This week Freak Scene turns the spotlight on Sandra Barrett, vocalist for Major Stars, who are releasing Mirror/Messenger on Drag City in November.
Major Stars are the best rock band in the world. They have been for years, and it seems like the world is finally catching up. Their new record Mirror/Messenger is the pinnacle of their career thus far. Drag City was smart enough to put it out and next month every single one of you should buy it. You can’t lose, it’s that good. Based on the core duo of Wayne Rogers and Kate Biggar, Major Stars takes psychedelic rock action to further plateaus of wah-pedal drenched heaven. The band added some young guns including Dave Dougan on bass, Casey Keenan on drums and Sandra Barrett (of LA Drugs) on vocals. If that’s not enough Tom Leonard (of Luxurious Bags fame) takes the third guitar spot to make an unbeatable combo.
Having known the rest of the band for some time I decided it was time to chat up Ms. Barrett and get some facts straightened out. So join me in taking a look into the life of the last rock band on earth that really fucking matter. When they come to your town, don’t be an idiot, drop yr plans and check them out. They will incinerate.
How did you first start singing? Was LA Drugs your first band?
Technically LA Drugs was not my very first band. I messed around in high school and beyond with some friends. I had a short-lived band called Bodyslam that played at the Safari Lounge and Patrick’s Pub in Providence. We were terrible! But I demanded that we cover “Stand by your Man” and I sounded damn good. LA Drugs was definitely my first bona-fide, record-releasing, touring band. I dunno… I was in chorus in like the second grade.
LA Drugs was legendary, Dave Martin claimed it was the best Twisted Village record ever. How did that end? [Ed note: Twisted Village is a record label and store located in Cambridge MA and run by Wayne and Kate]
There was bloodshed involved in the ending of that band. Blood and stitches, emergency room, the whole nine. By that point, I was so disgusted with Ryan that I couldn’t even speak to him. We lived in the same house for a good year afterwards, and I refused to speak to him the whole time. We recently reconciled though… There was brief talk of a reunion show but I nixed that. Too many people found out about it. We’re doing a show with Paul, the drummer’s new band Ganja in December. Paul has an LA Drugs tattoo, I shit you not. But he also has a Modest Mouse tattoo, so… weigh it out I guess. Anyway, the best Twisted Village record is obviously BORB: Trailer Full of Smoke. That or Quarantine Heaven by Luxurious Bags. We’re all gunning for a Luxurious Bags reunion.
Did Wayne and Kate invite you to play w/Major Stars? How did that come about?
Yes. I was working for Wayne at Twisted Village… The real mystery is why did Wayne ask me to start working there in the first place? I used to go in there and buy records once or twice a week, usually by myself. I basically just went about my business and didn’t talk to anyone. Then one day Wayne asked me if I was looking for a job. Heathen Shame was going on tour and they needed someone to help out in the store. I was pretty flabbergasted. To this day, I really don’t know why he decided to hire me. He says he just had a good feeling about me. I suspect it’s because I went in there and bought a Walter Marchetti reissue that he was obsessed with. It was the start of a beautiful friendship. I was playing with LA Drugs at the time, and this small local label put out our CD. We were joking around about who was going to do the vinyl one day when Wayne piped up, like, “I’ll do it!” So that was that. A couple years later, the previous incarnation of Major Stars had sort of disintegrated. One night Dave had a party at this house he was living at—it was, like, a borderline frat house. His girlfriend had just kicked him out so he moved in there with these dudes who worked at the video store with him. Anyway, we were sitting around and Wayne was trying to fight off a hangover from drinking Fin du Mond the night before by proceeding to drink more Fin du Mond. He and Kate just sort of busted out, like, “hey be our new singer! We’re starting a boogie rock band!” That’s exactly what they said—a boogie rock band. I guess they liked my “charisma” on stage and had confirmed I could actually sing by witnessing my karaoke skills. Also I think the single most important criteria for a band mate is that you enjoy their company, or, at the very least, can tolerate them. So we were golden in that department. I guess Wayne and Kate sort of sucked me into their trajectory and I’ve been towing along ever since.
