Glam rock band Starbenders is coming back to its roots at The Hollywood Palladium, located at 6215 Sunset Blvd, with a special performance on Sunday, November 6, 2022. WEHO TIMES music contributor Michael Holdaway interviews the band as the group prepares to rock out in Hollywood.
For those of you who have not yet jumped on the current “Glam-Band Wagon”, let me introduce you to four of the Glammiest of them all–STARBENDERS. I highly recommend anyone who has not heard this band to become familiar with them and attend their November 6th show at the Palladium. They’re an audio-visual orgasm.
I want to personally thank the band for the contribution and commitment to Rock N Roll that they’ve made over the past 8 years+, and for expressing balls to the wall individualism and authenticity on their journey to create and perform music as an art form.
But first some background: Starbenders comes from the suburbs of Atlanta, Georgia. The group was formed in 2013 when lead singer and guitarist Kimi Shelter contacted her former bandmate Aaron Lecesne about doing a new project. After adding guitarist Kriss Tokaji and drummer Emily Moon, Starbenders were subsequently signed to former Lady Gaga music director/guitarist Nico Constantine’s label, Institution Records. With Constantine serving as their producer, the band has released three EPs, one full-length, one 7-inch, and six singles on Institution Records and two singles and one full-length on Sumerian Records.
MH – Kimi, you’ve previously pointed out specific STARBENDERS songs that were influenced by specific songs by other artists such as Peter Murphy, ABBA, Stevie Nicks, Bjork, L.A.’s own Van Halen and Guns N Roses. Such a diverse repertoire of genres! Might we also detect some influences by Chrissie Hynde from The Pretenders and Dale Bozzio of Missing Persons?
Kimi- I love those artists and think they’re incredible. The similarity between us lies within growing up with similar influences. Finding that place between punk and popular music, between genders and between genres… I think that’s what both of them did. Although there’s not a direct influence, there’s definitely a harrowed path that was paved by both of them.
MH-Can you each tell us a little about the environment you grew up in and some of the challenges you had as youth?
Emily- My family moved a lot when I was young. I think we moved about 5 times before I was in 6th grade, which made it difficult for me to establish those early year friendships that so many of the other kids had going into middle school/high school. I’ve always felt like a lone wolf because of this.
Kimi- I’ve always had a very wild imagination that was endangered by schools, teachers, and peers (it was so wild that it manifested itself in my hair.) I managed to find outlets for myself creatively and physically, but the relentless bullying that I experienced was very challenging. There were definitely many dark days and times that I’m surprised I survived. Unfortunately, being different still scares a lot of people. I’m happy to see some of that changing, although I know dark corners still exist… I grew up in a dark corner.
MH- Kimi & Aaron I know you grew up in the “Burbs” – what was that like? Did you feel you could be yourselves? Any challenges you’d like to reveal? Do you have siblings and if so, how many?
Kimi- There was definitely a lot of opportunity available to me that I don’t take for granted. Although being different had its challenges, I really had an incredible friend group growing up. That’s really what got me through it. I have two siblings. I’m the middle child.
Aaron- Like most kids, I was searching for who I was ultimately going to grow up to be. I didn’t really fit in anywhere, and my parents eventually pulled me out of school to homeschool me. I didn’t really start feeling comfortable in my own skin until I picked up an instrument and started playing with people. I have five siblings and grew up in a three-bedroom house with eight people. It prepared me for life on the road!
MH- Kriss and Emily- did you grow up in the city or in the “Burbs”? What was it like? Any challenges you’d like to reveal? Do you have siblings, and if so, how many?
Kriss- I grew up in the suburbs outside of Atlanta. I Knew early on that living the quiet life wasn’t for me. I found it to be boring and very uneventful. There was some sense of isolation because the kids I liked who were into music were few and far between. Even fewer of them played instruments and wanted to start a band. I had a sense of adventure and wanderlust from the beginning, so being in a rock n’ roll band and playing music in the nomadic sense appealed to me.
Emily- My upbringing was very much set in the Burbs. Lived on a wonderful little cul-de-sac alongside a handful of kids of different ages at one point. Lots of epic hide and seek, roller hockey and Super Nintendo playing. I have an older brother who currently resides in Austin with his family.
MH- What music was played in each of your homes growing up and who played it?
Kimi- My mom was an avid classical music enthusiast. Post punk and college radio were always played in my dad’s Isuzu trooper. And passed down with great care by my grandmother was Motown and oldies.
Aaron- My mom played guitar and piano and sang when I was a kid, so my first experiences with music were picking up her instruments.
Kriss- Both my parents were really into rock music. My dad plays guitar as well, so I took after him as he introduced me to bands like AC/DC, Van Halen, and Thin Lizzy. My mom loved Led Zeppelin, KISS, Guns N’ Roses, Journey, and the Doors, so her taste influenced me.
