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Monday, 22 February 2021

Mick Dillingham Interviews : Star Collector


(Photo Credit : Jan Heuninck 2019)

When Don mentioned there was a brand new album ‘Game Day’ by Canadian pop rock outfit Star Collector, their first since 2006’s excellent ‘Hundred-Bullet-Proof’, I was on it like a bear to a honey pot.  I’ve long been a big fan of the band, great melodic heart felt songs, original and masterfully played, high energy without ever being noisy, beautifully crafted sonic adventure productions…basically everything I look for in a joyful and gratifying and classy listening experience. 

Built around the superbly multitalented Vic Wayne, the band are also blessed with one hell of a guitarist in Steve Monteith who brings that same special joyful blazing and inventive magic to the band sound as Whit Williams does to Cotton Mather. Once it became abundantly clear that ‘Game Day’ is a more than perfect addition to their already four album legacy of greatness so far it was clear that we needed to sit down with the main man himself. Allowing us to run helter-skelter through the story of the band so far.   

So as Department S would put it…Is Vic There?  .

"My first loves were The Monkees “Hey hey… didn’t you call your band, Star Collector?” and The Beatles (d-uh) as a wee youngster. At ten, I discovered Alice Cooper after hearing “No More Mr. Nice Guy” on a jukebox at our neighbourhood pizza joint. It was a game changer, and soon after that Led Zeppelin, Aerosmith & Tom Petty. 

Then, at seventeen it was back to the egg, as it were, to The Jam, The Who and the Mod Revival. I also loved Echo & The Bunnymen and Squeeze and, though I came to them a bit later, Big Star, Sloan and Oasis. I still am a huge fan of all these artists. I believe all their influences show up somewhere in our stuff… and proudly!"

"I started at ten as a drummer and had imaginary bands with my friends and my younger brother, Adam, who took piano. We were always trying to write songs, even before we could play. In true Alice form, my very first song was “Death Is Just Around The Corner” which was kind of a “Ballad of Dwight Fry” thing - all creepy and scary! I formed a bunch of teenage bands, mostly crap, but we were yearnin’ n’ learnin’. 

At sixteen, a neighbourhood friend and his friend showed up in my basement unannounced to form a band. I said sure, with the contingency my brother was part of it. That band morphed into a trio after a year with Adam now on bass and the friend, Dave Lawson, on guitar (Everybody sings! Everybody plays!). Hugely against the prevailing grain at the time, we formed a Mod band, suitably called, you guessed it… The Mods! 

Well, at that time in Edmonton, AB, Canada, we thought it worked; not realizing it’d be like calling your band “The Rock & Roll Band”... but, hey, we were teens. Wearing suits a la The Jam caused us all sorts of pain at school but we soon found a small, but supportive, alt music community, which had guys who went on to fame in SNFU & The Pursuit of Happiness. We even flew to Vancouver on my grad weekend to catch The Jam’s last ever North American show. My tale is captured in all its teenage glory in the book, ‘The Jam - The Day I Was There’. 

We wrote a bunch of good tunes, got one song on a comp. after we changed our name to The Standards (hello Weller again…) & then split. Adam & I formed a new wave band (more Bunnymen, U2-ish) called Truth, while Dave briefly joined an early incarnation of alt-country pioneers, Jr. Gone Wild. Truth did an album, ‘Day After Dark’ and then split.

At that point, I moved to Vancouver and started a band that went nowhere, so with the encouragement of my girlfriend at the time, now my lovely wife, I traded in my drums for a guitar and amp. Fortuitously, while waiting tables soon after, I met my long-time collaborator, guitarist/vocalist, Steve Monteith, who we affectionately call ‘The Monkey’ (previously ‘The Full Monteith’), and asked him to join my band, State of Mind. 

I was the lead vocalist and second guitarist and we did well locally. In ’91 we put out an album, ‘The Road Inside’, made a video, won a big Battle of the Bands (“School of Rock! School of Rock!”) and got TV and radio play. But then after a rhythm section change, we became the moodier Dear God, which really was more Bunnymen meets STP than Mod. We did an album, ‘Real Horrorshow’ in 93 that I’m still really proud of, charted a bit, toured, two videos on Much Music (Canada’s MTV) & then imploded… *BIG exhale*"

"After a brief hiatus, I get a call out of the blue from Dave saying he’s moving to Vancouver and would I be interested in writing together again? We’d had good chemistry as teens so, why the hell not? We wrote the first album, ‘Demo Model 256’ in a span of about five months and then needed a band to record it. Enter Ringo (Rene Lafleur) on drums, who would go on to be with me for over twenty years. As fate would have it, Dave left near the end of recording, so re-enter Steve to take back lead guitar/harmony duties. 

