By Jonathan Kaplan
If Quentin Tarantino was throwing an “Eyes Wide Shut”-style secret-society swingers soiree, The Chinese Stars would most likely be the night’s featured entertainment. The band is kind of like that creepy scumbag that hits on you at a party as he bobs his head to an imaginary beat. You’re thoroughly weirded out by his advances, but he’s so sure of himself that you go to his apartment and fuck him anyway.
Not classified as your everyday dance punk band, The Stars feel like a whole different kind of body-shaking experience that sends a slimy commotion up your spine. Hailing from Providence, Rhode Island, the group formed in 2002 after Eric Paul and Craig Kureck’s previous band Arab on Radar broke up. They wanted to continue the strange and somewhat erotic genre of pseudo pop rock, so they joined former members of fellow Providence favorites Six Finger Satellite and the new and rare sensation was born.
Singer Eric Paul’s vocal style has been described as disturbing with a shaky eeriness about it that feels like a stabbing victim flirting with its attacker, gasping for breath. With lyrics like “there is passion in the slaughterhouse when you’re receiving messages from the dead” only illustrates whatever giggly twisted thoughts swim inside his head. Besides other music, Paul cites multiple literary influences.
“I love Richard Brautigan, Anne Sexton, Charles Bukowski, E.E. Cummings and Norman Mailer just to name a few. I also find inspiration the same place a lot of other writers find theirs, in love, sex and death. It is always easiest to write about the things that we struggle with and struggle to understand. I can’t think of any other subject matter that more people yearn to understand. I really don’t think there will ever be enough lyrics or poems about these subjects. As a species we will never be at peace with any of them and what a wealth of inspiration this is.”
Aside from the androgyny and mildly uncomfortable performance resembling a modern-day Axl Rose—minus the sweet braids and undeserved sense of accomplishment—the tone of this band meshes so well with the overall feel of the band, using obscure vintage guitars to create a trebly squeal that’s unmistakable to the Chinese Stars one-of-a-kind sound. Along with Craig Kureck on drums and V. Von Ricci V holding the dual role of bass and keyboard, keeping a disco back-beat that makes standing still quite difficult, despite your efforts to remain looking cool in front of your friends.
Music is not only therapeutic for the listener, but even more so for the performer. I asked Eric what feelings he wants the listeners/audience to get from the music and with that I got the feeling he has from it as well.
“There is never one feeling that I am trying to force my listeners/audiences to feel. I believe it changes from record to record, band to band, and even night to night. When playing in Arab On Radar, I was at a very difficult point in my life where I always felt raw, angry and confused and this was the feelings I wanted my listeners to have. But while in Chinese Stars I had gotten over a lot of those things that were making me feel this way. So while making Chinese Stars records I am getting different feelings out of the music. I am now trying to deal with things in a more constructive and intellectual way and I think it translates into the music. I noticed you get back from people what you put into it. I have noticed that the general feeling surrounding The Chinese Stars is less visceral and unhealthy, which directly reflects my state of mind while writing and performing in the band. But there are still nights where I still feel downright nuts inside and that old crazy self rears its ugly head.”
Providence is a small city in the smallest state in the country, making it feel more like a big town. Chinese Stars aren’t the only obscure act to hail from The Renaissance city, with veteran chaotic noise machines like Lightning Bolt and Daughters, who they still have an upstanding beef with for reasons undisclosed. But like all cities and communities, the atmosphere changes over time.
“For me some of the excitement of Providence is gone. But I feel a bit biased because I lived and was a part of it’s most prolific and exciting time. I usually refer to them as the Fort Thunder days. It just was such an amazing point in Providence music. There were so many amazing bands and venues and most of it was centered on the amazing nights we all had at Fort Thunder. At that time it was very close knit and all the bands were supportive and helped foster each other’s careers. Where as now I feel there is a little bit more isolationism in the scene here, mostly because the scene lacks a home. After the building that Fort Thunder was in got sold off I felt that it really had a devastating effect on everyone. Then we had the station fire which made all the city officials and cops fucking nuts, so every time a good thing begins to incubate it gets shut down. So it makes it very difficult for a scene to settle in somewhere…Although recently these promoters called Paint It Pink have been throwing great shows and I can see an excitement starting to brew again. They do their shows at legal venues so it has a real chance of lasting. Also, in the last few years there has been a few awesome bands coming into their own like Tinsel Teeth, Made In Mexico, Sensitive Hearts, The Body, White Mice and also some of the more veteran acts have been active again like Landed, and Drop Dead so this all makes me feel very hopeful.”
The bands latest effort, “Heaven on Speed Dial,” was released this week on their own label, Anchor Brain.
The Chinese Stars play October 25 at Empty Bottle, 1035 N. Western.