Backed by synthesizers and disco four-four time, Torquil Campbell sings a closing refrain as worrying to parents as it is reassuring: “Don’t be scared/they will do things we never dared.”
It’s a characteristically dreamy-yet-mature line from the frontman of the Canadian indie band Stars. “They” are children – his and those of fellow musicians – who he predicts will be getting into situations their parents never dreamed of. The line ends The Theory of Relativity, the opening track from Stars’ upcoming album The North.
“Our kids are coming into their own lives now. They are talking to us. And we’re still here and we are still friends, and there’s a lot to celebrate even amidst the terrible [mess] of life,” Campbell says by phone from Niagara-on-the-Lake.
In fact, he sounds rushed. He had to delay our interview by an hour because his three-year-old daughter Ellington had a tantrum. Now he’s spending the afternoon in a very un-rock-star way: running errands, in a Subaru.
It’s been more than a decade since Stars broke big as part of the achingly cool indie-rock collective that includes Broken Social Scene, Metric and others, and created a new momentum for Canadian rock internationally. But now, about to release its sixth studio album, Stars is firmly among a generation of musicians who are having kids and settling into a kind of rock ‘n’ roll middle age. Their sound is as retro-lush as ever.
But the lyrics hint at a group of people entering a whole new life phase. Inevitably, parenthood means making changes. And like every other parent, each musician handles it a little differently.
Stars: “It’s always been a family”
Eight weeks after the birth of her daughter Delphine in the spring of last year, Stars singer and guitarist Amy Millan was back on stage in Toronto’s Yonge-Dundas Square performing in front of 10,000 people. Most new moms in Canada get a year off for maternity leave, she says semi-grudgingly. Yet most don’t find themselves having their makeup and hair prepped for a pre-concert photo shoot while also breastfeeding a daughter.
“I have a mantra right now: Unconventional doesn’t necessarily mean dysfunctional,“ Millan says. “[Delphine] is going to have a life that is already unlike that of any other kid I know. She was on 27 [airplane] flights before she was a year old. But she’s cheerful and we’re lucky.”
Millan and her partner/husband, Stars multi-instrumentalist Evan Cranley, plan to stay busy while their daughter is still young (she’s under two) and less rooted. They’re going to bring her along for the band’s extensive tour beginning this fall, hitting cities from Vancouver to Manila, says Cranley. Accompanying Delphine will be a full-time nanny. At the same time, Campbell is bringing his three-year-old, helped by his wife, actress Moya O’Connell, for as much of the tour as possible.
“Kids change the circumstances, but it doesn’t really change the feeling of it all. It’s still the same. It’s always been a family, and now it’s a slightly bigger one,” Campbell says. He lives in Niagara-on-the-Lake while his wife performs at the Shaw Festival; in the winter, they live in Vancouver. The rest of the band is based in Montreal, complicating logistics.
“It was always the goal to be able to do this together with the family,” Millan says.
Martha Wainwright: “We‘re going to work, work, work”
Shortly after her now two-year-old son Arcangelo was born, Martha Wainwright regularly brought him on stage while opening for her brother Rufus. It gave her added notoriety as a performing mom.
“I didn’t have a nanny,” she says, “so I needed to bring him on stage at some point because he was just being held [by a crew member] on the side of the stage when I was singing. And because we were on stages like the Royal Albert Hall and Carnegie Hall and places like that, it became exciting. When I took him on the road and played the Sydney Opera House for my own tour, I wanted to do it as a document for him, being so tiny, to be on all these major stages. It was a proud moment for me.”
Now, when on tour, Wainwright brings a nanny, since her husband Brad Albetta, a bass player, is also on stage. At home in New York, Arcangelo attends daycare but, given her peripatetic schedule, Wainwright she often takes him with her to appointments throughout the day.
She plans to bring Arcangelo on tour this October after the release of her new album. “And we’re going to work, work, work. Especially in the first three months, it will be a very heavy schedule. There will be times when we’ll have to wake up at five in the morning and get to the airport, you know? And it really is asking a lot.
“Of course, if he’s not happy and it’s not going well, I’m going to have to rethink it,” she adds. “But we’re going to try and make it as good for him as possible.”
The Dears: “There are low times and high times”
Natalia Yanchak, keyboardist and singer for Montreal-based rockers The Dears, has been blogging for years about music, writing and Neptune, her six-year-old daughter with husband (and group frontman) Murray Lightburn. The couple is expecting another child in October.
“I’ve always been very involved in the planning side of touring, so [parenthood] has just added another new dimension to problem-solving,” Yanchak says by phone from a tour stop in Istanbul, where the band is performing.
The first show the band played after Neptune’s birth was in California at the Coachella festival, when the baby was eight months old. “It was scary. But my philosophy in dealing with life is that you just have to dive in headfirst and just make it work somehow,” Yanchak says.
The alternative is worse, she says: “The first show that we didn’t bring her to was when we went to Mexico City [when] she was about two years old. That was really hard for us. The promoter wanted us to come for a whole week and do press. That was tough.”
The birth of the couple’s second child will mean a lengthier gap between albums and still more months until they head out on tour.
“You always have to think about how [you’re] going to get by ” Yanchak reflects. “Most people rely on that paycheque every two weeks. They can plan their finances accordingly. For me, I haven’t had a regular paycheque in over a decade. I don’t even think about that any more. There are low times and high times. But it all kind of works out in the end.”
Thee Silver Mt. Zion Memorial Orchestra: “It’s far from romantic”
“It’s not a small thing to add a child and a nanny to our group,” says Jessica Moss, violinist and vocalist in the Montreal-based indie rock group Thee Silver Mt. Zion Memorial Orchestra.
Moss and her partner Efrim Menuck, a singer and guitarist who is also in the band Godspeed You! Black Emperor, have a three-year-old named Ezra, whom they’ve taken with them on a number of tours. That can be especially difficult for a smaller, lower-budget act: Hiring extra help adds means extra costs, as does a tour bus which the band didn’t need before. The group has been together for a decade and now sometimes gets touring grants to help offset expenses.
“My band has been incredibly supportive of us bringing our kid on tour, and I value that hugely,” Moss says, noting the strong support of two friends who have been her son’s nanny, in addition to help from her mother and sister. Without them, continuing in music likely wouldn’t have been possible.
“To be in a band, and to be a mom in a band, you have to really, really, really want it. You have to really want to be making that music and making that art. It just gets harder and harder.”
“You have to ignore anybody who might think that this is a narcissistic thing to do,” she adds. “I guess that’s the flip side of people romanticising what we’re doing, which is also not right. It’s far from romantic. Like, you don’t sleep.”