Mandy Tannen is cruising down Sunset Boulevard in downtown Los Angeles when I call her, which I would expect from the keyboardist of dance pop darlings Stellastarr*. It's only fitting as her band is currently on tour for a new record to drop sometime this year. When I hear Tannen tell her manager she's popping into Walgreen's to grab some hair product, though, I can't help but giggle.
"I just got a new haircut!" she says as we chat about the new record, Justin Timberlake, and her background as a graphic designer. Even rock stars go to Walgreen's too.
Tannen and co. are bouncing around the state of California playing new material, a jaunt that only takes them to seven cities on opposite coasts and that lasts two weeks this month. After 2005's Harmonies For The Haunted, the band took time off to focus on making a new record, something that is still in the works now.
"We are definitely taking our time with this record, but I think it will be for the best," said Tannen. "We want something that really defines us."
Having gained a steady fan base playing free shows in their early days, Stellastarr's dance-infused indie pop appealed to both the hipsters and radio program directors. Tannen insists the new material, that will encompass about a third of their live show, will also display a more mature and evolved band. Below, she answers some of the burning questions I had for her.
Q: What are you listening to when you make the record? Do you all listen together?
A: Oh, no, we don't listen to records together (laughs).
Q: Why? Does someone like rap and someone else country and then you brawl?
A: No, we just have different tastes in music. I'm listening to a lot of Death Cab For Cutie right now.
Q: If you had to make a mix CD for a beloved, what would you put on it?
A: Hmm, that's a really good question and something that I'm actually supposed to do...I've been promising him a mix of Bob Dylan, he made me a Low mix because I was interested in listening to more of them, kind of a "if you make me this, I'll make you that" deal. I'm not so sure if he likes Bob Dylan though so I'm like "you HAVE to like Bob Dylan!"
Q: Is it grounds for a breakup if he doesn't?
A: No. I hope not.
Q: Speaking of which, have you heard the new Justin Timberlake record?
A: (laughing) No, not all of it, but the two singles I have heard are awesome. A good pop song is a good pop song.
Q: Sorry, I have to ask because I super love that record. I'm not going to ask about the whole star thing at the end of your band name, but how many questions do you get about it?
A: Maybe every other interview? And it's funny to see how people interpret our name in print and put it, or not put it. Me and Arthur (Kremer, band mate) are graphic designers and it's really for marketing and design - our name is one word, it's an extra "R," the asterisk can equal a brand. Plus, we didn't want people to think there was a girl singer or bullshit anything either. Sometimes we ourselves don't use it, or use it.
Q: Do you guys have matching asterisk tattooes?
A: (laughing) Oh my god, that is a huge no-no in bands. It's a curse!
Q: Are you okay with Stellastarr* being associated with porn for the Playboy's Rock the Rabbit campaign?
A: Well, I personally designed one of the T-shirts for the thing, so I'm okay with it. To be honest, I used to get Playboys to draw the women in them because I couldn't get into any drawing classes. The human figure is amazing, especially women's.
Q: Do you think you'll open up a "Stellastarr*" gallery anytime soon?
A: Oh man..that's a lot of time to get a gallery show though.
Q: You guys have been away for a long time. What can we expect to see now?
A: We're halfway writing this record...hoping that it will be released sometime this year, but nothing is for certain. The whole reason we wanted to go on tour was to test out the material in front of an audience to gain that feedback. Besides...we also missed it.
Stellastarr* takes friends Monsters are Waiting along for the ride. They play tonight, Feb. 8 at popscene and Saturday, Feb. 10 at Bottom of the Hill in San Francisco. Friday, Feb. 9 Monsters Are Waiting play Rickshaw Stop with Stellastarr* stopping by for a DJ set.
by Jenn Hernandez