Been Stellar on their anticipated debut album, 'Scream From New York, NY'

Interview Starshaped: Been Stellar

Been Stellar might well be New York’s next great guitar band, but heading into debut ‘Scream From New York, NY’, they’re moulding that term into a new shape.

A pebble’s throw from Brighton’s seafront, inside a darkened sticky club usually reserved for drag and cabaret nights, Been Stellar are blazing through a set of epic proportions. True to their recorded output to date, the NYC gang manage to summon an entire spectrum of human emotion as they flicker between moments of intimate beauty and feral yet calculated noise.

It’s not exactly hard to see why they’re the talk of the festival at this year’s The Great Escape. With a queue snaking around the block outside and the venue loaded way over capacity, there’s an air of genuine excitement behind the band that suggests more than the usual hype machine. For their part, however, the five-piece are reluctant to rely too heavily on industry buzz. “That was so cool and we love Brighton but we don’t really take it as a victory,” says guitarist Skylar Knapp, absently stirring the ice cubes in his glass of coke in a nearby beer garden later on. “What we’re really proud of is selling out the three headline shows we’re doing around it; that’s more of a marker of where we’re at right now.”

It’s smart that all eyes are focussed on the job still ahead. The quintet of close pals – completed by Sam Slocum (vocals), Laila Wayans (drums), Nando Dale (guitar), and Nico Brunstein (bass) – have just rounded off a major tour supporting Dirty Hit label mates The 1975 in arenas across Europe, while later in the year they’ll open for Fontaines DC across a mammoth run of dates in the US. It might sound glamorous, but facing up to the demanding realities of life as a hard-touring band has left little time for back-slapping.

“It’s been a shit ton of stress,” laughs Skylar. “We’re driving ourselves around, so we’ve had zero time and a lot of work but it’s been fun. We love playing together and it’s always a privilege to tour around here, but there hasn’t been a chance to stop and smell the roses yet. It’s not really the way we operate – celebration and things like that don’t come easy for us. We’re proud and fulfilled but we’re always conscious of what we have to do next.”

Perhaps, then, Been Stellar’s champagne moment will come with the arrival of their debut album ‘A Scream from New York, NY’. A visceral and explosive listen that lives up to its namesake, it sees the band mature from their former shaggy grunge-rock roots that channelled hometown heroes like The Strokes and Interpol into something that’s truly their own – one that arrives, as Skylar puts puts it, as “a coalescence of noise and expressions from the city”.

Been Stellar on their anticipated debut album, 'Scream From New York, NY' Been Stellar on their anticipated debut album, 'Scream From New York, NY'

“There’s no self-fulfilling hype on the New York scene, nobody will pay attention to you unless what you’re doing is actual quality.” – Skylar Knapp

Whatever they might think of the buzz around their band, the truth is that Been Stellar have earned it the old fashioned way: through cold, hard graft, as a gang of best mates piling into a van and filling up the tank. The guitarist – the chattiest of the band by far – explains they never really had another option. “We didn’t have a massive viral moment or anything like that. There’s no self-fulfilling hype on the New York scene, nobody will pay attention to you unless what you’re doing is actual quality. It never really occurred to us that we needed to meet these people or tick these boxes to get into the industry; we didn’t know that existed. We know how to make music and to play shows and that’s the way we had to do it.”

This outlook is writ large across the surface of ‘A Scream From New York, NY’, on which they roped in Speedy Wunderground’s Dan Carey (black midi, Fontaines DC) to helm the desk. Sam says the sought-after producer was central in capturing that live dynamic. “He likes things to hit you over the head real hard and he really brought that out in us,” the vocalist nods. “Our writing process doesn’t include a computer until the final stages; if we’re in a live setting it really just flows out of us.”

What sets Been Stellar apart is their ability to offset often bruising elements with something vulnerable and tender. “We just wanted to demonstrate intense emotions, whether they’re angry or really sentimental. We had to justify the epicness of the songs we were writing,” says Sam. “I think by taking the music and lyrics to new depths emotionally, it made us do that – it’s very earnest and clear in what it’s saying. Back in high school the lyrics were just something we shit out at the end. Now it means so much.”

“For me, they’re a bunch of little vignettes that are really personal to us,” Skylar agrees. “In NYC there’s a smug coolness in having your lyrics be purposefully dumb but I’ve never understood why you wouldn’t put everything into it because the words are what stick with me the most. That’s what makes it timeless to me and I think a lot of people are really afraid of letting themselves be vulnerable with that kind of thing.”

With its knowing title, their debut is unmistakably a New York record, littered with references and nods to the city that birthed it. It’s the common ground on which the band was built after they descended there from different parts of America and even Brazil. “The common language we spoke was that we were all in New York at the same time,” says Skylar. “We’ve been together non-stop from the age of eighteen – it’s a very unique thing that not many people experience.” ”It’s a very beautiful thing that we’ve grown up together,” agrees Sam. “It’s very special to have this extra family that you go through life with.”

It might feel like they’re already winners, but Been Stellar are still daring to dream big. “I want to win a fucking GRAMMY or something. We wouldn’t be doing this if I didn’t have total faith and commitment to it,” Skylar affirms. “I don’t think any of us are in this to not become a big successful band that people really love and remember for a really long time.”

‘Scream From New York, NY’ is out 21st June via Dirty Hit. 

Tags: Been Stellar, From The Magazine, Features, Interviews

As featured in the June 2024 issue of DIY, out now.

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