In contrast to other musical cultures, rock 'n' roll is largely lacking a tradition of mentorship in which older, celebrated musicians are expected to help cultivate and instruct the next generation. Whether this is because pop music careers generally don't last long enough to yield elder statesmen or due to rock's romantic attachment to its anti-authoritarian origin myth, the result is that direct inter-generational tutorship is a rarity, making local band Starparty an intriguing case study.
A power trio comprised of students at SW Portland's Wilson High School, Starparty formed at the local branch of the Paul Green School of Rock, where they were taught by Ben Barnett, known locally for his band Kind of Like Spitting. Starparty's taut, occasionally dissonant, highly melodic music proudly wears its admiration for Barnett on its sleeve, next to patches for other Northwest staples like Death Cab for Cutie and Built to Spill.
I spoke with Starparty singer and guitarist Caleb Misclevitz on the occasion of his band opening for Lifesavas and Starfucker at a Music in the Schools benefit concert to fundraise for music programs in Portland Public Schools, a dream slot they earned by winning the first annual MITS Battle of the Bands.
MERCURY: Was Ben Barnett influential for you and Starparty?
CALEB MISCLEVITZ: YES in all caps. When I started taking lessons from Ben, I was learning more about life than I was about guitar. The first day I met him, we didn't even play anything. He just gave me a list of records to listen to, and told me not to show my parents because he might have spelled the names of their records wrong, and didn't want anyone to think he couldn't spell. I think the biggest thing he gave us is our knowledge of bands that he listened to before we were four years old. These weren't even popular bands. The only way we could have known about them is from someone who toured with half of them. He's definitely the reason I listen to bands like the Halo Benders, Built to Spill, Superchunk, Sloan, Braid, Jawbreaker....
He also brought me out of this phase of writing where I'd stick to all sorts of formulas and rules and stuff. I had always heard about knowing rules, and then breaking them. He definitely taught me how to break rules—that sometimes the wrong note is the right note. Oh! And it was great how he subtly bragged about his friends in high places. One time we were rehearsing a cover of "Soul Meets Body," and he walked in with Ben Gibbard on the phone to show him what his kids could do.
How do you feel that "adult" Portland bands and the Portland music community at large could better support younger musicians and bands?
By taking younger bands on tour. Not just for the sake of promoting younger bands, but if they're genuinely good, there should be no reason not to kidnap some groovy new musicians just because they're not their own size. Also more all-ages venues would be nice. I know Seattle has the Vera Project. Something like that would be great in Portland... Also, the adult music community at large should go to more all-ages shows. You never know... there could be something great that's being missed.
Are you doing anything special to prepare for your MITS performance?
We have a band high five. We cross our arms and high five each other in some outlandish fashion that somehow forms a star in the middle. Wasn't my idea.
Starparty play the third annual Music in the Schools benefit concert on Thursday, June 11, at Cleveland High School.