We’d traded a vintage Vox amp to well-known producer, GGGarth Richardson (Red Hot Chili Peppers, Catherine Wheel), in exchange for mixing the album - on his condition that he dug the tunes. Fortunately, he dug the tunes. It featured “Skyscraper” (which we made a video for), “Slowfade” which appeared on a TV show here in Canada & a few other nuggets like“ The Deep End” and “Motorcycle” which we still play to this day. We also added bassist, Rob Medic, and started gigging. 

The next album ‘Black-Eyed Soul’, which GGGarth was also involved with, was recorded at The Warehouse which is a big studio in Vancouver owned by Bryan Adams, co-produced by yours truly and Dean Maher (Hedley). We were recording next door to Canadian legends Sloan as they finished their ‘Pretty Together’ album. 

Considering Steve had taken over from Dave (also as my co-writer for a bunch of songs) and Rob leaving amicably, making way for Screamin’ Jonny Leamon on bass, it all went rather smoothly.  It included “So Beautiful” which charted on a few stations here, “Ten Feet Tall” (a crowd fave), “When The Pill Goes Down”, and “Have You Seen Suzie?” which we still do as well."

"Around this time, a mutual photographer friend suggested to Kevin Kane from The Grapes of Wrath, one of my fave & best Canadian bands ever, that he check us out. He wanted to do more producing and we hit it off immediately. We agreed to co-produce our next album ‘Flash-Arrows & The Money Shot’, which featured, yet again, a new bassist, Tyson ‘Marv Pontiac’ Maiko (Leeroy Stagger, Gob) and a looser, rawer, garage-ier sound but still power pop, just more power! Steve loved having Kevin on board as they’re both real guitarists while I ’m more of a faux, windmills- n’-flash rhythm player. 

Tyson was also a monster bass player, Ringo was at the top of his game, and we pre-productioned the shit outta that album. We did the whole thing, start to finished mixes, in fourteen days! Kevin also played & sang on the record. It featured some of my fave co-writes with Steve (“Start To Shine”, “Overpass”, “Firebird”, “Get It For Free!”) as well as co-writes with Kevin (“Bounty On The Mutiny”) and Dave, including the first single, “Love And All It Kills”, which got on radio/tv and comps.

So, we finish this album, and, you guessed it, another bass change! … Spinal Tap drummers got nothin’ on us. Tyson leaves and Shane Hayes joins us. In between these, we go to Europe for the first time & play The Cavern in Liverpool for IPO and dates in London & Germany with my brother Adam, back on bass. For the two of us, playing The Cavern was like a childhood dream come true and doing it with Steve & Ringo, two of the best guys you’ll ever meet, well, that’s one for the memory books. 

Okay, so Shane joins & the next year we go back to Europe, do the Cavern again, and add more dates in England, Germany and Holland. We called it the ‘Finding Netherlands’ Tour, and again, twas great fun, booting around Europe in a big truck owned and driven by our road manager, Bjorn. Bjorn had his own band, Locas In Love, which were getting popular in Germany. 

He was a godsend… picked us up from the airport in UK, drove us all over the freakin’ place for weeks and then back to Gatwick airport before turning around and making the long drive back to Germany… for a pittance!. We get some great international press, are hosted by the Mayor of a small German town whose name escapes me, and Shane wins a drinking (puking?) contest with some guy, winning a pair of sweet shoes out of the deal."

"We go back home and record ‘Hundred-Bullet-Proof’ again with Kevin and the same engineer, Ryen Froggatt. We even get Adam to come sing on a tune, “Thrilled, I’m Sure” with me that Dave and I wrote a few years before. It was almost like having The Mods back together again… well, not exactly, but it makes good copy, as they say! 

The album included the single “The Evil Room” about when Adam, Dave and I were teens in my parents’ basement in a tucked away room of my Dad’s, where we held hands, séance style, in the dark & made a pact to one day be bigger than The Beatles… Haha… as I often say onstage, “And look, we’re all taller than them! “Ba Dum Bum. “Thank you, there’ll be another show at 9:30; try the veal!”. 

I wrote that with Dave long-distance-style and it’s one I’m quite fond of. Steve and I also wrote the title track, and I came up with crowd fave “Play A New Song” about when you’re playing to a room of ten in some small town and the one-hand clapping is deafening, but not so much as to drown out the drunken calls of “Play “Freebird’!”  

Ah, original music… Unfortunately, Shane leaves just before the tour, so we recruit engineer, Ryen, for a crash course and do Europe for the third time. This time we get to Scotland as well and between Ryen and Ringo it’s non-stop belly laughs. Funny tale… we’re heading out of London after staying with some friends (one of whom, Jim Drury, knew Squeeze & wrote a book, ‘Squeeze: Song by Song’ - nice!), and Ringo realizes he’s lost his passport! Uggh… he’s frantic, so we call our friends back in London.  

