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Seeing Stars: An interview with Torquil Campbell

Stars, from left, Pat McGee, Chris Seligman, Amy Millan, Evan Cranley and Torquil Campbell play Buffalo's Town Ballroom Wednesday.

BUFFALO -- Torquil Campbell is tired. But he's nearing the homestretch.

Campbell, Amy Millan, Evan Cranley, Chris Seligman and Pat McGee will convene as Stars beginning at 8 p.m. Wednesday at the Town Ballroom in what News Pop Music Critic Jeff Miers called "one of the season's most hotly anticipated club gigs."

Campbell spoke to Live from Cincinnati where the quintet was on the next-to-last night of its coast-to-coast North American tour that started in September.

"It's been great," Campbell said of the fall tour in support of Stars' June release "The Five Ghosts." "It's been really, really, really long. I can feel it at this point pretty badly. But the shows have been fantastic."

In fact, Campbell is no stranger to Western New York. A Toronto native, he spends time in Montreal and Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ont. where his wife is an actor in the Shaw Festival.

"Buffalo is practically my neighborhood," he said.

In fact, Stars is part of a decade-long groundswell of popular indie Canadian bands such as Arcade Fire, New Pornographers and Broken Social Scene (the brilliant collective that counts members of Stars among its ranks) breaking through and achieving massive crossover appeal with American audiences.

Campbell credits the Canadian government's policy toward its arts. The Foundation Assisting Canadian Talent on Recordings was set up in the early 1980s to promote the Canadian music industry. And requirements were passed to guarantee that a certain percentage of content aired is by Canadian artists.

"The political will was there to create an environment that was favorable for music," Campbell said. "And as a result of that you started to get an industry, a tradition and a scene."

Campbell talks about the importance of arts funding and education:

Stars got its start in that flourishing industry 10 years ago and "Ghosts" is its fifth full-length release in that time.

While Campbell has derived inspiration from painters such as Matisse and Picasso, a couple of life-changing experiences set the tone for the new album.

Seligman had a strange haunting experience, which kicked off the eerie aura surrounding the album. Then Campbell's dad died midway through the recording. And his daughter was born. It raised myriad questions for the 38-year-old singer about life and loss.

"Where do people go?" he asks. "Where do the people you once knew go? And where do the people who died go? They live inside your mind but are they present? And if they're present then how do they feel? Are they lonely? Are they afraid? Do they want us to know that they're there?"

Campbell talks about the inspiration behind "Ghosts":

With such interpersonal material, Stars had to find a delicate counterbalance between up-tempo dance-pop such as "How Much More" and the whimsical sway of "Changes" — two of the album's standout tracks.

"That's the tedious part of writing a song, in a way, is tempo," he said. "You try it in a lot of different ways, basically, is the only way to find out a song works. You get in a room and play it lots and lots and lots of times until you find something that feels natural."

The result is always evocative pop that recalls New Order, Kraftwerk and the Junior Boys wrapped up in haunting melodies that linger long after they're gone.

Town Ballroom, of course, is generally regarded as one of Western New York's most haunted establishments. It opened as the Town Casino and hosted all the big names in night club entertainment including Frank Sinatra.

Campbell seemed genuinely intrigued when told about the venue's history.

"How appropriate," he said laughing.

Doors for the all-ages show will open at 7 p.m. Tickets are $20 advance, $25 day-of-show (, box office).

--Joseph Popiolkowski


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