Tuesday, November 8, 2016


Starling Electric - Clouded Staircase (August 19, 2008)

Originally the solo project Ann Arbor, Michigan native Caleb Dillon, Starling Electric had morphed into a full-fledged band by the time Dillon boasted that on his self-released, homemade power-pop debut  Clouded Staircase "we
specialize in everything truly great about pop music from 1965 to 1977."   Robert Pollard, the Posies, and the underground music press quickly became champions, and Bar/None gave the album a wider release in 2008.  Pitchfork opined, "it hits all the right notes-- the harmonies, the chiming guitars, the baroque arrangements, the slightly psychedelic twists and turns," equal parts "Beach Boys, Byrds, Beatles, Big Star, and even a few bands that don't begin with B." A decade later, after innumerable lineup changes, Dillon and Starling Electric have just released a fourth album,  Electric Company.

Starling Electric, 2008

Q: Promo for Clouded Staircase boasted that it was "recorded entirely in bedrooms, basements, closets, and bathrooms." How are you recording these days?

Caleb Dillon: For Electric Company, we recorded in every possible way and with every level of fidelity and equipment quality. A small handful of songs were recorded in a local studio that we briefly had free access to, but then I smeared on layers of gross 4-track cassette parts over them. In the instances that I'd started recording something at home, it often ended up in a more polished version through our home studio.

Whenever I record anything it's a huge mess, especially since I don't use computer programs. It's up to our resident genius, Ben, and the other amazing musicians in the band to figure out how to make my feeble, noisy, garbage music as palatable as possible. To someone unfamiliar with recording, it's definitely NOT the way to do it - but it works for us. Anything recorded "incorrectly" is enormously appealing to me.

Q: You've been compared to bands as intimate as 10CC, as sophisticated as
Genesis, as pop as Elton John, and as grandiose as ELO and Queen. When you create a new song, are you writing to a certain imagined audience, or just to the muse in your head at the time?  Does the song dictate the arrangement, or do you conceive the "sound" you want first and work backwards to achieve it?
CD: A lot of those musical associations were meant to describe our live show and attitude, as opposed to how the songs are presented on an album. My imagined audience is never anyone but myself and what I happen to be into in that moment. I try to set the bar high, so that what I write has to sit comfortably in my mind alongside some of those musical influences. And I rarely achieve that, but at least I start out with pretty lofty standards!
It's more about the "feel" that I'm looking for than the "sound," since the "right sound" is not something I do very well on my own. I might be really obsessed with Gary Lewis & The Playboys on a particular day and want to try to write something similar...but I'm so inept at what I do that I'll end up with a synth-and-drum-machine-fueled Gary Numan ballad or something. That's not an official example, but it may as well be. Basically, anything good I've ever done has been an accident.
Caleb Dillon, 2016
Q:  Are you still in Ann Arbor?  What's the political climate been this past year in the middle of America?  Are you rooting for fellow Michiganers MC5 to get into the RnR Hall of Fame, and was the legacy of Detroit's MC5 and Stooges an influence on your development as a musician and songwriter?

CD:  I lived in Ann Arbor for about 10 years, and recently relocated to Grand Rapids. I really don't care about politics. It's not interesting to me personally, and it has nothing to do with music. Music is supposed to be an antidote to all that business and trickery and money and ridiculousness...they're just not even in the same universe.
I respect and appreciate the Stooges and MC5, but they weren't important to me or my good friends growing up. My songwriting is much less informed by having grown up in Michigan specifically than having lived in small towns and rural areas in general, where the spirit of making your own fun permeates every day. Even when I was a teenager, Detroit seemed scary; a dirty, morally bankrupt dead-end place that I had no desire to even visit. I realize that's exactly what made it appealing to a lot of other people!
I love punk, and Iggy Pop is clearly one of the great minds of our time. I love "Bored" by Destroy All Monsters. I love Motown and "96 Tears." But if you're talking about home state music, I'm much more of a Del Shannon kind of guy.

Q: What's the nicest thing anyone's ever said/wrote about your music, and what's the most incomprehensibly wrong-headed?
CD:  Whatever anyone's opinion is of my music is valid; it's their opinion, and it's not for me to say what's right or what's wrong. Once I create music and put it out into the ether, it's irrelevant how I think someone should feel about it. Several people with immaculate musical taste and knowledge have singled out one or more of my albums as one of their favorites of the modern age, and it's pretty hard to beat that. When your heroes put their arm around you and tell whoever is with them "you gotta listen to this guy", that's pretty intense. I can run on that energy for a long, long time.


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