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Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Certain Stars' Varied Sophomore Album

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Milwaukee rock band Certain Stars never set out to be famous, but don't confuse that with a lack of ambition. When Kyle Hernandez's fake press release for a band named Cudahy unexpectedly began to gain traction among friends in 2000, he and his brother Chris Hernandez decided they should actually form that band, and so they set forth as Cudahy. Two band members later (Chris Voss and Greg Hein), and with enhanced style, they switched the name to Certain Stars. Fast-forward to this year and the band's second full-length album, and third release overall, The Great Destroyer, sees the band aiming for new heights. The band confidently rollicks with melodic rock 'n' roll with a hint of pop that recalls bands like Big Star and The Replacements.

One of the band's biggest strengths is that all four members write and sing. Together the band has formed a tightknit chemistry, with everyone working off each other. The group has crafted a varied sound, thanks to the different writing styles, from ambiguous to straight-ahead and gloomy to more positive outlooks.

“What I think differentiates us is that we don't sound the same from beginning to end of an album. It's a pretty nice variety in there,” Chris Hernandez says. “You don't get bored with the same thing over and over.”

The band recorded The Great Destroyer over a good part of two years at Shane Hochstetler's Howl Street Recordings. Unlike with the band's previous albums, which were more straight-ahead rock 'n' roll, Certain Stars wanted to push their sound further. Not only does the album present some of the band's strongest songwriting to date, but it also features a layered sound that includes piano, trumpet, mandolin, bowed cymbals, sleigh bells and glockenspiel. Recording around weekends when Kyle could come up from Chicago, the band found Hochstetler to be the perfect producer, as he understood their direction and musical influences.

“It was really perfect that way, as I think we would have burned ourselves out if we went in and did everything in one or two chunks,” Hernandez says. “We got a lot of new ideas while we were waiting to go back into the studio.”

The band settled on the title track because it was the only song written by the whole band. Unlike with previous albums, the group made a point of paying closer attention to the lyrical side of things.

“Now, especially with our songs we write together, we really try to get the idea, so everyone knows what we're going to try to convey with the song. We put more into lyrics now because it means more to us,” Hernandez says. “We actually hear a lot from people who see us live, and they're saying, 'I really like the lyrics to that song,' and we never heard that in the past. I think that's come about since we've put more work into it and tried to make it better.”

For Certain Stars, nothing beats being able to play live. Band members put great effort into their shows, writing set lists and making sure the overall pace is right. The actual shows are far from scripted, though, with scissor kicks and more as the band feeds off the energy.

“We take the live show as almost more important than the records themselves because if people are seeing you and don't have your records and don't know your stuff, you want that 'wow' factor,” Hernandez says. “If they see you and you go like, 'Bam!,' they get to the point where they're like, 'I have to look these guys up,' or, 'I have to buy their record.' We're really feeling the music and enjoy giving great shows.”

Certain Stars play with 1956 and Red Giant at the Cactus Club June 8.