In Tulsa, Stars Go Dim should not be an unknown act any longer. Formed two years ago, the group has opened for headlining acts such as Daughtry, Switchfoot and Sara Barielles; captured a host of songwriting awards; and even won a coveted slot on the Mayercruise this past spring, serving as a supporting act for John Mayer, O.A.R. and Guster. Meanwhile, the band has toured continually on a regional basis and built an ever-growing fan base via social networking sites, such as MySpace, Facebook and Twitter.
None of that would really matter, however, if the songs weren't theirs. Although last fall's five song EP provided a peek at what was to come, it barely scratched the surface. Just last week, on August 4, Stars Go Dim officially released its full-length debut CD, Love Gone Mad, and for fans of melodic pop, the disc proves to be more than worth the wait.
Truth be told, I've been able to absorb the disc since I acquired an advance copy in April, so I've been privy to what's been coming. That revealed, I can confidently say that Love Gone Mad is one of the best pure pop records to come out of Tulsa for nearly a decade. Roughly four months later, the disc is still in steady rotation in my car--a testament to the quality of the songwriting within.
The true surprise to Love Gone Mad isn't that the songs are catchy, which they are, but it's the honesty that comes through in each song. Individually, each of the 10 tracks would make for a solid single, but as a whole, the record paints a picture of something more, a journey through the emotional rollercoaster we call love.
Infatuation, commitment, breaking up, making up, walking away and moving on, all the parts of that journey are there, wrapped up in a (somewhat) tidy package.
When discussing the songs with guitarist and principal songwriter Joey Avalos, he told me that the group never set out to write a theme-based record; that's just where the creative process took them.
"It's not like we set out to create a concept record," Avalos said. "We were just writing a bunch of songs. When we came together, we didn't even know what kind of band we were."
Even so, once the creative juices started flowing, the band found its niche.
"After the first three song demo came together," Avalos explained, "I basically wrote the rest of the album in two weeks. The theme just came together organically. It's not like I was thinking about it. I probably wrote 20 songs in roughly two weeks, and this is what came out of it."
The resulting album, when pared down to ten, tight-knit songs, explores all the emotions of falling in and out of love.
The light-hearted giddiness of infatuation hits you early on with "Incredible," before facing the struggles of working through a relationship on "Where Has Our Love Gone" midway through the disc. Before it ends, the realization that things are over and the decision to move on has been made. All in all, Love Gone Mad couldn't have been a more appropriate title, even if that wasn't the original intention.
"Even before we had an album title, I knew I wanted to write a song called 'Love Gone Mad'," Avalos said, "Because there are so many things that could mean."
When discussing it further, he said, "'Love Gone Mad' is definitely one of my prouder efforts because I think it really captures that moment where you're losing someone, and it's so believable. On that one and 'Hoping For Tomorrow' you can really hear and feel the words through Chris' (Cleveland) vocals.
"I don't claim to be a great vocalist," Avalos said. "So I try to keep it simple. I'm more concerned with is the song memorable, is it clear, does it tell a story?
"'Walk On' is about a guy who got screwed over so many times and 'Letting Go' is about talking the talk and trying to stand strong. All the songs are tied together, some in hilarious and sad ways," said Avalos.
"Actually, Chris (our singer) laughs that we're writing his life story, but he's got the gift of being able to make it believable. There's only so much I can do as a writer; the rest is on him."
And that's exactly what makes the album work so well. Although it's not as emotionally jarring as the first two chapters of Vandevander's "Great State of" trilogy, it's no less compelling on a heartfelt level.
Even with songs in place, the creative process didn't stop. Once the story had begun, it didn't feel quite complete, and the band continued to build a multi-media treatment for the story, resulting in a couple of other projects as well.
The band's development during the creative process has been documented in what has been trimmed down to a 22 minute DVD, Love.Life.Music.Soul., produced by videographer Detlev Radke. Perhaps more interesting, however, is how the band further explored the overarching theme of Love Gone Mad apart from the music.
When discussing it with bassist Michael Wittig, he explained that it didn't feel like the story was quite complete. After sharing the music and additional thoughts with friend and author Tamara Brooks, she expanded upon the inherent themes and emerged with Love Remembered: A novel inspired by the album Love Gone Mad. In it, Brooks shares the story of two couples working through issues of love and trust; the latter finds the other couple's love letters from four decades prior.
Overall, it's an ambitious project but not one that surprises the band's avid followers. Although it differs from how most bands approach an album, it draws the listeners into a larger entity; this has always been the band's nature, documenting its every move via Twitter, MySpace and YouTube.
With the new disc ready, Stars Go Dim is gearing up for a big push for the album. Local appearances have included DFest, Fuse TV, Up Late with Ben Sumner and guest spots on most of the major radio stations this week, which lead up to the CD Release party at Bob's on Sat., Aug. 15. Doors open at 7pm, and the show begins at 7:30, with support from Sleeperstar, High Five Low Five and Five O'clock Shadow. Tickets are available for $10 in advance or $12 at the show; this price includes a copy of the new disc.
With the buzz surrounding the new album and the extensive touring that will continue throughout the end of the year, this is the time to see why Stars Go Dim is creating such a stir. If the live show doesn't catch you, a couple of spins of Love Gone Mad should get under your skin and prove why it is one of the best local discs of the year.
While the club schedule has stayed busy, it's hard to deny that we've been at low-ebb this summer, due to the loss of a few of our key live venues. Things are looking up for the fall, but for now, here are some highlights to help get you out the door.
Thursday evening, August 13 is fairly low key, but if you're ready to head out, you can catch a rock show at Flytrap with Fake Camping, Ziff, The Oakes and John Malone or stop in at Bob's for Chronic Soul, Downcast, Monday Riot!, Daniel Dew and Brett Edwards. Meanwhile, KXOJ is sponsoring a free show at Riverwalk Crossing with Contemporary Christian act Phillips, Craig and Dean at 7pm.
Friday's best bet, may just be a trip to the Riverwalk for a free show by the Jared Tyler Band, which doesn't play around town nearly enough. Meanwhile, you can never go wrong with Brandon Clark Band at Mercury Lounge later in the evening.
If you're going downtown, however, you'll be split between Woodshed Revival and Phillip Zoellner at Bob's for the Americana crowd, Cody Clinton and the Bishops with Western Heritage at Marquee for the rock crowd and Be/Now at Soundpony for indie fans.
Saturday night has a plethora of options. If you aren't checking out the aforementioned Stars Go Dim CD release at Bob's, you can get your dance groove on with DanceRobotsDance at Soundpony, catch some bluegrass with Ben Miller Band at Mercury or pay tribute to Southern Rock legends Lynyrd Skynyrd at Spirit Bank Event Center.
Sunday night's best bet is a drive out to King of Clubs in Claremore on August 16 for a full-on rock show with Showbread, who drops its new album, The Fear of God, this week.
Finally, Hot Club of Cowtown wraps up the week at Bob's on Wednesday night, but not before rock royalty Paul McCartney helps BOK Center celebrate its first Birthday in the biggest show of the month on Monday, August 17. RadioRadio plays the preshow on the Plaza, and Sir Paul's show is officially sold out, but you can always play your hand with the scalpers or check to see if any extras are released on the day of the show.
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