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Starbenders: Blooming in Rock N’ Roll

Starbenders are a rock band made up of Kimi Shelter (lead singer and guitarist), Aaron Lecesne (bassist), Emily Moon (drummer), and Kriss Tokaji (guitarist). This band is taking the rock scene by storm and blossoming in the music industry. In the interview, Kimi described the group's sound as “a toothy grin with a knife behind its back ready to pounce”. The band formed in the vision of Kimi, as Aaron discusses below, and they wouldn’t be where they are today without the “once-in-a-lifetime” fortuity that brought them together. Starbenders currently have two studio albums: Heavy Petting, and Love Potions. They will also be releasing a full-length album titled Take Back The Night, releasing September 22 of this year.

Read below to hear more from the members of Starbenders!

I absolutely love each of your styles. What is an essential fashion item for you?

Kimi: I always wear a cross earring. I love single earrings!

Aaron: Thank you! I actually had a bit of difficulty trying to think of a single type of item that I always need, but then I looked up and saw the absolutely obscene number of jackets I own - I had to mount a steel pipe as a hanger bar running the full width of my room to hold all of them - and I guess that means I really like jackets? Even in the summer, I always have to bring one with me because I get cold in most indoor AC in the south. Plus few things are as rock n' roll as a cool jacket. So I'd say that's my essential item.

Emily: For shows, it’s electrical tape, but also a black leather jacket is a must-have at all times.

How did you all get together and form Starbenders?

Aaron: It was one of those instances of the stars aligning perfectly. The four of us getting together is the sort of thing that only comes along once in a lifetime, and if anything had been even slightly different, there'd be no Starbenders today. Kimi and I have a musical relationship that predates the band, and when she came up with this vision for Starbenders, I was immediately on board. It was a rare moment for two musicians that knew exactly who we were and what we were about. There was no, "Well, let's see what happens." We were either going to do this or die trying, and from Day 1 we were thinking big. But the band developed its own identity when Kriss and Emily entered. Emily was the last piece of the puzzle to fall into place, and we found her purely by chance. Once that happened, Starbenders became something that was and still is bigger than any of us. The band has a life of its own that, at least for me, is still surprising with its autonomy and character.

Who inspires you?

Emily: I draw a lot of inspiration from some of the greats like Mick Fleetwood and Charlie Watts but Karen Carpenter has always truly inspired me. She was an absolute killer drummer during a time when women weren’t playing drums and her attitude when she played was just so her, so genuine. She always looked so happy behind a drum kit.

Aaron: These days it's less a question of "what" than "who," really. This time a year ago, I was in the hospital fighting off a rare and aggressive case of pneumonia. To be perfectly and uncomfortably frank, staring death in the face has a way of causing you to not sweat the small stuff and appreciate the little things. And that appreciation has given way to inspiration. I see the world a bit differently than I did before, and I find a lot of fascination in simple things and situations. I know this might sound a little dumb or contrived, but I'm not kidding when I say that the main street of a small town or the texture of a wood floor or a few blades of grass is enough to hold my interest nearly to the point of obsession. You can't help but be inspired by those little representations of reality when you're just grateful to still be a part of it, because a year ago it absolutely was not a guarantee that I would be here to experience it today.

Kimi: I’m inspired by all of the usual rock n’ roll deities; Mercury, Bowie, Mick Jagger, and on and on. But I also get super inspired by things like the weather, and my environment. As well as the life experiences of myself and those around me.

Kriss: My musical inspirations include Led Zeppelin, Thin Lizzy, Van Halen, Black Sabbath, The Cure, Oasis, and Prince. I’ve always been mainly drawn to bands as a whole rather than just the individuals… Even with Prince, my favorite stuff of his was always when he was with The Revolution or New Power Generation. The music that bands make together is so much stronger to me.

What makes you stand out from other bands?

