Blink too many times in the March sunshine and you’ll easily miss the house of producer Nick Launay. High in the Hollywood hills, the front of his home is almost completely hidden by lush foliage, save for a small entry. Following the sound of guitars helps, though. Then, on cue, the manager of one of America’s hottest young bands appears, like Dr Livingstone emerging from the jungle, to show the way in.
Inside, Los Angeles fourpiece Starcrawler are halfway through making their second album for prestigious UK label Rough Trade. Backing tracks have already been laid down at the iconic Sunset Sound studios down the hill. Today is all about overdubs for what will become the album Devour You.
Starcrawler’s new album Devour You is out on October 11.Credit:
Singer Arrow de Wilde has folded her long, jagged frame into the corner of a sofa, as she orders Thai food over the phone for the band’s lunch. Dressed in shredded jeans and a Thin Lizzy T-shirt, de Wilde is just 20 years old, still with the reed-thin build of a gangly child – yet she’s already about 190cm tall (6’3”).
Even lounging on a couch, de Wilde is an imposing figure. But put her on a stage, add a hospital gown, blood capsules, spitting, simulated oral sex, stage diving, black humour and some of the most arresting and authentic glam rock ’n’ roll you’ve ever heard, and you’re some way to understanding why the world is paying attention to Starcrawler.
Together with flamboyant guitarist Henri Cash (who recently turned 19), and the quieter bassist Tim Franco (22) and drummer Austin Smith (24), Starcrawler have been on a fast trajectory since forming in 2015. The first song they wrote, a thunderous, infectious ditty called Ants, was swiftly picked up for a Uniqlo ad after they recorded it with Redd Kross bass player Steve McDonald.
I wanted to make the record sound like the way they are visually, like Arrow is onstage and that wildness you get from the performance.
For that first recording, they didn’t even have a name, let alone a bass player – Franco was not yet part of the band, so McDonald played bass. They hadn’t even played their first gig. And Cash was just 14 years old.
“It was just really cool to play with him,” says Cash. “And like, 14 year-old me was freaking out because the Melvins drummer Dale Crover [McDonald also plays for the Melvins] had his drumkit there.”
Fast forward to 2019 and Starcrawler have now clocked up six European tours, countless US tours, become complete rockstars in Japan, were awarded the Grulke Prize for Best Developing US Act at the 2018 SXSW music festival, and scored the title track of the 2019 remake of the film Pet Sematary. Oh, and they can count among their fans the Kills’ Alison Mosshart, Elton John and Dave Grohl (who cited them in an interview as one of his “favourite new bands”). And former Sex Pistol Steve Jones has had them on his “Jonesy’s Juke Box” radio show on KLOS in LA three times already.
Even Morrissey has gotten on board, hand-picking them to open for him in San Diego last year. While he’s a fan, his own fans weren’t so convinced. Lucky for them, de Wilde enjoys such challenges.
Starcrawler (left to right) are Arrow de Wilde, Austin Smith, Tim Franco and Henri Cash.Credit:Gilbert Trejo
“It’s really f—ed up, but when people get upset when I do stuff onstage, it makes me so happy. I just get this rush,” she says. “There’s been shows when I’ve been like ‘I’m not gonna spit blood, I don’t feel like it’, but then the venue says ‘you’re not allowed to spit blood’, which makes me wanna do it.”
“The stage guy said ‘no blood tonight’,” says Cash of the Morrissey show. “So Arrow spit blood.”
“Also, it took place in a symphony hall,” says Smith. “So it was very much a vibe of, people were coming to sit.”
“They already were totally hating us, just no reaction,” says Cash. “So right before our last song I go” – he adopts a stadium announcer voice – “ ‘are you guys ready to see the Cuuure?’. Then their faces turned from neutral to angry.”
Like de Wilde, Cash’s offstage persona is a world away from the maniacal live show. Unfailingly polite, Cash comes from a musical background, having jammed since he was a kid with his dad, LA blues guitarist Buddy Zapata. Cash still does gigs with Buddy’s blues band when he’s home, either playing guitar alongside Buddy, or sitting in on drums. His dad’s advice on pursuing rock ’n’ roll? Don’t have a Plan B.
Arrow de Wilde, on stage with Starcrawler.Credit:Gilbert Trejo
With her lineage and name, Arrow de Wilde was destined to be a rock ’n’ roll singer, as the daughter of rock and design photographer Autumn de Wilde and drummer Aaron Sperske (Beachwood Sparks, Father John Misty, Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti). Starcrawler’s first major clip was made after signing to Rough Trade, for the song I Love LA, and was shot by de Wilde.
Launay had heard of Starcrawler, and would often see de Wilde out at shows and clubs (fake ID for under 21s is the norm in LA). “A lot of the coolest gigs are not advertised, like warehouse things, and I kept seeing her. And someone said ‘oh that’s the girl from Starcrawler’.”
Fate stepped in for Launay during a trip to London two years ago when he was working on Anna Calvi’s Hunter album, and decided to drop in on Rough Trade founder Geoff Travis. “He says ‘I’ve got something to play you, something I think is very much your cup of tea’, and he played me the video of Ants,” recalls Launay. “I don’t think it had even come out yet. And I just could not believe it. I was like ‘I have to work with this band’. And he said ‘Great. Because I’d like you to as well’.”
So Starcrawler are now in the studio of one of the world’s most eminent music engineers and producers in Launay, who has worked with everyone from PIL to the Bad Seeds, to Midnight Oil and INXS. Songs that have emerged from this recording so far – early singles She Gets Around, Hollywood Ending and, just out, the glorious glam-rock dirge of Bet My Brains – indicate a much lusher, more mature sound than that of their brash pop-punk self-titled debut recorded with Ryan Adams (a friend of Autumn de Wilde).
“The big thing with this band, what I wanted to do was make the record sound like the way they are visually, like Arrow is onstage and that wildness you get from the performance,” says Launay. “How do you get that to come out of your speakers. How do you get that on record? That visual thing is such a part of this band.”
In LA , Arrow’s uncle will often carry her onstage (height is a family thing – he’s 7’2”). But it’s in Japan where their larger-than-life live shows have really gained a hold (You can see some of the wild scenes from a Japan tour in the video for Love’s Gone Again, off their self-titled debut). And it’s there that they find fans waiting to greet them with gifts at airports, hotel lobbies, even train stations.
“I’m like, ‘how the f— do they know this?’,” muses de Wilde.
“That’s crazy. That’s great!,” enthuses Launay.
They’re as passionate about other music as they are their own. De Wilde is still enthused about an Iggy Pop show she went to a week or two earlier, where she serial crowdsurfed – and got to touch the hand of Pop. “He said ‘hey baby’,” she says, dropping her voice for effect. “That was one of the funnest shows I’ve ever been to. It also helped where it was, in the desert … it was more like wild, like there weren’t any rules so people were just going crazy. I kept going up so many times.”
Turns out Iggy’s heard of Starcrawler too.
“He’s talked about us,” says Cash.
“He knows all about you and loves you,” confirms Launay.
Join the club, Iggy.
Devour You is out on October 11 through Rough Trade/Remote Control.
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