Star Rover is Will Graefe and Jeremy Gustin -- a duo that makes ambitious, dense post-rock with a commitment to melody and dynamics. Though a rhythmically aggressive and near telepathic improvisational rapport is at the core of their sound, occasional unison and harmonized vocals are interwoven into the songs; imagine if Brian Wilson produced a Lightning Bolt record. The band's debut album -- I May be Lost But I'm Laughing -- is out now on 11A Records.
Star Rover's songs conjure imaginary landscapes, textures, climates, and emotions, often alternating between delicate interwoven polyrhythms and hurtling walls of sound. Album opener and lead single "Byron Bay" is bright, beaming, and hypnotic, pulsating forward in a circular, perpetual motion--like beach waves. It was inspired by a visit to Byron Bay in New South Wales, where Gustin noticed a solitary woman lying on the beach: "So close / The waves almost touching her toes / She knows." The track was completed in Brooklyn at Figure 8 Recording with Sam Griffin Owens (Sam Evian), who performed synth on the song as well. The Line of Best Fit had the premiere, and the band performed the song as a ThrdCoast Blue Room Session.
Gustin name checks Aphex Twin and Tortoise as influences, specifically on tracks like "Snow Moving," which he wrote after running around NYC in a blizzard, as well as "Inclined For Wren," which speaks to social media over-saturation. Gustin says, "It's fun to come up with these ideas as a non-guitar player, and to see [Will] try to figure them out." "Inclined For Wren" and "Red Skies" both feature original arrangements by visionary violinist and violist Rob Moose (of yMusic).
"Peppermint Olive" -- the song on the album with the most vocals -- features Mikey Freedom Hart (of Ex Reyes, Blood Orange) on keys and Sarah K. Pedinotti (of Lip Talk) on background vocals. Both artists also appear on "Up Up," which was recorded at Alligator Lady Studio in Greenpoint with Cedar Apffel. "Up Up" is the only song on the album with a guitar solo.
"And Then I Remembered" was written by Graefe during a stay in Lisbon. The track features a vocalist named Dr. Stuff, who discovered the duo through Instagram back in 2016. After a year of messaging back and forth, Star Rover invited Dr. Stuff to add his vocals to the finished track, and upon completion he disappeared from Instagram and email and was never heard from again. The entire saga of Dr. Stuff can be explored here. The video for the song follows a unique kind of couple (played by Holly and Jonathan of BREAKTIME) who come together and fall apart as they raise a "child" together. Director Julia Barrett-Mitchell calls it, "A story about partnership, about loss, and about healing."
The album also features a cover by free-jazz legend Sonny Sharrock. "We decided to record 'Blind Willie' as a tribute to him, but it's also representative of what we do live. His original recording is a masterpiece of American music and it has a spirit we'd like to communicate in our music."
BENJAMIN LAZAR DAVIS
Benjamin Lazar Davis is a gifted multi-instrumentalist, singer-songwriter, arranger, composer, and producer based in Brooklyn.
His debut full length album Nothing Matters — his first release as a solo artist — came out of an extensive period of touring followed by a difficult break up. To make the record, Davis spent all all of his money on instruments and recording gear, including drums and drum machines, both nylon and steel string acoustic guitars, an electric and an upright bass, a pump organ, a mellotron, a Moog, and an upright piano. He worked on the record every day, for 30 straight days, in his childhood bedroom at his parents’ house in Saratoga Springs, and once finished, he mixed it back in Brooklyn with his high school friend Luke Moellman (GGFO).
Although there are no other performers on the record, many collaborations went into the writing of the album, including cowrites with Kimbra ("Right Direction"), Alex Toth of Rubblebucket and Alexander F ("Love Song Seven Ways," "Life Is Dangerous," and "Choosing Sides"), Bridget Kearney of Lake Street Dive ("Somebody's Speaking For Me"), singer-songwriter Taylor Ashton ("Brass Tacks"), award-winning poet Michael Gizzi ("Acquitted"), and his brother, a brilliant lyricist, Tim Davis.
Benjamin Lazar Davis writes, records, and performs with Cuddle Magic, Joan as Police Woman, and Okkervil River, and he has worked with Anais Mitchell, Kimbra, Luke Temple, Jesse Harris, Henry Jamison, Wild Belle, Delicate Steve, Star Rover, Sam Amidon, Markus Acher (the Notwist), and Margaret Glaspy as a co-writer, side-musician, arranger, producer, studio musician, touring member, and band member in the past. While 'Nothing Matters' grew out of Davis's desire to make music on his own in a life where he has been a chronic collaborator, the album evokes inspiration from all of these artists, and he considers it a culmination of his life's work.
As he began work on the album, Davis found a photo of his father lounging beneath a hand- written sign that read "Nothing Matters," which eventually became the album's artwork; "It was taken in 1969 in Malawi Africa where he lived at the time. He taught me music growing up, and I think seeing that picture right before recording the record gave me a sense of letting go of all of the baggage that comes with making music and being in a relationship. When in the midst of the meditation of making the album, nothing matters. Just let the tape roll and the ideas flow..."
"In the hands of a boundless creative, a childhood bedroom can house a universe of emotion, and you can fit a symphony of imagination into a Ford E350," writes Talia Schlanger for NPR. "He plays instruments in a way that makes them feel less like strings and wood and wires, and more like stop-motion scenes witnessed through the rearview mirror of life's highway." Nothing Matters is out now on 11A Records.