Emily- My parents hosted a ton of parties growing up and I remember Dad being the DJ, though both of my parents were huge fans of Tina Turner, Rod Stewart, The Bee Gees, basically anything you could dance to. They also enjoyed sharing the French music they had picked up after living in Paris for 3 years, which I loved – Veronique Sanson.
Historically, music has influenced style and vice versa. Did music influence each of your style or was it your style that influenced your music? Which came first and at what age?
Kimi- It took me some time to really figure out my style. Once the band was gaining speed and the music direction was becoming more solidified, everything else fell into place with it. I named the band as an homage to Bowie, so it was only natural to kick off on the glam side of the tracks. The look became our own with time and we just had fun with it.
Aaron- For me, they alternate taking the lead on one influencing the other.
Kriss- It was always both for me. Rock n’ roll immediately grabbed my attention both visually and sonically. Growing up, my mom had KISS Alive on CD and I remember listening to it while staring at that album cover in total awe of their outfits and their presence. They looked and sounded terrifying! Guns N’ Roses had the same effect on me. Sonically, I was immediately hooked because they looked just as vicious as they sounded. Their aesthetic was just as much of an expression as the music. They go hand in hand.
MH- Kimi what advice would you give to the female rock musicians who are swimming in a sea of male dominated rockers and industry executives?
Kimi – Just move forward fearlessly as a voice that needs to be heard and be careful to not be the one putting limitations on yourself. Let it rip.
MH- Has there been one specific thing that has been personally challenging as a female rocker?
Kimi- I’ve found that I’m my own worst enemy and critic at the end of the day. The biggest thing is to give myself more grace.
Emily- I think it probably goes for any gender of musician – knowing your worth. At least that is what I have struggled with, wondering if the opportunities that arise come from the right place.
Male rock stars often talk about charming, cool, magnetic, and overtly available female groupies. As female rockers do you have a similar experience? Be as candid as you like.
Kimi- I don’t deal with this in the conventional way. I get a lot of people who want to connect with me on a soul level and it’s a mutual admiration and appreciation. It kind of transcends anything too overtly “human” ha!
Aaron and Kriss, what gender of groupies are flocking to you most?
Aaron- To be perfectly honest, a show where people are turning up with the express purpose of sleeping with the band isn’t one, I’m interested in playing.
MH- If you were a band in 1980 I wouldn’t think to ask this question, but I’ve disappointedly observed a whole generation who seemed set on all looking the same.
I’m overjoyed to see a trend of young musicians such as yourselves intentionally creating individual style as an expression of who they are and, in your cases, often sporting androgynous looks.
Aaron and Kriss can talk about androgyny as it relates to your personal self-expression?
Aaron- It’s about freedom, more than anything else. Gender binarism is an invention of priests and politicians. It’s not real. Androgyny, as it pertains to my personal style and expression, is embracing who I am, freely, without the input of institutions telling me what or who I’m supposed to be.
Kriss- Androgyny for me personally is just a sense of feeling and coming across masculine while surrounded by a halo of the feminine. Makeup and jewelry are some of my favorite ways to express myself and I also love a good mesh or fishnet shirt!
MH- What would you each say to a kid in the burbs who wants to wear spandex pants, a fishnet top/shirt, and platforms?
Kriss- Let your soul dictate how you want to dress, regardless of what other people wear or what they say you should wear. Your style is just as much of a fingerprint as your own artistic expression. I’ve definitely drawn a lot of inspiration from the fashion pieces of my musical heroes while adding my own spin on it. Fashion reflects the spirit and energy of oneself and through it, I am able to reveal more of who I really am.
Aaron- Be who you want to be, and then apply that to every other area of your life. Carry that empowerment forward and inspire people around you. When we’re okay with who we are, we signal to those around us that they’re worthy and accepted as well. You heard it first here: glam fashion is literally a form of public service.
MH- Starting in the early 1980’s West Hollywood was founded by an unlikely diverse coalition of LGBTQ+ residents, sunset strip club owners, the Fairfax Jewish district business owners, and Russian Jewish immigrants.
At the same time a fresh new music and fashion scene was exploding with Glam rock, New Wave, Punk and Rap all happening simultaneously.
West Hollywood, since being incorporated in 1984 has been a safe haven for people who identify as LGBTQ+, artists, musicians and immigrants.
The list of charity concerts that STARBENDERS has either organized or participated in (often benefiting LGBTQ+ homeless youth) is extremely impressive and admirable.
Everyone should know about your incredible charity concert work for Los Angeles based nonprofit “Children of The Night” that Kimi got the band involved with. “Children of The Night” has rescued over 10K children and youth from trafficking, pornography, and prostitution right here in the United States. Yes, right here in the United States!
Aaron also got the band involved with an Atlanta Georgia based nonprofit – Lost-N-Found Youth that provides services to homeless LTBTQ+ youth. On behalf of our readers, Thank You all!
Aaron, can you elaborate on previous statements that spoke to the idea that helping disenfranchised youth is not a political statement?
