Interview: I See Stars

While the vast majority of bands comprised of young teenagers never make it very far past their parents’ garage, I See Stars have proven to be an anomaly. For the members of this Michigan-based sextet, a record deal, tours across the globe, and a gig on Jimmy Kimmel Live all arrived prior to the privilege of being able to legally enjoy a beer at a bar. With the release of their third full-length under their belts, and a headlining slot on this summer’s All Stars Tour on the horizon, now seemed like the perfect time to catch up with vocalist Devin Oliver to talk about the band’s new music, its reception, the state of the music industry, and what the future will have in store for I See Stars.

 

You guys released your third studio full-length, entitled Digital Renegade, earlier this year via Sumerian Records. What has the overall response been like to your newest material?

It’s really just been awesome. I feel like this is exactly what kids wanted to hear from us. Which kind of works out, because this is the type of music we want to continue writing for the future. So it really does work out. I feel like for the first time we wrote exactly what we wanted to write, and it just happened to be exactly what kids wanted to hear from us. So, it was awesome. It’s been quite a ride so far, and it’s just the beginning, so I’m excited to see how it does in the long run.

It seems like you guys incorporated some political messages into the lyrics of this album. While writing the record, were you guys inspired by any recent major political events, such as the Occupy Movement?

Absolutely. My brother and I, we try to keep as updated as we can while on the road. Not necessarily just the occupy movement, but we’re huge in the conspiracy theories, and a lot of things, like the 9/11 conspiracies and stuff like that. And it seems like right now, it’s consistently just getting worse, and dirtier. I don’t know if you heard about Ron Paul’s son getting a little dirty by backing Romney – just a bunch of stuff, man. Everything in the world that had some light, like we’re shedding some light on the situation, just kind of got dirtier recently. It’s kind of crazy, man. We’re already starting to write a new album, and we’re sticking to this message, because we think it’s huge. And everybody in my band feels strongly about it, and it doesn’t really seem like there’s much we can do besides do what we do best, which is write music and try to spread awareness through our lyrics and hope that kids can translate it. And we’re trying to be very blunt, actually. 3D was very political as well, but this album is a lot more blunt. Like, you can easily tell just by reading the lyrics what we’re talking about.

Musically, the new album feels like a big departure from the sound you guys delved into on your sophomore release, The End of the World Party. What do you think pushed your music in a heavier direction?

Like I said before, my band, we write whatever we want to write, you know what I mean? And that’s just how we are. And we got a little stubborn with The End of the World Party, I feel like, because that was definitely not the album that kids wanted to hear from us. But that was the album we wanted to write, and it was really cool and interesting, because it led to a lot of awesome opportunities – like playing Jimmy Kimmel, and actually getting to tour with a lot of bands that we never would’ve gotten to tour with, if it wasn’t for the album. We toured with the guys in We The Kings, Forever The Sickest Kids, and got to kind of grab some kids over there. And it’s weird because a lot of kids in that musical world, I feel, before would’ve never given this genre a chance. But because they ended up getting really into The End of the World Party, they kind of eased into the screaming and the breakdowns, and stuff like that. It definitely worked out in our favor a whole lot. I would say the reason why we wrote the album was just mainly because that’s the kind of music we were feeling at the time. And we’re all artists, and we’re real people, and everything we do is 100% real – and everything we write is 100% real. And if an album comes out more poppy or heavy, or more electronic, it’s I See Stars fully. Where it’s 100% real, and I think that’s why kids like our music, because we are so real – through our lyrics and through our genre, I guess you could say.

 

 

The album also features guest vocals from Danny Worsnop of Asking Alexandria and Cassadee Pope of Hey Monday. How did this come about?

Danny and all the guys in Asking Alexandria, we’ve been really good friends for a while. We got to know them when they got signed to the same label as us, Sumerian Records – I think it was in 2010 or 2011. We did a tour with them and Attack Attack!, and we hit it off with those guys really hard, and we hung out with them a lot in LA when we were out there taking care of business, and a lot of those guys moved out there. We got to know Danny really well, and we always wanted to have him on a track, so we kind of found an open spot for him, and he was definitely down. And as for Cassadee, I met her at Warped Tour 2010, and she was really cool, and I’m a big fan of Hey Monday, and of Cassadee in general. I think she’s a great singer. And she nailed it, she’s definitely one of the best out there. When we were searching for a girl singer to be featured on “Electric Forest”, she was instantly our first decision. And it all came together really well.

