Introducing...Starlings

We may not have been fully enamoured with Starlings' second single 'Sirens' when we reviewed it in last week's round up, but we're big enough to admit when we may have been wrong - although it obviously doesn't happen often. Growing on us like the band's feathered namesakes rapidly descend on a freshly laid batch of seeds, it's rarely been out of TMF Towers record player since that fateful day and we simply had to find out more.

So it is that we found ourselves chatting amiably away to the four-piece's frontman Justin Robson, hoping and praying that he wouldn't mention that review and here's how we got on...


What's your earliest musical memory?

Talk Talk tumbling from ma and pa’s car stereo tape deck, Mark Hollis making the hairs stand up on the back of my neck, but probably too young to know why. Their It’s My Life album seemed like the perfect pop offering to a car seat cradled toddler kicking his feet to the beat.

If you could hold a recording session with any five artists, who would you choose?

A tip top producer is a must for any recording session. Tim Friese-Greene, the man who expertly produced and co-wrote Talk Talk's back catalogue from It's My Life through to Laughing Stock would be my pick. As evidenced by his work with Mark Hollis, he can coerce the best out of his cohorts and would add his own cohesive creativity to the mix. He has shown that he is equally adept at producing the radio friendly hit singles, as well as the more ambient Balearic head-music. Whatever style of music my gathered gang chose to produce, Tim Friese-Greene would put the 'posh' into it.

Forming the spine of the session would have to be an outstanding rhythm section. On drums, Alan ‘Reni’ Wren from The Stone Roses. Without doubt the best drummer of his generation. His mesmeric beats carried us through our school days for a decade after they first came to the fore. Just an incredibly inventive beat machine, Reni possesses the power to push any piece to a whole (or his own) new level, quite unlike any other drummer. Just try and imagine 'Fools Gold' without him.

Robert Shakespeare aka Robbie from Sly and Robbie would be bringing the bass to the place. With his trademark hypnotic style, the man deep grooves like no other. Spencer Starlings is a big admirer.

A must is Martyn Ware of Heaven 17 to form a synth-section powerhouse with our very own Simon Starlings. The lord of Sheffield’s electronic music legacy, Mr. Ware’s music had a huge influence on us growing up in and around the Steel City and he undoubtedly inspired us to pick up synths and want to push Sheffield’s synth heritage onto a new generation.

The final piece in the jigsaw would be Prince on lead guitar and backing vocals (sounds almost absurd I know but I'm running the show). He could sing the high harmonies and the lows and he could sex it up with some luscious lead guitar. Undoubtedly one of my biggest heroes, I could watch and listen to him for hours.

Together with the other Starlings boys, what a band!

You want to describe your music to a stranger on the street, who do you compare yourself to?

Well, we’ve been described as the ‘British’ Killers and told we have the potential to be the new Friendly Fires, so we’d probably pitch that answer to our younger followers. For the rest, we’d say that we were a cosmic disco incarnation of Talk Talk. Think Simple Minds had their New Gold Dream album been borne in Ibiza.

You are going to live on a desert island for a year, which three albums do you take with you?

To get me in the mood for song writing, because on a desert island there would probably be nothing else to do, I’d take Rubber Soul by The Beatles. Messrs Lennon and McCartney were so consistently brilliant throughout their careers and this album is crammed to bursting with melodic pop gems. Their enduring influence is the reason we write songs you can sing.

For the afternoon Balearic bliss out, it would have to be Spirit of Eden by Talk Talk. Just a beautifully crafted album that drifts and lilts and never fails to take the words from my mouth.

For the evening, turned up to 10, Hacienda Classics. House music opened my eyes to another world of music and has brought me some of the most engaging experiences of my life. A close friend who had been part of the Hacienda scene recommended this album to me a while ago just for the sheer quality of classic house music. With three CDs, you could play this album every night for a year and just keep on dancing.

Everyone has a defining music moment, one that lives on in the memory, what is yours?

Mine would have to be one day in the summer of 2006 when I was playing lead guitar in a fledgling indie band (which included Simon Starlings incidentally). Our singer announced just before our first gig that he was going to Australia. I'd been singing backing vocals for a couple of months (and secretly singing and writing songs throughout my latter teens in my mum and dad's cellar) so rather than stopping the early creative flow and the internal buzz we had built, we agreed that I should fill the lead singer's shoes until he returned from his travels. We decided to do a couple of gigs and after a few kind comments, and the realisation that our former singer would not be returning, I started to grow in confidence, turning from a petrified and reluctant frontman into the boy with big lungs that fronts Starlings today. Had my musical mate not gone down under, I probably would never have become a singer/songwriter and Starlings would probably still be just a distant glint in my mind's eye. Perhaps it was fate, but the day I took lead vocal duties, was the day my life took a tantalising twist in a new direction.

What is the best gig you've ever been to and why?

I’m going to cheat and pick two, because they were both equally brilliant for different reasons.

The first was seeing Prince on the final night of his stint at the O2 in London. My parents impressed their love of Prince onto me at an early age and so to see one of my heroes in the flesh and hollering out his hits was just phenomenal. I was in awe.

The second was Friendly Fires at Brixton Academy in late 2009. The whole room from front to back was bouncing; I’ve never before or after experienced such an all engrossing party atmosphere at a live gig. Big sounding shimmering synths, funk bass licks and blistering beats. They really raised the roof that night and showed me what we had to live up to. We certainly attempt to inject similar levels of energy into our own performances. We’re just waiting for the stage size to match up to the size of our ambition.

If we were to look at your MP3 player, what is the most embarrassing track or album that we'd find?

The most embarrassing track would probably be an old demo from one of our first bands. The ‘best thing since sliced bread’ doesn’t quite taste the same a few years down the line. Other than that, we only delve into the cool school, so there aren’t any real shockers or guilty pleasures to speak of…but better hide our iPods - just in case.

Where do you see yourself in five years time?

Five years ago I had never sung in front of anyone other than my sister, so a lot can happen in five years. So, continuing that upward trajectory, we'll be pushing out album four and we'll be on a world wide stadium tour.

How would you describe your debut album to us?

Our debut album will have our trademark shimmering synths and funk-tinged bass lines fused with Balearic beats. As well as extended versions of all of our singles, there will also be a selection of new and unreleased songs into which we'll melt plenty of melody. Our debut will be quality from start to finish. All killers, no fillers.

What's next for Starlings?

Our third single after ‘Sirens’ is pencilled in for an end-of-summer release. We’re buzzing about it and can’t wait for it to kick us closer to world domination. Over the summer, as well as getting to a few festivals and gunning some more gigs, we’ll be working on more material for our debut album which we’re aiming to get out towards the end of this year. We'll be working hard on growing our fan base and spreading the cosmic bird word.

'Sirens' is out now on Civil Music. You can catch Starlings at their single launch parties in Sheffield at The Harley tonight (28th May) and in London at The Old Blue Last on June 2nd.

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