You may not have heard of Star Anna yet, but you will. And if you have and have been fortunate enough to see them live, you know how damn lucky you are. Star is well-known around the Seattle area as a talented vocalist with a heavy duty soul. Star and her music (pretty much one in the same) are powerfully raw, lovely and tender, shy and ready to put it all out there in all the right ways. I was lucky enough to see Star Anna and her band the Laughing Dogs play at the Historic Columbia City Theater in Seattle on July 23, 2010. For those of you who don’t know about the theater, apparently Jimi Hendrix played there before anyone had heard of him. The distinct possibility of being able to draw a parallel between Hendrix’s and Star Anna’s humble Washington beginnings to eventual well-loved rock legends sometime in the near future had gotten me all giddy for the show. I don’t exaggerate (well, sometimes I do, but not right now) when I say that the entire night I had the strong feeling that I was watching my favorite local band at the beginning of a new road…on the verge of making it big. I can’t think of anyone who deserves it more right now. I’m not the only one. A quick look at their website will show you that the legendary Mike McCready (Pearl Jam) and Duff McKagan (Guns ‘n’ Roses) are right there with me. In fact, September will find the band in Stone Gossard’s (Pearl Jam) Studio Litho to record their third album, featuring McCready. Plenty more about their upcoming record in part two of this series. Needless to say, you’ll want to buy it as soon as it comes out. Here is a video taken by Layne Freedle (Outlaw Digital Media) of one of the new songs, For When I Go, that will be on that record.
All of that recognition is great for the band and for their well-earned future as legendary rock stars, but for me, it’s all about seeing these guys live. No shit, you can’t watch Star belt her soul out for five seconds without knowing that she’s there on stage for nothing but the music and the damned honest truth in her soul. And that soul is so deep, I’m not really sure where it hits bottom or if it ever would. She’s not some here today pop star, on stage to get attention or try to be the pretty one, but it happens all the same. I don’t care who you are, when you watch Star Anna grab these lyrics in her heart, rip them out with her clenched fist and deliver them straight to your gut with a contorted face full of remembered pain, she’s the most gorgeous and riveting person in the room. There just isn’t anything more beautiful than that kind of authenticity. Simple as that. And while I called her raw, that’s only from an emotional standpoint…she and her band can pull off live what most bands fail to pull off on stage or with all of the extras in the studio. Being in the room while they perform is nothing short of electrifying. The first time I saw Star and Justin perform was at the Hootenany for Haiti alongside McCready and McKagan, and the moment she sang the first note, every arm hair in the room stood up straight. Hundreds of people were holding up their arms to show their friends, saying, “Holy Shit! She’s f*cking AMAZING!” As many times as I have seen them play, I continue to have the same experience: chills, goosebumps and total fulfillment at the end of the show…except that I want to see her play all over again, which as it turns out, is not usually easy for Star Anna, even for an encore. She often leaves the stage spent and so emotionally involved that she feels like throwing up as she and the band describe in these interview excerpts:
Now, lest you think I have the biggest girl crush you’ve ever seen, let’s move on to the rest of the band.
I don’t know for certain why the band is called the Laughing Dogs, but right away I had a strong theory. These guys just downright enjoy each other’s company and seemingly never stop laughing. Justin Davis (Guitar), Keith Ash (Bass) and Travis Yost (Drums) are just about the most laid back, fun group of guys I’ve ever met. Not a lot of ego here, just a deep, shared passion for music, a mutual respect for each other and the Star and a helluva lot of easy laughter. In fact, Star told me at the beginning of the interview that I should move the recorder away from Justin because it will likely just wind up being a tape of him laughing. I took her advice and moved it…although not quite far enough apparently! Forgive the sometimes scratchy, living room quality of the recordings, along with the sounds of dogs panting, kids talking, phones ringing and so on. You won’t need to forgive me for the raucous laughter though, because they are after all, the Laughing Dogs. Besides, the interview was just fabulously fun. By the way, lead guitar Justin has a GREAT laugh. He even does it while they are playing and most of the time I think it is because they are just having so goddamned much fun. Not only do they all have great senses of humor, they are just about the nicest people you’d ever want to meet. Keith Ash greeted me when I arrived at his house and asked if I wanted a sandwich and made me feel incredibly welcome in his Seattle home as the family and friends hung out. Throughout the interview all of the band members were accessible, honest and open. No question in my mind, these are just good people. Good people with intense loyalty and love for each other. It is not unusual or shocking for them to offer up a compliment or even downright gush about their pride for each other and the band, or to see Star sprawled out on a couch using drummer, Travis Yost’s leg as a pillow. These folks are guys are as T-I-G-H-T as it gets for a band. They’ve already been through the typical challenges a band faces over the last three years; any conflict that would cause most bands to dismantle and fade away has always worked to pull Star and the band closer and ready to move forward positively together. One thing you can’t help but pick up from the band without anyone having to mention it is their intense loyalty to Star. Even though as Justin points out that none of them put themselves ahead of any one person in the band, I got the impression that they feel a strong brotherly love for her and are extremely proud of knowing and working with her. So good news, the band that makes amazing music together has what it takes to stay together for the long term. Again, they deserve it.
Right now the band is looking forward to playing at Bumbershoot in September, a large 40-year-old music and arts festival in Seattle and are looking towards the expanding their past tour circuit to reach larger concentric circles east and south each year, this year hitting Arizona and California venues. They’d likely be warming received in Austin (or Myanmar—I mean, who wouldn’t love this band?), and will likely be working towards a spot in SXSW 2012.
That’s enough background info. Enjoy some more video filmed by Layne Freedle (Outlaw Digital Media) of the show at the Columbia City Theater and photos I took of the evening. Look for the part two of the series for more of the interview from Keith Ash’s living room, where you will hear the band talk more about their upcoming album, as well as experience for yourself more of the living room vibe.
Choking on the Words filmed by Layne Freedle (Outlaw Digital Media)
Space Beneath the Door filmed by Layne Freedle (Outlaw Digital Media)
Justin Davis smiles the night away.
Backstage with Star Anna and Travis Yost, relaxing before the show.
Travis Yost on drums and Keith Ash.
You can check out more of my portrait and commercial photography at www.simfotico.com, my art photography at www.keeshadavis.com (still in progress but good enough to be seen) and on Facebook here and here. You can see 400+ photos of Star Anna and the Laughing Dogs I took during the interview and during the Columbia City Theater Show at http://www.flickr.com/photos/keesha_davis/sets/72157624462400721/
Find out when Star Anna and the Laughing Dogs are coming to your area on their 2010 tour at http://www.starannamusic.com/fr_home.cfm. If you are interested in booking the band, please contact their manager, Dave MacDonald at [email protected]
Read up on the Historic Columbia City Theater at http://www.columbiacitytheater.com/