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Stars move past the hype machine

Montreal band to play Saturday at LIVE at Squamish



WHAT: LIVE at Squamish

WHERE: Hendrickson Fields, Squamish

WHEN: Saturday, Aug. 20 & Sunday, Aug. 21


"What gets my goat?" says Stars vocalist Amy Millan. She turns to her five month-old daughter and quizzes her, "Delphine, what gets my goat?"

She pauses, then answers herself. "Bad coffee! Bad coffee gets my goat. That's the only thing that will take me down. A bad cup of coffee."

That's all she's got. She admits she's not much of a complainer, and for good reason, too. She has the fortunate distinction of being one of two vocalists for Montreal-based indie outfit Stars, as well as tackling occasional microphone duties for Toronto collective Broken Social Scene.

It's impressive, sure, but it took buying a house with her partner/bandmate Evan Cranley with the money they had earned by playing music for Millan to realize that the whole music thing was actually working out.

That was three years ago, after playing on the Broken Social Scene's much-loved self-titled 2005 album; after the Stars' critical breakthrough Set Yourself on Fire the year before; and a year after the fourth album was given a nod by the Polaris Music Prize.

"It takes a while to notice these things," she says. "When you're in it, you're in the middle of the storm. When I lie in bed and actually think about the thousands and thousands and thousands I've played in front of, honestly, my mind is blown. I cannot believe that I've played in front of that many people in my life."

Soon after this conversation, Millan will head to a Montreal studio, where Stars are working on their follow-up to 2010's The Five Ghosts . This will be their six full-length album so this is familiar territory for her, she says, but only familiar "in its terror."

"It's a very hard part of the process, the beginning, because you can just see, it's like climbing a mountain, and you can just see this huge cliff and you're like, 'How am I going to get to the top of that?' Its quite daunting."

The night before, she was talking to Leslie Feist - yes, that Feist - whose new album Metals will be released next month. Millan says, "She was feeling ultra-positive and I was like, 'That's because you're on the other side!" she laughs.

"Writing is a very solo, lonely adventure - even though you're doing it with your band, you're lonely in it together. You're there together, staring at one another, hoping that the other person is going to help you to get over that next cliff," she says.

Stars are shooting for a spring 2012 release but it's too early to tell. Millan guarantees it won't stray too far from the signature "beautiful and sad" Stars sounds while working more duets into the mix between herself and co-vocalist Torquil Campbell.

She says that, despite the daunting task ahead of them, the pressure is considerably less intense than it had been while recording The Five Ghosts . By then, they had earned significant critical praise. In the Bedroom after the War had earned the band a legion of new fans, which meant high expectations which, says Millan, they felt they had to meet for the follow-up. Added to that, Campbell's father had passed away during recording and emotions were understandably high.

But they got through it. Ghosts was a divisive album in their catalogue - some people loved it, others paid it little attention. It did earn the band a second nod from the Polaris Music Prize and, anyway, at the end of the day Millan says they're all happy with the outcome. Why would they release something if they weren't proud of it, right?

"I'm always amazed that I've ever written a song in my life," she says. "I go back and I listen to our old records and I cannot believe, I do not know who that person is who came up with those lyrics and I'm very jealous with her," she says.

Not that she's complaining