Digital Renegade was the first I See Stars album to have the prolific Joey Sturgis (The Devil Wears Prada, We Came As Romans, Asking Alexandria) on board as producer. What unique skills did he bring to the table for this record?

Oh man, he brought a lot to the table. I mean, he’s just a great producer, hands down. I can honestly say he’s the best in the music we were going for on our third album. I think that’s why a lot of people go with him. He’s just really good at heavy stuff, you know? The best part about us working with Joey is, everybody in my band, we all write. We’re all musicians, it’s not like there’s one primary writer. There are certain people in the band that write a little bit more than others, but for the most part we are all writers, and we all contribute in writing each album. So a lot of bands go with Joey and they don’t actually have a full album finished, you know? So Joey finds himself writing a lot of the music for them. And as for us, we went into the studio just ready to go. We had all of our songs written, and pretty much just handed him an album. And it was cool, because it allowed him to do what he really loves to do, which is produce, and take things to the next level if necessary. And that was what was interesting on Digital Renegade – is we went in there, we recorded everything, and we even wrote all the electronics on the album. But it was cool because we brought it to him and he was just like “Dude, this is awesome!”, and we recorded it. And then when it was done he was able to just sit there and work on each song individually, and just do little cool tweaks, and just do what a producer does, you know? He wasn’t writing the album, he was just adding to a fully written album. And he doesn’t get to do that often, and I found that very interesting, because we had never gone with him, so I never really knew this about Joey. So we had a lot of fun. It was very stress-free, and we had a lot of time to just experiment with all the songs. And I definitely think he’s going to be our go-to guy for at least our next album, that’s for sure.

This summer you guys will be embarking on the All Stars Tour alongside Suicide Silence, The Word Alive, and many more of the scene’s most popular bands. What are you expecting the experience to be like, and which bands are you most looking forward to touring with?

Well, it’s hands down going to be a great experience. All the bands on the tour are not just great bands, but they’re really good friends of ours, so it’s going to be kind of like a little reunion. But I think our fans can definitely look forward to just a great performance. We’re really coming in, this next tour, with a lot of cool things we’ve actually never done. We’re doing a lot of new production during our set, we’re getting some cool lights, doing a light show. We’re making a new music video on the All Stars Tour for “Filth Friends”, so that’s going to be cool, and we’re really going to be going with the themes during our live show, actually. It’s going to be a very well thought-out performance, which I think is going to be really awesome, because although there’s always spontaneity during our show, it’s going to be really cool to have an organized set and just have cool things going on all the time, you know? Which is not something that we actually ever have done before. Production is not really anything we ever thought out, or actually went for. It was always something that was just nothing but an idea. And now we’re taking some of these ideas, and we’re actually going for them. All Stars is going to be our first tour doing it, so it’s going to be really awesome. I think it’s going to be the best show for kids that I See Stars has given to date. It’s definitely something worth going to, that’s for sure!

Last year you guys performed two songs on Jimmy Kimmel Live. Some of the other artists who played on that show in 2011 include Lenny Kravitz, Megadeth, and Incubus. Would you say that the exposure you got from that was a game-changer for the band?

I definitely think it was a game-changer. I think just the experience was a game-changer for us. It’s kind of a wake-up call. You’re not just playing to your fans – if anything, there’s maybe 15% of your fans watching. The rest of the viewers are new people, and even people that are probably going to be watching and be like, “What kind of music is this?” Because there’s screaming, and it’s very new-age music, so it was kind of nerve-wracking, you know? But I definitely think it was a game-changer for our band; we gained tons of fans off that. We have people coming to shows saying that they’ve seen us on Jimmy Kimmel, and ever since then they’ve been in love with our band. And I just think that’s the coolest thing ever. The fact that that opportunity got so many people on the I See Stars bandwagon, it really is overwhelming.

 

Everyone in the band is still very young; the fact that you’ve already released three full-lengths and toured the world is quite stunning. Do you feel like since you’ve had this experience, you’ve matured more quickly than a lot of other people your age?

