Like their celestial namesake, Stars only come out at night. Itâ€™s been 14 years since the Montreal band debuted with an album of intimate synth-pop whispers titled Nightsongs, but really, any of the increasingly assertive and sonically elaborate records theyâ€™ve released since could be named that. Whether between the sheets or on the streets, the nighttime is when the most pivotal moments of your life play out: the drunken dusk-to-dawn hangs through which eternal friendships are forged; the knowing glance across the dancefloor that leads to exchanged phone numbers, that ominous 3 a.m. phone call from the hospital; the decision to turn a new leaf that can only come when youâ€™ve spent five despairing hours staring at a ceiling fan. These are the worlds that Stars songs inhabit, to show us that, even in our most vulnerable and naked states, we are never truly alone.
Starsâ€™ albums have always served as thermochromic barometers of their makersâ€™ emotional well-being, be it the romantic upheaval of 2003â€™s Heart and 2004â€™s Set Yourself On Fire, the newsticker-triggered discontent of 2007â€™s In Our Bedroom After the War, the downcast elegies of 2010â€™s The Five Ghosts (a requiem for singer Torquil Campbellâ€™s father, who passed away during the albumâ€™s creation), or the rejuvenation of 2012â€™s The North (recorded while inter-band couple Amy Millan and Evan Cranley were in the throes of new parenthood). However, as Millan admits, the band initially approached its new seventh album from a place of relative stability. â€śWeâ€™ve always had so many things defining every album, whether it was the band going through a difficult emotional turmoil, Torqâ€™s father passing away, or us having children. And now itâ€™s like: You know what? Weâ€™re pretty good. This is one of the best times of our lives.â€ť
This time around, Stars decided to scratch the seven-album itch by shaping their own environment. After inheriting the Mile End rehearsal space vacated by the then-disbanding Handsome Furs, Stars refashioned the spaceâ€”â€śbasically a dirty apartment,â€ť says Cranleyâ€”into a fully operational studio, where recording for No One Is Lost began last December with old friend Liam Oâ€™Neil (Metric, The Stills) behind the boards.
â€śIt was initially quite painstaking,â€ť says keyboardist Chris Seligman. â€śBut we put love into our space and our space gave us love back.â€ť
Campbell is also a parent, but his recording sojourns in Montreal allowed him to keep, shall we say, more traditional musicianâ€™s hours.
â€śIâ€™m a nighttime guy, I donâ€™t really like making records in the day,â€ť says Campbell, who made the studio his home for the duration of his recording sessions. â€śI slept on the couch. Iâ€™ve never enjoyed making a record so much, because I always hated going home at the end of the day. This time, in Montreal, the studio was my home.â€ť
Funnily enough, it was during one of Campbellâ€™s studio sleepovers that the city itself became truly present: noise was bleeding in from the gay discotheque, The Royal Phoenix, located on the floor below them.
Says Campbell: â€śI went to sleep to the sound of Charli XCX every nightâ€”and I loved it.â€ť
So rather than fight the funk, Stars rolled alongside, with the incessant 4/4 thump emanating from below serving as the metronomic template that would form the basis of No One Is Lost. You can hear that influence percolate in real time on the albumâ€™s monumental lead-off track â€śFrom the Nightâ€ťâ€”Starsâ€™ most epic opening salvo since Set Yourself on Fireâ€™s â€śYour Ex-Lover Is Deadâ€ťâ€”with a near-subliminal pulse vibrating the floorboards beneath your feet before exploding into a kaleidoscopic, French-touched house jam. And that crowd noise you hear at the beginning? Thatâ€™s Millan and Seligman walking into The Royal Phoenix during a Friday-night rager, field-recording gear in hand.
â€śThe sub-bass throb coming from the club below our studio was undeniably and unavoidably influential,â€ť affirms drummer Pat McGee. â€śIt motivated us to out-throb the throb.â€ť
But the Royal Phoenix proved to be more than just a musical inspiration; the bar essentially served as Starsâ€™ home away from home, with the band coming to know the servers on a first-name basis, and even getting cocktails christened in their honour. And through observing the bacchanalia playing out every weekend in their de facto rec room, the thematic framework for the album came into focus.
â€śI always find it so moving and beautiful to watch people have their nights out. â€ś Campbell explains. â€śThereâ€™s something so heartbreaking about it: People have jobs that they have to get up for, jobs they hate, and they live for the weekend; they live for these moments. And they put everything they have into it: They put all their money into it, they put their emotion into it, they sacrifice their health for it, just to make a connection out there, and go home with someone and not be alone.â€ť
During the writing of the new album, Stars were hit with another cruelly sobering reminder of just how precious our days here on this planet really are: the bandâ€™s long-time manager, Eoin O Leary, was diagnosed with cancer.
Fortunately, No One Is Lost translates all that anxiety into pure ecstasy, from the laser-cut new-waved precision of Millanâ€™s â€śThis Is the Last Timeâ€ť to the soaring, Mozzerific chorus of Campbellâ€™s â€śTrap Doorâ€ť to the dreamy duet â€śLook Away.â€ť And the titanic title track-closerâ€”the sound of a dancefloor being swallowed whole by an ocean of sweat and swapped spitâ€”feels like the moment Starsâ€™ entire 15-year journey has been leading up to, a euphoric house banger that distills all the hope, fear, joy, sadness, and sex in the bandâ€™s songbook into a pair of unshakeable mantras: â€śput your hands up because everybody dies / put your hands up if you know youâ€™re going to lose.â€ť
â€śThe fact Eoin got cancer is definitely sewn into the fabric of the album, lyrically and sonically,â€ť Millan reveals. â€śBecause you had to believe he was going to be okay. [Spoiler alert: heâ€™s currently recovering from treatment quite nicely.] I think thatâ€™s where the title No One Is Lost comes from: We were the army standing behind him.â€ť
Campbell, for his part, offers a somewhat more urgent interpretation:
â€śThis recordâ€™s called No One Is Lost because that is a fucking lie. We are all lost, we are all going to lose this game and, as you get older, you lose people more and more. Eoinâ€™s been facing down the Grim Reaper, and that was bringing us the fuck down. But we decided to go for it anyway, and so did he, and it was enormous act of blind hope to even think he would make it this far. So I wanted to call this record No One Is Lost because I just wanted to close my eyes and jump and hope that was true. Life is loss, love is loss. And loving people is about accepting that youâ€™re going to have to say goodbye to them. And thatâ€™s why itâ€™s fucking brave. Itâ€™s easy to hate, because you never have to let go of anything. It takes guts to be gentle and kind. Thatâ€™s Starsâ€™ ethos: this life is very heartbreaking and sadâ€¦ so letâ€™s get completely fucking arseholed and listen to some Dionne Warwick.â€ť
Alas, Stars will need to find a new place to get arseholed: The day that the mastering of No One Is Lost was completed last July, word got out that The Royal Phoenix was closing, despite its undiminished popularity among local revellers. But then, this sudden turn of events was an oddly appropriate denouement for an album that evolved according to its own curious logic. After all, No One Is Lost is a record that began with Stars building a studio hideaway that allowed them to function as a self-contained unit free of external pressures, yet wound up being greatly shaped by its surrounding environment. And itâ€™s a record that, at its core, was intended as a celebration of life but became a rallying cry for an ailing friend and, now, a eulogy to a beloved bar. But thatâ€™s the equally wonderful and terrifying thing about living for the night: you never know what the next oneâ€™s going to bring you. Each sundown marks not the end of the day, but the beginning of a new adventure into the unknownâ€”and No One Is Lost is the radiant flash of pink neon that lights the way. So, go dance.