By Michael Lello
The Dingmans Ferry exit off Interstate 84 in the Poconos is not exactly a hotbed of shoegaze music. But in a remote area near Milford, John Cep and Kim Field are crafting the brand of atmospheric, wall-off-sound rock most associated with late 1980s/early 1990s England under the name Stargazer Lilies.
Despite the unlikely home base, the band is making a lot of noise.
“We travel with three Marshall half stacks, one for bass and two for guitar. We’re pushing a lot of air coming off stage,” Cep said during a recent chat with Highway 81 Revisited. It’s very ambient but heavy and melodic and ethereal with sort of flowery psychedelic type of things.”
The group’s big sound will fill the Factory Underground Saturday, May 31. The group is returning to the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre area after playing previously at The Rattler in Pittston, and local band Harlot will again be on the bill.
The group, which plays as a three-piece including a touring drummer, is recording a new album at home, following up on last year’s debut LP, “We Are The Dreamers.” The band is still writing and recording material for the sophomore effort, which Field called said is “a little more spacy and dreamy” than the first one.
Like “We Are The Dreamers,” the new record will be released on Graveface Records, the home of Black Moth Super Rainbow. Stargazer Lilies have opened for the experimental Pittsburgh group, as well as on founding member Tobacco’s tours. They’ll head out with him at the end of July for a string of dates.
“We just did one leg of a tour with him down to Austin and back, and that was awesome,” said Cep. “They’re friends of ours so that was very comfortable and great to be on the road with them.”
The fit with the BSMR fanbase has also been symbiotic for Stargazer Lilies.
“We go over well, I think, with the Black Moth Super Rainbow/Tobacco people,” he added. “We’ve had very good experiences opening for both Black Moth Super Rainbow and Tobacco. It’s always been very positive. They have a very cool following of people; we really like those people a lot.”
Before Stargazer Lilies, Cep and Field were in Soundpool, a somewhat sonically similar group.
“It’s very different, in that there’s a little more stuff going on in the Soundpool records,” said Cep, asked to compare and contrast the two outfits. “There was always two synths, bass and guitar, and a lot of times the drums were layered with electronic drums and percussion, where this is much more just a rock ’n’ roll and power trio, bass, drums, guitar.
And while Soundcloud would often use effects tracks on stage, the Lilies use “nothing prerecorded,” Field said.
While Stargazer Lilies consider themselves more than a shoegaze group, they do not reject the label, which was first used for bands like My Bloody Valentine, Slowdive and Ride, which constructed shimmering and sometimes disorienting and loud sheets of sound, often played very loudly, and burying the vocals in a haze of distortion. It is a genre, more than 20 years past its inception, that seems to be gaining momentum again, thanks in part to the recent MBV and current Slowdive reunions.
“When we first started Soundpool, were going for that kind of sound, and back then I felt there were very few shoegaze bands, and now there are so many,” Field said.
“It’s not only that, but everyone calls themselves dream pop, bands like Beach House and M83, bands now that are enormous that say they are that, and influenced by that, and to varying degrees, I guess they are,” Cep said. “I think it’s been going for a while now, and I think it’s getting a really more broad appeal. It’s becoming more like what happened with punk after years. That became like something. In the beginning, punk was a very small thing and until The Clash started getting really big, it was not like a really big thing.”
And shoegaze is a genre which has roots dating before the big bands that earned the moniker during the genre’s initial heyday, he added.
“It’s something that has been there, but you could follow the thread to before the Creation Records bands,” he said. “They’re almost neo-psychedelic for that era, like the Jesus and Mary Chain in the mid-’80s and My Bloody Valentine and Slowdive were in the ’90s. But you can go back to the ’60s and ’70s and find some of those same elements with ’60s girl groups with Phil Spector’s wall of sound. In some ways you can follow the thread as far you want go back.”