Aaron- The simplest way for me to think about it is humanitarianism and politics aren’t the same thing. Politics can be a means to alleviating suffering, but they’re not interchangeable terms.
MH- Do any of you want to speak about your personal drive to bring awareness to causes that are personal to you? Do you feel a responsibility? Do you think other bands should follow your lead? Do you want to mention any other benefits you will be participating in or causes you are supporting?
Aaron- Access to mental health services and addiction recovery. Those are important to me, and they’d be important to me whether or not I was a musician. The core of my social obligations to those around me doesn’t change much based on my occupation. Ultimately, they’re based on values I’d have one way or another. That, to me, isn’t a lead to be followed; it’s being a functioning human. And I don’t believe artists have a responsibility to be activists A.) in general, or B.) for causes they’re not genuinely invested in. That starts getting very corporate-piratey in a real big hurry. Personally I try to not look too far or too high for purpose in music, because it can be about leisure and escapism as much as it can be an engine of social change, and neither of those is more valid than the other.
Kimi- We just want to show love and acceptance through musical expression and the lives that we lead. We’re honored to be able to contribute in any way to this beautiful community and will always continue to spread the message of love in as many ways as possible.
MH- Do you identify as – LGBTQ,+ , LGBTQ+ Ally or both?
Emily- I identify as queer.
Kimi- Absolutely an ally.
Kimi, how does a girl from the ‘burbs end up meeting and working with Lady Gaga’s music director Nico Constantine? Can we get the story?
Kimi- I met Nico after auditioning for another band that he was MD’ing for. His almost childlike love and innocence around music made him seem like a mirage in the desert of jaded bullshit that I had come to know. Thankfully he wanted to continue working with me and the rest is history!
MH- Kimi many of your lyrics are about lust and painful and complicated love connections. When do you have the time in between writing and touring to experience the depths of heartbreak you write about?
Kimi-There is no separation, so extra time isn’t necessary. My mind is an overgrown garden that I’m able to harvest frequently.
MH- Whose genius idea was it in 2019 to record your third EP “Japanese Room” and only have distribution in Japan? Was it a strategic decision or did it happen organically?
Kimi- It was organic and through our amazing Japanese label, BIJ.
MH- Now that you’re “Big In Japan” do you think creating the EP just for the Japanese market created a more loyal foreign fan base?
Kimi- We were given the opportunity to introduce ourselves to Japan through 2 tours, as well as the honor of releasing music. We’re about to go back again in November!
MH- You tour a lot. What is your routine like on tour? Any scandalous rock n roll activity would be welcomed.
Kimi- Wake up, get coffee, drive, get coffee, soundcheck, go for a walk (to get coffee), play the show, sell merch and meet beautiful people… go to sleep so I can get coffee in the morning.
Kriss- The daily routine on tour is usually initiated with a cup of coffee… From there, every choice and activity I do throughout the day is to facilitate playing the best rock n’ roll show we can. That desire guides me.
MH- Aaron, you just announced that you celebrated 18 months sober. Can you tell us how you stay sober (without breaking anyone’s anonymity) on tour, surrounded by opportunities to drink and use?
Aaron- I didn’t get sober on my own, and I don’t stay sober on my own. I’m reinforced by other people who live this lifestyle, and in turn I pay that reinforcement forward. It’s a group effort, truly. Because addicts suffer in isolation, recovery is about community. That community is a large part of what keeps me going.
MH- Has being sober crushed your creative juices or enhanced them?
Aaron- It definitely opened some doors creatively that I wasn’t aware of. I never thought in a million years that I’d learn to sew and alter clothes, and now I find myself making commemorative jackets for every release or making a new article of clothing just because I’m bored and want to try an idea I had. Our band definitely loves clothes and fashion and learning to be a little crafty alongside that has been a lot of fun.
MH- What was the biggest negative misconception about being a sober you can share with us?
Aaron- Sometimes people think being sober is a punishment for having too much fun, and they treat you differently. But really, it’s a lifestyle that’s about celebration (firstly, we’re alive when we’d otherwise be dead) and making yourself as happy as you can through personal growth and community. I try to think less about the negative connotations forced on addicts and recovering addicts by society writ large and focus more on contributing to a space where we can all flourish.
MH- Musicians sometimes complain about playing Los Angeles because they are often swarmed by industry comps who are not very gracious audience participants while taking up preferred seating/standing room.
Kimi- I love it when people take up room! I always like to get off and play no matter what. Playing in LA still holds a lot of magic for this Georgia girl, so come one come all!
Aaron- Of all the complaints I have about playing in LA, that one’s by far not the worst.
MH- Thank you all for participating in this interview and for your thoughtful and candid responses.
I look forward to seeing you November 6th!
Web site- https://www.starbenders.com
Kimi Shelter – https://www.instagram.com/kimishelter
Kriss Tokaji – https://www.instagram.com/krisstokaji/
Emily Moon – https://www.instagram.com/moondrum/
Aaron Lecesne – https://www.instagram.com/aaronlecesne/