Absolutely. I mean, I started touring when I was fifteen years old. And at that age, I was still a kid, you know? And I was pretty much, in a lot of ways, forced to grow up a lot faster than I really wanted to. I think that was hard for me, because it didn’t really happen fast, but it took a lot of mistakes and soul searching to really realize, you know, “Holy shit, this is my life.” This is what I’m doing, I have to take care of myself, and I need to be able to have self-discipline. Because when you’re out here, you don’t have your mom and your dad, or your friends – besides obviously my friends that are in my band, you know? You’re kind of alone out here, in a sense, and it’s scary because you’re the decision-maker. And at age fifteen, me being my own decision-maker was a very scary thing. So it definitely rushed the being a kid into being, you know, a responsible adult. I still am a kid to this day, but I’m not an idiot. And I think that at age fifteen, the best part of being that age is you’re allowed to be an idiot. That’s part of being fifteen, being sixteen, you know? That’s the time to make mistakes and learn from them, and I feel like I had to learn from my mistakes before making them, I guess, even though that really doesn’t make any sense. But that’s how my life was, and that’s how I think a lot of our lives were. So it was difficult, but at the same time, you’re seeing the world, you’re writing music, we’re doing exactly what we’ve always wanted to do. And I wouldn’t change it for the world, because although it’s a lot of hard work, and there’s a lot of sacrifice in this business, that 30-45 minute set that I get to play every single night makes it all worth it.

After parting ways with him in 2010, does the band still keep in touch with Chris Moore? Have you been following his involvement in the music scene at all since he left the band?

Oh yeah, definitely. It’s funny; I actually threw my guitar player, Brent, a surprise birthday party a few weeks ago. We were at home, and I invited Chris out, and he came out. You know, we’re both doing our own thing so we actually don’t get to see each other as much as we’d like to, but we’re definitely still friends, and we hang out and we support everything he does. I know he was doing the CDVR thing for a while, and I think he’s still doing it, and we try to post things about it when he asks us to. Because we tell him “let us know, we’re willing to help you out as much as we can”. We didn’t part ways mad at each other, you know what I mean? We parted ways just mutually. We had our differences, and when it comes to being friends with someone and living with somebody, they’re two completely different things, you know? It’s like, we’re really good friends, but there’s just certain people you can’t live with every single day of your life. And we both understood it, and we love him to death, and we wish him the best luck in everything. And we always make a point to catch up as much as we can.

In previous interviews you’ve stated that it’s important to you to encourage people to buy physical albums instead of downloading music illegally. Is there a message you’d like to send to listeners who’ve given up entirely on the medium of CD’s?

Aw, that is an interesting topic. It’s funny because when I have this conversation with people, they believe that buying albums is handing money to the record label. Which I would say in some cases may be true, but it’s not about making money when it comes to a fan purchasing the album. It’s about helping the album out, you know what I mean? Because when kids are buying the album, there’s numbers to show for that. And that really determines what offers the band gets in the future, and how many opportunities they get. I think that when kids buy the album, the band does eventually see some money for it, which is rare for a band. I think every band in the music industry, they don’t do this for money, but unfortunately they need money to keep going. With gas prices, and just trying to become a business in order to survive, it’s like, if a fan really wants a band to continue writing music, they need to realize that downloading is just completely destroying bands out there. And it sucks, it really does suck. Because kids don’t believe that. Kids just believe that if they don’t buy an album, it [only] hurts the record label, which is just 110% not true. And it’s really a topic that I can go on for hours about, because there’s so many different effects when kids aren’t buying albums.

 

 

You guys have seen pretty massive popularity as a band over the years, but with that comes more attention to your personal life, rumors, and the like. Being so young, has it been difficult for you guys to adjust to that sort of lifestyle?

Not really. I think one thing my band is good at is not really focusing on the haters. I mean, every band has haters, and if you don’t like our band that’s cool. But there’s a lot of people out there that come out to these shows, and love our music. So the rumors, and the haters, and all that stuff, that’s all they are really, they’re just words – and most of the time they’re just words on the Internet. So it’s pretty easy most of the time to just laugh at them, because we think they’re funny.

Since we’re into 2012 now, I have to ask: Will you actually be throwing an “End of the World Party”?

Ah, we get that question a lot. Probably. We throw a lot of parties when we’re home, and pretty much if there’s a reason to throw a party, we’ll throw one. So that’ll definitely be a pretty typical reason to throw a party, so I would say yes.

Any words you’d like to leave with fans who are going to be reading this?

I guess I just want to thank everybody that’s been listening to Digital Renegade, and getting familiar with it. It really does show, especially at these last couple of shows just on this tour alone. It seems like the newer songs are the songs that kids are getting the most energetic for. So, I couldn’t ask for a better fan base, and honestly I just look forward to touring in the US, and all over the world, and just kind of seeing how this album has affected people everywhere. So I guess I’d just have to say keep coming to shows, and keep hanging out with us, because as long as kids keep coming to our shows, we’re going to keep touring!

 

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