Starcrawler Keeps Hollywood Hot ‘n’ Heavy
Arrow de Wilde, lead singer of fast-rising L.A. punk band Starcrawler, is becoming the indie scene’s latest “It Girl,” thanks to her powerful vocals, ultra-confident and dynamic stage presence, and countercultural-cool fashion sense. She admits that she’s still working on processing her new status, though: “It was always a goal, but I never actually thought it would happen the way it did. It’s humbling and kind of surreal.”
When Starcrawler’s self-titled debut album was released in 2018, it caused a stir in the alternative scene – though the band was already notorious in L.A., thanks to live shows that found de Wilde strutting stages while spitting fake blood at adoring audiences as her bandmates backed her with musical chops well beyond their young years. In fact, when Starcrawler formed in 2015, the members were still in high school. De Wilde admits that making music her priority over classes was not always easy. “Senior year was so hectic because I could only miss seven days or I wouldn’t be able to graduate. It was a whole ordeal. I had to get all these papers signed every time I had to leave [to tour]. It was a lot, trying to manage that.”
She did manage to graduate, in 2017, and things are much easier now that she and her bandmates can concentrate solely on music. The results of this devoted work ethic are on display on Starcrawler’s second album, Devour You, which is set for an October 11 release. Early reviews are positive, indicating that their early success was no fluke, but in fact just the start of a remarkable career trajectory for a band whose members (de Wilde, guitarist/vocalist Henri Cash, bassist Tim Franco, and drummer Austin Smith) are still not old enough to legally buy alcoholic drinks in the venues they play.
In a way, though, it’s completely unsurprising that de Wilde has attained this level of success at such a young age – she was, in effect, born into this role. Her mother, famed rock photographer Autumn de Wilde, is known for her iconic shots of Beck, Fiona Apple, The White Stripes, Elliott Smith, Wilco, Sonic Youth, and dozens more. Her father, Aaron Sperske, has drummed for Beachwood Sparks, Father John Misty, The Chapin Sisters, and The Pernice Brothers. Growing up in the epicenter of L.A.’s artistic scene, receiving advice and encouragement from such creative and successful parents – and their famous friends – has been a readily acknowledged advantage.
“I always liked hanging out with my mom’s friends and my dad’s friends – I didn’t really like hanging out with other kids [growing up] because they just kinda freaked me out. And, weirdly, when I’m around a bunch of people my age, I still feel like I’m the lame kid in the cafeteria again!” de Wilde says with a laugh. “I guess I’ve always just gravitated toward older people.”
De Wilde credits one mentor with being especially instrumental: Garbage lead singer Shirley Manson, who herself was the It Girl of the mid-’90s, and who took a keen interest in helping de Wilde right from the start. “My mom took photos of her when I was little, so I would hang out with her on-set sometimes. When I was 14, I played a show with a high school band for fun, and we played this little show, and she came. At the time, I was really shy and kind of uncomfortable, if you can believe that! So I was self-conscious onstage. But afterwards she told me, ‘You’re great, you’ve got it – but you can’t be afraid of the audience. You need to look them in the eye. You have to get over the fear.’ And I really listened to that. She’s one of those people that can really make you see what you’re doing without it being like a lecture. It was really inspiring.”
But even before she got such encouragement from Manson and others, de Wilde says she’d always suspected she could become a successful singer. “I always had an underlying confidence,” she says. “I secretly always did. I would listen to a song and imagine me singing it.”
She says that things really clicked into place when she discovered she also has a knack for songwriting. She was in 9th grade at the time. “The first time I ever remember writing a song, I was sitting at dinner with my mom and her boyfriend at some nice restaurant – this was before I was even in a band – and all the sudden, words just started forming in my brain. I didn’t have a phone at the time, so I asked the waiter for a pen, and I wrote [the lyrics] down on a napkin. It was almost like, God or a higher power was like, ‘This is what you’re doing, and this is how to do it.’ It was a total epiphany type of thing.”
Now, despite Starcrawler’s notoriety for outrageous theatrics during their shows, she is adamant that quality songwriting remains the band’s main concern: “We want to make our songs catchy and memorable, still. But we don’t want it to just be a bunch of props onstage and nothing [musically] to back it. Henry will have a guitar riff or some lyrics, or I’ll have an idea, and we’ll start with that, us two – figure out the skeleton of the song, what we want it to be about. And then we’ll bring it to practice and we all add our ideas and tell each other when an idea is bad. We’re pretty comfortable with each other, so if we don’t like something we’ll be like, ‘No, that sounds stupid, I don’t like that,’ but we’re not mean about it.”
This willingness to be open and honest as they craft their material means that there have been some surprising developments along the way. For instance, while Devour You still emphasizes Starcrawler’s established punk aesthetic – as evidenced on the jaunty, intense first single “Bet My Brains” – the band has also begun interjecting other, seemingly unlikely genres into the mix – as on the country-tinged “Born Asleep.”
To de Wilde, this expanded songwriting range is evidence of progress in a professional career that she is determined to continue, because she has no intention of settling for a more “normal” life, now or ever. “I could never imagine myself working in a cubicle or anything like that,” she says. “I can’t imagine having to be somewhere, every day, at the exact same time.” She doesn’t envy the people her age who are currently continuing their education, either: “So glad I didn’t have to go to college,” she says firmly. Even studying for a music degree doesn’t appeal to her: “Not to discourage, but music school doesn’t teach you how to be in a band. You might learn music theory. But it’s not like the Sex Pistols really knew any music theory!”
Happily, she has discovered that touring perfectly aligns with her desire for an unconventional lifestyle. Starcrawler has played across North America, the U.K., and Japan, and has been given slots on several high-profile tours, opening for the likes of Beck, Foo Fighters, Spoon, and The Distillers. She has made it a point to absorb all she can from these experiences. “It’s exciting because you get to tour with these musicians who’ve been doing this for a long time, so I’ve really learned a lot. I’m really grateful for that.”
But while de Wilde is open to advice from all the accomplished musicians around her, she admits she’s never doubted Starcrawler’s ability to hold its own just fine in a live setting: “I wanna put on a show that people are gonna remember. It’s okay if you don’t like it – it’s definitely is not everyone’s cup of tea. But there’s no way you’re gonna forget it. And that’s the main thing: we want to make playing music not just for listening, but put on a real show. And I feel like the only people that do that are pop stars with big-ass productions, but that’s kinda different – I wanna put on something real.”
Touring so extensively has also been useful because seeing the world has actually made her adore her hometown of Los Angeles even more: “I like touring [because] you get to experience everywhere but you don’t actually have to commit,” she says. “I could not live anywhere else.” She reconsiders, then adds, “But I could live in Hawaii, maybe, for a couple of months. Or maybe a year. Maybe if I’m having a midlife crisis or something! But that’s the only other place I’ve been where I’m like, ‘Oh, yeah, I could just stay.’”
No matter where Starcrawler takes her next, though, de Wilde is determined to enjoy her success, which she says is even more amazing than what she’d ever imagined it could be. “I think it’s honestly more than what I expected, in some ways, as far as where I am right now. It’s pretty cool, and it’s definitely exciting.”
Photo by Autumn de Wilde, of course.