While Desert Stars front-woman Janelle Best was visiting friends in LA, she took a trip to the Joshua Tree National Park. Driving in her friend’s truck at night, the difference between the bustle of the city and the starlit ceiling of the desert sky left an indelible mark on her. As Best explains, “I had an itch to start a band back in Brooklyn and looking up at the stars, I realized… it was time to start that band and Desert Stars would be the raddest name ever”.
Classically trained on violin and cello, as well as having a background in school chorus lines (as with the rest of the bands female populace) Best fished a keyboard out of a rubbish bin at the end of 2008 and initially started writing music as an exchange for the party lifestyle – out with the intoxicants, in with the creativity. Slowly over the course of the following two years, like some musical serendipity, the rest of the band formed around her. First Melanie Moser brought guitars into the mix, creating the spaced out shoe-gaze sound the band now portray; in 2011 Carrie Ashley Hill “dropped in for some music therapy, started singing harmonies and now plays a little of everything”, remembers Best; Hill suggested Jane Herships for bass and Gregg Giuffre – who had been mixing demos of the previous line-ups material – stepped in when their drummer quit a week out from a gig at Webster Hall Studio.
Their expansive neo-psychedelic sound may have been cemented when Melanie brought her electric guitar to a jam session but for Best it was something that also came from “being a little music nerd in the 90’s. I listened to college radio and loved everything from the Grateful Dead to Bikini Kill, anything off the Kill Rockstars label, and I also adored the space rock sounds of Slowdive, early Verve, and Brian Eno. When visiting my father in Philadelphia from Macon, Georgia, I would make him take me straight to Tower Records to buy every indie music zine I could get my hands on. I just wanted to buy every weird and obscure record out there”.
When asked what influences their sound, they quote a vast range of sources. For Herships it’s Lou Barlow and Joni Mitchell; with Hill it’s “Townes Van Zandt and Kris Kristofferson – REM and The Cure”; while Moser states anything from Joan Jett to Sally Field as hers. Their distinctly cinematic sound echoes this diversity and each member brings something unique to the fold, but there is no stringent ethos to the process of writing their music. It’s the close bond they share as a group that pulls the different strands together, their “collective state of mind” which influences the sound:
“We are conscious of creating a dynamic, but it’s just fun, and it seems to happen naturally; there is a good meshing with our voices and musical aesthetics. Carrie just sings and adds harmonies wherever she is moved to do so; it’s instinctual. Janelle writes alone when having a bad day, presents the basic song on keyboard with vocals to the band, and then we jam on it together, everyone freely writing their own parts. The magic of Desert Stars is rarely do we hear a member playing something we don’t like”.
Having only just released their debut single – double A-side ‘Boys I Like/Farewell Decade’ – they are making their journey towards the recording of their album this summer. The almost choral vocals and sweeping guitars prove their title is more than apt in its panoramic implication, and create excitement when thinking of what this will sound like spread across ten or more tracks. But for a band starting out, there are always hopes and dreams of what the road will bring for them: is it platinum record sales? Sold out venues? “All of the above and continue to make music we love to play and stay like family”.