Emily: That's easy - we have Kimi Shelter. She’ll belt the gnarliest death scream then rip an insane guitar solo and then spin in circles all within minutes, she is such an amazing musician and performer. Simply put, no one rivals her right now.

Why rock-and-roll?

Kimi: Rock n’ roll has always been: come one, come all. I think because we followed the path of our authentic selves, we ended up at the same temple that a lot of people have found themselves in. That of a fuzzy, electric womb… allowing all of us to be reborn into this world as the people we’ve always wanted to be… rock n’ roll is only a pilgrimage to a freer place, Valhalla.

When did you first start creating music?

Kriss: I started playing guitar at age around age 10. My father introduced me to the instrument, and I took it and ran with it. I was already trying to form bands in middle school, learning different songs, and coming up with my own ideas. The guitar really opened me up creatively right from the beginning.

Aaron: The experience of making music started pretty early on in my childhood. You kind of can't help it when you grow up in a church. As far as creating music, I think as a teenager with a guitar I was eager to express the part of me that otherwise didn't have a ton of confidence in daily life. Music in general, and my own terrible writing in particular, filled in the blanks as I grew up and started to find out who I was and where I fit in the world. For me, it was like, "I don't know how to say what's on my mind, but I can play it for you."

What goes through your mind as you are performing?

Emily: Oh, so many random things but also nothing at all. Some shows I am completely in the moment whereas other times I find myself thinking about food.

Aaron: Not much if anything at all, to be perfectly honest. I don't know what it's like for other performers, but for me, the show is a fully immersive experience. It's one of those few times when my mind is empty and quiet, and I'm fully present in the moment. The rest of my waking life is a superhighway of overstimulation, distraction, and a running gag reel of multiple internal monologues all talking at once and fighting for attention. Onstage, all of that just goes away. There's nothing but movement, muscle memory, and the pulse of the song. With music, everything fits together and makes sense - chaotic but at least coherent - and I just can't say the same for the rest of reality.

Is there anything new coming up for you guys?

Aaron: Oh yeah, a lot actually. What we're most excited about is the release of our next full-length album Take Back The Night on September 22. We put a lot of ourselves and what we were going through into that record and we're beyond stoked to share it with the world. At the time that I'm writing this, we're due to leave and start our headline US tour with The Haunt in three days, and we'll follow that up with some late-summer festivals before a UK tour in the fall.

That comes after touring Europe and the States earlier in the year. It's been an absolutely insane one so far and it's hard to believe we're only halfway through it. We've been on tour way more than we've been at home.

What song is your favorite to perform?

Kriss: Blood Moon has become my recent favorite. It’s hard to pick one overall, but that one just has so much power and aggression as the first song of the set that I can’t help but get really fired up when we play it

Emily: I really enjoy playing Push - it's just so groovy and I love being super locked in with Aaron’s bass part. The whole song just feels like a chill ride.

Where do you get your inspiration for songwriting?

Kimi: It can be anything from being on the outside and looking into the lives of the people around me to a completely fictional story. I never try to consciously dictate the direction an idea will go in, I’m just the passenger that follows the breadcrumbs. You just have to find the flow state and hang on.

What is your favorite thing to do during the summer?

Emily: Anything that involves water and hot dogs.

Kimi: It is quite nice to be reptilian and find a hot rock to lounge on.

Kriss: I’m a big fan of the ocean in the summer. The beach is a place of tranquility for me, so any chance I get to be in or near some water in the summer, it’s always my favorite.

Aaron: I have a husky who demands lots of attention and exercise, and *her* favorite thing is going on walks and then sleeping in the air conditioning inside, so that's pretty much what we do when I'm home.

How would you describe your band/music?

Kimi: It's the sound of a toothy grin with a knife behind its back ready to pounce.

Starbenders are currently on tour! Make sure to check out their shows and click on the link below to listen (you won’t regret it)!!!

Written by Grace Bugin

Photography by Weeks Portraits (@weeksportraits on IG),

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