That night, a despondent Ringo is back to his jovial cheery beery self as a snoopy neighbour of our friends’ who was spying through the curtains wondering what a bunch of ruffians were doing at her neighbours’, saw it fall out of Ringo’s pack & dutifully returned it. Crisis averted."

"So, we play for a couple more years with Adam, Kevin & others filling in on bass; then take a hiatus in 2009. My wife and I have a couple incredible sons; Steve becomes a… wait for it…  marathon runner!  Ringo buys a restaurant. We’re all still pals but it was time for a break. A few years later, a musician friend, Derek MacDonald, who ended up playing organ on a couple tunes on the new album, asks if we’d be up for a brief reunion. We slowly started playing again, not a ton and not writing yet, but enjoying it immensely.

So, in 2017, some serious shite happens in my world and inspires me to start writing again. Once I’d started, the floodgates opened and this album, ‘Game Day’ just poured out. Not totally without changes mind you, as we parted ways with Shane again during recording and Adam came back as bassist. Also, after two decades, Ringo had a kid and he and his wife moved to Edmonton so, in 2018 we added new ace stick man, Adrian Buckley, who also happened to be an engineer extraordinaire. He recorded, mixed, and mastered ‘Game Day; and I produced. 

Steve co-wrote a few songs with me too, including the title track/second single, which is a real personal fave and the cherry on top is Adam’s incredible Vapors meets Foxton meets Entwhistle bass line. Fuck-ing-Love-it! First single, “Rip It Off” has been getting some sweet love already, airplay, reviews, playlists/compilations and just came out a couple weeks ago. 

Steve did a fab video for it and a second one for the song “Game Day” is almost done. Songs like “Super Zero Blues” & “Green Eyes” really feature the others’ musicianship, and it spans pop “Cayenne & Caramel” to acoustic “Hook, Line & Singer” to dark n’ heavy “Super Zero Blues” all sprinkled with my Weller/Townshend/McCulloch lyrical thing. ‘Game Day’ took a year to make &, though it took longer than anything I’d done before, I’m fiercely proud of the result and it’s very personal to me."

"The songwriting process for me almost always comes from chords first, melody second, and lyrics last. When I co-write music with Steve, or anyone, the music is usually the base and I find lyrical subject matter and melody that suits its tone and mood. Sometimes, I may have strong themes or ideas lyrically, but they rarely are structured or finished before the music is close. 

I remember hearing Keith Richards say, “the songs are out there, man, and I just channel them” (paraphrasing) vs. Paul Simon who structures his songwriting like a job – hard work, dedicated time, and resolve (inspiration too, of course) but of the two diametrically opposed approaches. I’m somewhere in the middle. Usually, inspiration hits and gets me messing about on my acoustic, refining and a lot of “try this… nahh… try that… umm, that’s trash… how ’bout this… hmm, maybe…”. 

Even after saying all that, it’s still a bit of a mystery to me sometimes. I do know that the more you write, the more you can sift out the poop and keep the decent stuff… and the more you recognize your own strengths and weaknesses. 

I love producing our stuff, partially out a need to control (haha), but mostly because I have ideas of how the songs sound in my cranium. I’m still not a technical producer, but I’ve been blessed to work with some great engineers, Adrian included, and co-producers, especially Kevin. 

In fact, Kevin did a wicked guitar solo duel with Steve on “Funeral Party” to close the album that had me, Adam and Adrian hanging on for dear life! As for the guitar sound of the band, well, again, that’s mostly down to Steve, my partner in crime, Running Man, and Robin to my Batman (minus the tights) lo these many moons."

"So far, the feedback has been incredible! We’ve only been sending music out for play and review for a couple weeks and have been added to Spotify’s Indie Guitar playlist, Say It With Garage Flowers Best of 2021 So Far, Banks Radio Australia, Ice Cream Man’s ‘Chimes That Reel & Rock’ compilation and played on TargetRadioUK, The Music Authority, Plastico Elastico, Poptopia Parkway By the time this is published, Power Pop Rock, Power Pop Overdose, The Big Takeover with Jack Rabid, an Interview on Say It With Garage Flowers and Mr. Suave’s Modcast will be added to the collection.

As for plans, well, Covid has changed everything for everyone so we’re pivoting, as they say and focusing on videos, airplay and social to promote ‘Game Day’. Playing live is so much fun but whattayagonnado?! If there’s a bright side to all this craziness for me, though, it’s that I’ve written about two-thirds of our next album already!"

(Photo Credit : Jan Heuninck 2019)

You can listen to and buy Game Day and the Star Collector Back Catalogue here.. A full review of the album will appear on I Don't Hear A Single before the end of the month.


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