Austin, Texas is mythologised globally as a musical beacon. It is a place where musicians have fled to and been inspired by. Willie Nelson moved there in 1972 during a brief retirement which he came out of because he was so invigorated by the music scene in the city. The passionate culture of live music emanating from music fans, musicians, and venue promoters is what defines Austin, literally. The slogan for the city is, ‘The Live Music Capital of the World’ which is a well earned title as it has more music venues than any other city in the United States. It is also home to the pinnacle of festivals, South By Southwest (SXSW) which showcases the best in new music and gives a glimpse into future generations of interesting and dynamic bands. If you’re a musician and can flourish and stand out in Austin, you’re doing pretty good.
Star Parks is the Austin based musical project of Andy Bianculli, an immensely talented musician and lyricist who previously played in The Preservation (they worked with producer Brad Bell, a Grammy Award winner following his work on The Suburbs by Arcade Fire). Despite being immersed in a musical scene that is so quintessentially American that as an outsider you could be forgiven to assume is simultaneously collaborative and competitive, Star Parks defy any preconceptions characterised by their environment. This may have something to do with the various European influences informing the project. Bianculli is half-Italian and his band are signed and managed by an independent label founded and based in Dublin, Paper Trail Records. Andy plays in a Cajun band and whilst writing the songs for Star Park’s debut album, Don’t Dwell, he was listening to The High Llama’s seminal record, Hawaii. The diversity of these impacting foreign factors led to the creation of one of the finest debuts in a long time.
It’s 4pm on a Friday afternoon and I’m making my way to a cafe to call Andy to talk about his upcoming European tour. Alas, it’s closed and has been since 3pm. Luckily, there’s a quiet coffee shop nearby that serves coffee in sand-bucket quantities. After a few miss-dials and missed calls, Andy, who’s on the way to play a show in Dallas, opens up about his process in writing music, synesthesia and the prospect of embarking on a European tour without his band. It’s an easy conversation to have, as Andy is playful yet serious about his music. He’s incredibly refreshing, as is the music he makes.
I describe the night I listened to Don’t Dwell for the first time to Andy and embarrassingly stumble over my immediate infatuation with the songs. The intro to ‘Hymn for the Hopeless’, the album’s sublime opening track, made me feel like I was a teenager again and in the throws of puppy love. Lyrically, the songs are cheeky (“I can’t help it/ I like your girlfriend / I’m gonna do what I can to make her mine”) and musically they are alluring and seductive. It turns out that this wasn’t accidental. Andy laughs and reveals, “That’s funny because when we were writing those songs I would say to the band, ‘I want to make something that embodies that feeling when you’re fifteen and you ask a girl to dance with you and she actually says yes.’ Then when you’re dancing with her you’re struck by the romantic realisation and success of the situation and you’re high from the, ‘Yes! I got the girl.’” By getting the girl, he has won over a legion of fans.
Bianculli’s approach to writing is steered, to a certain extent, by his synesthesia. “When I’m working on a song I like to imagine it on a canvas. I try to see a colour wheel and I’ll tend to start with the primary bases, and visualise the sounds as colours and they have to communicate well together on the canvas. I don’t want to throw in a colour or a sound for the sake of it, especially when it’s one that just doesn’t work.” Bianculli has described Don’t Dwell as sounding distinctly blue and purple to him. Looking up the relevance and symbolism of those colours, it was striking how accurate those shades represented the stories and the overall impressions of those arrangements. Words like wisdom, confidence, extravagance, magic, mystery and independence were associated with the hues, and these feelings are abundant in the album. I ask Andy what colours characterise the forthcoming Star Park’s EP, which is due to be released some time in October.
“I really want to make dramatic, Edith Piaf style songs for the next record… Maybe ambers and oranges!”
Even though Star Parks are signed to an Irish label, their gigs this week will be their first time playing to Irish audiences. Andy admits that he’s feeling slightly apprehensive about the upcoming shows mainly because he’ll be performing the shows without his regular band, enlisting a different ensemble of musicians to play with him, albeit an undoubtedly talented bunch.
“I’m a nervous wreck about it [touring without his band]. I really enjoy the dynamic of playing as a band; the instrumental interplay, creating vocal harmonies and just everything that goes with performing. I don’t ever want it to look or feel like the songs are stagnant. But I’ll have a group of guys playing with me and it’ll be the first time that we’ll be playing the songs together.” That is not to say he isn’t excited about the gigs, he’s really looking forward to experience a new kind of crowd and reaction to his songs.
As the conversation comes to an end, Andy having to return to the road and this writer buzzed on the most coffee intense high, you can detect that nervous excitement in his tone about playing to a brand new audience and hopefully take them with him as Star Parks’ sound continues to develop and grow.
Star Parks play in Bello Bar, Dublin on September 22nd. Catch them on one of their Irish dates, listed here.