starcrawler is bringing mystery and madness back to rock music
“The album is like being slapped by rock ‘n’ roll once again. You’ll be like, ‘What the fuck was that?’”
This article originally appeared in The Sounding Off Issue, no. 350, Winter 2017.
“Could I have LA’s best hamburger with cheese, medium well, and french fries with a side of thousand island?” Starcrawler’s guitarist Henri Cash asks the waiter. “Aaannd I’ll have the meatloaf sandwich with gravy,” singer Arrow de Wilde adds. The too tall, too cool duo are in the 24-hour Astro diner in Silver Lake. Built in the 60s, it’s now surrounded by overgrown shrubbery and ruled over by powder pink upholstered leather booths, dark wood tables and the motto "If it’s not good enough to serve to mom, it’s not good enough to serve to you." i-D’s dinner companions, 18-year-old Arrow and baby-faced Henri, who is just 17, look like weirdo grunge kids straight out of a 90s high school movie. Arrow is confident, Henri calm and considered, both are friendly, smart kids. Their long-haired drummer Austin Smith and sweet-faced bassist Tim Franco are a few years older, and currently away at college.
The band began at school, when Henri was having a shit time carrying a tuba case down some stairs and Arrow approached him, told him that he looked cool, and asked if he played guitar. “I didn’t think he liked me that much. He was kind of rude,” she recalls. “You just weirded me out, man! You threw me off,” Henri replies. “I’d seen Arrow about and I was kinda intrigued to find out who she was because she doesn’t look like anyone else at school.” Dragging her existing music pal Austin along for the ride, they formed Starcrawler, and the teens soon found themselves not just as bandmates but with a friendship more like brother and sister. As of this summer, they’ve both finished with their art-focused high school — Arrow just graduated, and Henri is taking his final year online so that he can give this band thing a proper go.
“You know it’s a really good show when you walk off stage and feel like you have to throw up because you poured so much of your energy into it that you forgot to breathe.”
Starcrawler epitomizes the spirit of rock ‘n’ roll past, so it’s unsurprising to discover they are inspired by some of the greats. “I love Ozzy,” Arrow gushes of her eternal idol. “He’s my inspiration. I became obsessed with him in 7th grade when I found Blizzard Of Oz. Cherie Currie from The Runaways too. Joan Jett was cool, but everyone knows that. I think Cherie was super cool. It’s too bad she just makes chainsaw art now.” Henri, meanwhile, admires Jack White. “Some of those White Stripes videos where he’s going completely crazy, that’s why I wanted to play music.” Live, all 6’2” of Arrow appears totally possessed; swaying hips, ripped clothing and crazed face, often with the addition of a straightjacket, hospital gown and fake blood. She’s a born rock star — both by nature and destiny, as daughter of drummer Aaron Sperske (of Ariel Pink and Beachwood Sparks) and photographer Autumn de Wilde. The whole band are perfectionists, giving absolutely everything to their performances. “You know it was a really good show when you walk off stage and feel like you have to throw up because you poured so much of your energy into it that you forgot to breathe,” Henri confirms.
“I used to be in another band and I was very shy,” Arrow explains. “Shirley Manson came to one of my shows because she’s friends with my mom, and she basically said, ‘Don’t be afraid of the audience, don’t be afraid of looking them in the eye. You have power over them.’” Coming from the singer of Garbage, the sentiment stuck. “It changed how I felt completely and I wondered why I had been so afraid.” Arrow has come a long way since then, now regularly death-staring her audience before spitting blood all over them. “Before we had our first show, Arrow’s alter-ego hadn’t really come out yet,” Henri says, thinking back to about a year and a half ago. “It’s been really exciting to play off of all the energy that comes from her.”
At the start of this year, their less than two-minutes-long race of a debut single, "Ants," was instantly picked up by Apple Radio, before being thrown on rotation by none other than Elton John during his Rocket Hour radio show. The song is about the time that Henri’s house got infested with ants and he made the rookie mistake of leaving an old sandwich in his backpack, only to get to school and realize a swarm had jumped on board and were crawling all over him. “Yeah, it’s really just about ants,” Arrow adds, deadpan. “I mean, it could be a metaphor. I guess it could be a metaphor for all these fucking annoying-ass fake people, they’re everywhere!” The tune came with catchy B-side "Used To Know," and was eventually followed up by September’s "Let Her Be." Though they only have three songs released under their name at the time of going to print, fans have heard much more live, including their raucous ode to giving head, "Pussy Tower."
Their Ryan Adams-produced debut album (recorded analogue in his Hollywood studio) is now complete and due for release at the start of 2018 on Rough Trade, which, it seems, has been after Starcrawler since day one. Despite never responding to the London-based label when it first reached out a couple of years back, they’re now happily signed to Rough Trade and excited to share their very raw, very LA, record. “The album is like being slapped by rock ‘n’ roll once again,” Henri smirks. “You’ll be like, ‘What the fuck was that?’”
Starcrawler is convinced that LA has infiltrated their sound, their vibe, and their very being. Arrow, who grew up in then-rough Echo Park is now living in Eagle Rock, whereas Henri is an Altadena lifer, with chickens in his backyard and an amp always turned way up. “I think there’s a lot of energy in LA that is currently being untapped by most of these bands,” he says, “so we have a lot of access to it as other bands aren’t taking it.” Arrow’s whole family has grown up in Los Angeles. “Nobody has pride for their city any longer because there’s less people about that are actually from LA. The whole band, we’re from here. We love it.”
They’ll almost definitely live here forever, and predict very rock ‘n’ roll futures for themselves. “I always imagine that when I’m old I’ll be driving a pink poodle around in a 50s muscle car covered in flames,” Arrow smiles. “I feel like I would never wear ugly old person shoes, so I would have the guy that makes Lemmy’s cowboy boots make me some and have comfy insoles put in. I’d live in a house in the Hollywood Hills. That’s my plan.” Henri, meanwhile, wants to stay up in Altadena, and has plans to become a well known face in the community. “I’d like to convert an old car and I’ll have 'Champagne and Reefer' turned all the way up as I’m going down the street, so everyone looks at me like, ‘Look! It’s that same old guy again!’”
Photography Cameron McCool
Styling Nicolas Klam