The Starfolk began as a chance for Brian Tighe (The Hang Ups) to develop new material with his wife/collaborator Allison LaBonne (The Owls, Typsy Panthre) and to work again with fellow Hang Ups co-founder Stephen Ittner. “I had a new batch of songs and when Stephen agreed to sit in on drums, my inspiration really ignited,” says Tighe.
In The Hang Ups, Tighe had honed his songwriting chops by questing after songs that would please Ittner, an exceedingly tough critic. “When Stephen liked one of my songs, I knew I had something,” says Tighe. With his new material Tighe wanted to draw from the foundation that had launched The Hang Upsto the forefront of the Minneapolis music scene years before. “I’m still fascinated by unusual chord progressions,” he muses, “and I still strive to write melodies beautiful enough to make my voice seem beautiful by singing them.”
What had evolved in his songwriting was a lyrical maturity, and a darker, more urgent and experimental sonic palette. This experimental attitude found its perfect complement in cellist Jacqueline Ultan(Jelloslave, Saltee), who was invited to join them for their first radio performance.“There was only one song I initially imagined cello on, but we invited Jacqueline to play on all three, and were struck by the results,” Tighe says. “Jacqueline brings such variety and dynamics to the songs. Sometimes she is a texture, a pulse, and sometimes she soars as a major melodic theme.”
It took the group four years—longer than they ever imagined—to cultivate these songs into finished recordings. “We were just getting our bearings collaboratively, and we all had other musical involvements,” says Tighe. Among these are The Owls who have a new record in the works, andJeremy Messersmith with whom Tighe helped make two records in the meantime.
Aside from this active collaborative docket, sometimes it was Tighe’s inner conflicts that slowed progress on The Starfolk’s debut full length. “It’s been an angsty few years,” Tighe says. “When you’ve been writing songs as long as I have, you are forced to keep re-establishing with yourself why you’re doing this. You need to draw from a deeper well. It took this long to feel like I’m capturing where I’m at as a songwriter.”
The sound resulting from this depths probe is palpably heavier than Tighe’s back catalog. But the dirty guitar riffs and insistent rhythms are interspersed with angelic moments where Tighe unveils some of his most McCartney-esque melody writing; steeped in lush, eerie harmonies and elegant, economical arrangements. LaBonne contributes three songs that add dimension to the record; her urgent pulses and chilling vocals seem to work on a different part of the brain. “People are saying she’s the rocker of the band,” Tighe says, “but in an intelligent way. Her songs add a lot of excitement.”