“Starlight Theatre are the essential live band. Four guys who deliver well-crafted songs with a contemporary pop/ambient flavour; fabulous!” - Sue Marchant (BBC).
Starlight Theatre are a band that thinks big. You can hear it in the skyward-soaring optimism of their songs, in the emotions their music evokes and in the passion with which they perform. It manifests itself in lyrics with widescreen themes and in the intensity with which frontman Jason Tarau sings them. Heck, it’s even there in the foursome’s facial hair – beards nearing ZZ Top proportions and, on bassist Josh Belz, a striking handlebar moustache.
Born in Brisbane in 2011, but now balancing time between London and Brisbane, Starlight Theatre are a band bursting with ambition. Their aim is to write songs that stand the test of time; that they could play aged 50 and still have an arena howling along to. Their influences are, inevitably, big name acts who exist as much in the present as they do in the past – U2, Red Hot Chili Peppers, The Beatles and Justin Timberlake among them.
In twelve months, they have played almost 200 shows, supported Evermore in 1000- capacity venues up the east coast and released an EP made with ARIA Award winning producer Magoo that rewarded them with radio play. When one song from that EP, The Window, picked up interest in Britain, the band upped sticks immediately. The EP itself 'Castles, Clocks & Cathedrals' entered the iTunes top 10 in the quartet's home country Australia. No small feat for a completely independent ensemble.
“We agreed that if we were going to put at least ten years of our lives in to this project, it had to be in either London or New York,” says Colin Moore, Starlight Theatre’s toweringly tall guitarist and principal songwriter.
The Window remains in the band’s repertoire, but with new producer Jon O’Mahony, it has been rerecorded to suit their new sound. It’s sleeker and more spacious, with hints of the electronica that has crept in to the band’s more recently written material. Crucially, it has a new vocal.
“I sing differently to how I did when I joined the band,” says Jason, a former R&B singer who, aged 17, reached the final week of Australian Idol. “I used to have a very smooth vocal. It’s become a little grittier and dirtier, but I still sing with soul.”
Starlight Theatre’s story begins when Jason heard through a friend that three musicians were in search of a singer. Colin and bassist Josh Belz (whose father wrote a song for the Sydney Olympics which became a cult hit in Australia) had played together since meeting in their teens at university in Rockhampton, Queensland. Their previous band had been signed and were set to record their debut album when the singer suddenly quit. The pair regrouped with drummer Josh, the son of classically-trained musicians, but decided only to continue if they could find a standout singer.
Meanwhile, disillusioned by his stint on Idol, Jason (the son of Romanian refugees, whose father escaped Ceausescu’s dictatorship by swimming across the Danube) was considering giving up music, having grown tired of the R&B he had been singing in clubs throughout his teens. He had tried out in other bands, but nothing stuck until he met the already-named Starlight Theatre.
“I’d grown up with R&B and boy bands, but I wanted to make music with more substance that was still soulful,” recalls Jason. “I wasn’t sure what sort of music that might be until I met these guys. We clicked straight away.”
Jason’s emotive vocals suited Colin’s grand, spacious, textured rock songs. Hundreds of shows saw Jason evolve as a frontman and he began to contribute to the songwriting. With a move abroad in mind, he spent three months in States, honing his writing with a host of producers including Adrian Newman (Michael Franti, Plain White Tees). He took the beginnings of several songs with him, notably ‘Oceans’, sending parts back to the rest of the band to work on.
Last summer, Starlight Theatre made the move to London, where they met Manager/Producer Jon O’Mahony. Or rather, Jon agreed to meet them after the cheap demo CD they sent him got stuck in his car stereo.
“Jon was on holiday somewhere in the countryside where he couldn’t get any radio reception,” explains Colin. “He had a bunch of demo CDs and, fortuitously, he put ours in first. The CD was so cheap the weight didn’t register and it was stuck in there for a fortnight. In the end, he had to take his car to a garage to get it removed.”
Sessions last summer saw almost an albums worth of material written and recorded. New songs ‘Like a Lion’ and ‘Wolves’ introduced an electronic element to the music, but retained the band’s anthemic sound and punchy singalong lyrics.
Wolves, the most electronic song of the band’s set, which boasts synths and drum loops, is an underdog story, subconsciously written – they reckon – about the band. Colin had the opening riff, which he had been playing a while during sound checks. One day, at the flat the four share in Kensington, they jammed to the riff and came up with the song.
“Wolves is about the little guy taking on the big, faceless guys,” says Colin. “Which subconsciously I guess could be us and the music industry. Sometimes it does feel like creeping into a wolves’ den.”
Oceans is a song the band have had kicking around for nearly 18 months, but only since it’s London recording has it found a home in the groups live set.
“Oceans began at my house on a baby grand piano,” says Jason. “With a view of the ocean? Er, yeah, on my computer screen. It’s about temptation - the battle between good and evil that goes on inside everyone. I believe most people are inherently good, but occasionally everyone has the urge to do something they shouldn’t.”
As one festival goer put it; “Imagine George Michael dressed as ZZ Top playing U2 and you're not even close. Ubercool, superb festival set!” Stay tuned