘Oh, that’s cool.’ Then I realized I did know one of their songs from the radio. And of course, U2, we all love U2. Esspecially like the classics- The Joshua Tree. That’s probably in all of our Top Tens.
You said that you recorded this album quite awhile ago. Is it frustrating for you that the cd isn’t set for a wide release until spring of next year?
Yeah, it is… our case is kind of unique because we got bought- our contract got bought out by Wind Up Records from SideCho- and our lives changed a lot. So now this record is coming out commercially in February, and- I mean- my drum tracks were done before last February. I think that lag time is something that’s hard to get used to. It’s a double-edged sword because we have time to work out new material before going into the studio to record our next record, but at the same time we’re going out playing these songs that for most people is brand new to them, but it’s not brand new to us. So we definitely have a thirst for keeping stuff new. So, frustrating? Yeah, but- ya know- we just had a great practice last night playing a lot of stuff from our EP, which was from before the record, and I thought they sounded fuckin’ great. When we play ’em we put everything into it so it kills the frustration for sure.
The opening track on the album, “Centuries,” what exactly is that about?
You know, I don’t write the lyrics… Kevin would be the guy to ask, it’s his song. I could give him the phone if you want.
Hey Kev… This is Jen on the phone, she’s asking what “Centuries” is about, do you want to maybe tell her?… He says for you to tell him what you think it’s about.
To me it sounds like a soldier at war.
Yeah, that’s probably not too far off the mark. To me it sounds like a departing… departing into the unknown. Like, don’t ask why- just put your head down and push through. Like you have no idea, you just have to have the balls to go for it, ya know? That’s how I’d sum it up right now… that song’s one of our favorites… I like it because it gets really big and it just blows up, and then it stops really quick. I like all the sonic nuances we have on it. I think that it’s the closest thing to a Beatles song that there is on the record. I mean, I don’t know if we can think in those terms, but we’d have to all credit the Beatles as an influence. At any given time, since we’ve all known each other, we’ve all been dearly in love with the Beatles.
Early Beatles, or late Beatles?
Fuck, I love all of it. Probably the later stuff, like the late 60’s, 70’s. Then again, I can only speak for myself. But ya know, we all like Rubber Soul, Sgt. Pepper, Revolver, The White Album, Abbey Road… I guess the middle to later stuff that we can never get enough of.
So would you prefer to be the type of band that has a really loyal following but only plays in small clubs, or the arena band that has all the fame and money but no privacy?
That’s a good question… We’ve talked about this in related conversations. I’ve always thought that our music isn’t really acceptable to masses and masses to fill a stadium. Not that I’m against it, I think it’d be great, but I’ve already settled- in my heart- that I’d be happy playing in 1,000-2,000 (capacity) theaters and having the energy of a packed house that’s really in love with the band. I don’t need the stadium, per se, I mean- it’d be really fun, but the intimacy factor… If we could make a living just filling medium-size venues, it would satisfy me, on that end…
I don’t know if what we do is that listenable to that wide of an audience, I would like it to be, but-for me- you can’t let that kind of thought get into your organic songwriting process because that’s the very thing that kills the music… It turns a song that was once a really beautiful piece of work [into something] that’s just more mass marketable, but doesn’t have sustainability and a classic quality, it doesn’t have character. I also believe that there’s a cutting edge to pop music and that the next arena rock band of 2007, 2008 is definitely gonna be something that isn’t the norm right now. So there’s a window and there are bands that get to become the new rock music, but you can’t go out looking for it. So I guess the answer to your question is: yes and yes,and no and no. It’d be great if it happens, but it’s not something we’re shooting for. If it comes our way, than great- we’ll fuckin’ blow up an arena! But we’re not pushing for it… we’ll play a great show for 10 people or for 10,000 people.
That was a long answer, but it was a good question.
Do you like the music by the way?
I do, I like it a lot. Actually, I’ll be catching your set when you come to Orlando in November.
Oh, that’s great- it’ll be cool to meet you. You have my phone number in your caller ID, you should give me a call a day or two before the show, and we can meet up and you can check out our stuff.
Cool, I’ll see you then!