meet starcrawler, the rising l.a. band reinvigorating rock 'n' roll
The Los Angeles four-piece has yet to release an album, and its Ozzy-worshiping frontwoman is still in high school. But that’s not stopping Starcrawler — nothing is.
When Los Angeles rock outfit Starcrawler learned that Elton John was planning to spin its debut (then, only) single Ants on his Beats 1 radio show, Rocket Hour, they were predictably pumped. "I got the email at school and started screaming in the halls," confesses Arrow de Wilde, Starcrawler's fully fearless frontwoman and the teenage daughter of drummer Aaron Sperske and photographer Autumn de Wilde. "We couldn't get the show to play at home and we thought we were going to miss it!" recalls Austin Smith, Starcrawler's drummer. "A bunch of my friends came over to listen to it," says Arrow, "and showed up right at the right time. It was the first song on," Austin adds. "The the song is only one minute long," explained Arrow, "so once it was over, we were just like… 'alright, cool!'" they both laugh.
But don't think they got shorted 14 minutes of fame. Ants is packed with explosive, gritty rock 'n' roll riffs and a dexterous, commanding vocal courtesy of de Wilde. One fan describes it as "if T-Rex and Bauhaus had offspring." Another thinks, "Joey Ramone is smiling from rock and roll heaven!" And that's just the recording. Starcrawler has played most of its live shows in its native California, at venues like the Orange County Observatory, or The Echo in Los Angeles, where the band opened for prodigious Long Island brothers The Lemon Twigs. But some front row fan footage has found its way to YouTube. If Starcrawler's raucous wall of sound — rounded out by guitarist Henri Cash and bassist Tim Franco — doesn't get your head banging, de Wilde's sinister, blood-spewing stage antics sure as hell will. Equally inspired by Ozzy Osbourne and Iggy Pop, she stalks the stage in a straight jacket and rhinestone-encrusted jockstrap like a pure performance pro.
We catch up with Starcrawler before they shoot to the stratosphere, eager to find out more about their Ryan Adams-produced debut record and why real rock music isn't going anywhere.
Where are you all from, and what were you interested in growing up?
Henri: We're all from L.A. I've always been really into in music.
Arrow: I'm from Echo Park, but I live in Eagle Rock right now. I was always around music, but I didn't really know I wanted to do it until a little later. I was more into visual art at first.
Austin: I kind of grew up in Hollywood, and I've been playing music since I was nine or 10. I was definitely interested in visual art as well as music when I was growing up.
Tim: I grew up in South Pasadena. I play the bass, but all I did when I was a kid was play video games.
What kind of music did you parents expose you to? Do you feel it's lead you to the sound you're making now?
Arrow: I grew up listening to The Beatles, mainly, and then whatever band my mom was shooting, I would hear them, too — Elliott Smith, stuff like that. But my dad raised me on The Beatles and I got really into other stuff later.
Henri: I grew up listening to bands like The Ramones and AC/DC really young, which I think is pretty unusual.
Austin: Mainly, it was my sister who introduced me to listening to "cool" music, so I kind of hated all the music my parents listened to, the old 60s stuff. I came to appreciate it later in life, but when I was 13 and 14, all I listened to was hardcore punk and metal.
Tim: My mom listened to Van Morrison and Billy Joel, and, like, the Practical Magic soundtrack.
Arrow: I found out I wanted to do music when I found Ozzy. I didn't really know that much about Black Sabbath; then I heard Blizzard of Oz and became obsessed with that album.
How did you all meet and come to form the band?
All: It all sort of happened pretty fluidly, yeah?
Arrow: Me and Austin started hanging out and jamming. I knew him through mutual friends and hit him up one day. Henri goes to my school.
Henri: She hit me up when I was carrying a big tuba down the staircase. Then we started jamming and writing songs.
Arrow: Tim I'd actually known for a while, and about a year ago we really needed a bass player, so I hit him up too.
I've seen some live videos and you guys certainly have a high-octane live show. How do you sustain the energy? What are your rehearsals like?
Arrow: I mean, I don't like, have blood all in my mouth during our rehearsals [laughs]. When we rehearse —
All: It's actually really mellow.
Arrow: We just try to get things done and perfect what we're working on — get it tight. Then when it comes to the live show —
Henri: You can really put your heart into it.
What's the best live show you've ever seen?
Henri: Jack White at the Fox Theater in Pomona. It was amazing, because I was right up front; he was great.
Tim: I saw Lightning Bolt last year at The Echo. It was sonically so overpowering and amazing; the response from the crowd to the band was so incredible. It was one of those shows you leave with the perspective of like, 'Oh yeah, I've gotta go home and make music or do something creative.'
Henri: The Rolling Stones were also amazing; I was blown away.
Arrow: That's what I was gonna say! I saw The Stones play at Desert Trip — it was awesome. The whole crowd got so into it, like no one even had their phones out or anything; people were dancing and singing along. I've seen Sabbath three times, but my favourite show of theirs was at The Forum.
Tell me about growing up in L.A. There's a lot of rock and punk history there, but it also seems as though so many great new young bands are forming on the West Coast. How do you guys see it?
Austin: I think it depends, honestly. I've grown up in L.A. since I was a kid, and I moved to Chicago for college when I was 18. There are different kinds of creative and cultural barriers in different cities. L.A., I think, is more open, compared to New York where you'd really need to be in a certain scene to know what's happening. But in L.A., it's not that hard to get involved with something. Mainly, we're trying to cultivate our own thing, as opposed to just appropriate an old style that's already been done.
Arrow: And sometimes there's nothing happening in L.A. at all. All there is to do is eat Taco Bell and go to the roller rink.
Tim: We need more all ages venues!
Arrow: Yeah, that's pretty much the problem.
What do you like to do when you're not making music?
Arrow: I like making art, hanging out with friends, and eating junk food.
Tim: Yeah, kinda hit the nail on the head with that one.
I'm assuming you guys have a record in the works?
Austin: We're in the process of recording it; we just finished tracking.
Henri: It's all tapes, so it's really old school, the way we're doing it. We're recording it with Ryan Adams, who's producing it.
Austin: Some songs we co-wrote, other songs we've just written ourselves and he's put his recording/producer twist on it — so it's kind of a mix of that.
Arrow: It's sounding great, I'm really happy.
What's the best thing about being young today?
Austin: There's not many limitations, because you're still able to do what you want. I don't want to speak for everyone, but I feel like because we're all so young, we don't have that kind of pressure or responsibility, like 'Oh shit, we have to make a platinum record right now.' We're putting out what we like to hear. There's a place for rock music; it's not an archaic form, it's not fading away. That's what we're trying to show.
Text Emily Manning
Photography Grace Pickering