Were you nervous to play with such amazing players as Wayne, Kate and Tom?
No! It was just about playing with some friends… no big deal. At first we weren’t even going to keep the name Major Stars. It was a totally different band, so it seemed right to come up with a different name. But we continued to get show offers for Major Stars, so we just decided to take them and play as the new lineup. Who’d be the wiser? After a while, it just stuck. I guess I was nervous to sing since I hadn’t been in a band for a while, and I was more used to just screaming. You can definitely tell on a lot of Syntoptikon that I was unsure of myself.
The first single with you on vocals, “Black Road/Pocket” was a huge hit. Were you satisfied by the performance there?
Yeah, I was. It’s really excruciating for me to hear myself sing, like, ever. I do like the vocals on “Pocket”. The double vocals on “Black Road” have always reminded me of two snakes singing together. I have a bit of a lisp, or an effeminate “essss”, if you will. I always love everything the rest of the band does. They can do no wrong in my eyes.
Since then, you guys have traveled Europe, played huge festivals and signed to Drag City, How do you feel about these developments and where do you see things going from here?
When Thurston invited us to ATP, I totally started jumping up and down, screaming and shit. I was, like, giddy as a fucking schoolgirl. We had done some relatively big shows before, but nothing even close to that. Honestly, I really always thought of the band as sort of a fun thing, a project. I was getting ready to go to law school in Chicago! That didn’t work out for other reasons, not band related… but it ended up that I was still around to play, and all of a sudden the ATP thing came up. Sort of serendipitous. After that Major Stars became more of a serious thing in my life. I also had a bunch of upheaval going on around me, and the band started to be like a touchstone. It took us forever to finish Mirror/Messenger, but once we really got into it I knew it was the shit. We were all pretty enthralled by it—all of us stuck around for the mixing and everything every night, just so psyched to see how it would end up. I’m really happy with that record—it’s just what we’ve been trying to do but better than it ever was before. You said it sounds like Crystallized Movements—I don’t think so. It sounds like Major Stars! We had decided to shop it around just a tiny bit. We didn’t want to wait around. Drag City came right back to us and was ready to do it. I’m absolutely thrilled to be working with them. Dude, do you understand how many Smog posters I had when I was 17?? I’m just glad that M/M will be out there and more people will have a chance to hear it. My plan is to put everything I can into the band. I’ve told those dudes, look, I will quit my jobs and drop everything just to fucking give this thing a shot. I don’t know where we’ll end up. I just want to enjoy this while it’s going and know that I’m giving it everything I’ve got.
Your live demeanor can go from coldly distant to openly hostile. What’s going through your head when you’re onstage, or rolling around on the floor in the crowd for that matter?
Nothing. I zone out.
You live in Providence but Major Stars are a Boston band. Who else is any good in Boston? Who sucks?
I don’t keep track of The Scene, man. I can tell you that a lot of people suck in both Providence and Boston, both personally and professionally. A lot of people are doing this free folk, new psych shit that is just completely bogus. I’ve made my thoughts on that very clear.
For new music, I prefer me some straight up noise or something just retarded. We like to play with this hardcore band in Boston called Conversions. There is still a lot of good noise type stuff happening in the Northeast. If anyone wants to start a Judy Dyble-era Fairport Convention cover band, let me know.
I’m totally feeling that two-chord ballad jam on the new LP. Wayne says he wished it wasn’t on the record. What do you think?
I like the song. It’s totally bleak. I don’t know if it quite comes across as such on record, though. Our lyrics are always pretty abstract, but on that song it’s like “wheeling out the almost dead” and “right down son, superior one, your years are fading fast”. It’s pretty fucking dark. It stems from a really horrible thing that happened around the time it was written… But Wayne will already annihilate me for giving away lyrics, never mind revealing what they’re about.-STEVE LOWENTHAL
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