With his Bowie-esque looks, an enviable backing band, and a debut record, And The Noh Starrs, coming out next month (18th August) via Modern Sky, Brian Hill has all the ingredients to become a star.
At fifteen, Hill moved to New York where he soon discovered the local music scene and joined New Zealand musician Tamaryn as a touring guitarist. While on tour with LA band Froth, frontman Joo-Joo Ashworth offered Hill a place to crash in LA and it was here Hill recorded some of the first demos that were later filled out and realised on the musician’s debut record.
So that’s Brian. But who are his elusive backing band, the Noh Starrs? Constantly evolving and changing, Hill recruits his friends as band members, keep your ears peeled for collaborators including Sasami Ashworth (Cherry Glazerr), Laena Geronimo (Feels), and Thomas Dolas (Mr. Elevator).
We meet with Hill to catch up on Queen, violin lessons and a creepy stalker incident that informed one of his new tracks.
Eve-Marie Kuijstermans: How did you first get into music?
Brian Hill: No one in my family was a musician or anything like that. I started playing violin when I was like ten or eleven, but at the same time my uncle really wanted me to play sports. I wasn’t into sports at all but I kept doing that besides playing the violin and then I basically wanted to start playing guitar but at that time I quit playing American football and my parents were like, “Well you quit playing football, why should we get you a guitar?” So I ended up playing another two years of violin before I saved up enough to buy a guitar.
Eve-Marie: Who are the Noh Stars and how did you all meet?
Brian: There are a lot of Noh Starrs actually. When I was playing in another band called Tamaryn we went on tour and ended up in Los Angeles. Until then I had kind of played around New York a little bit on my own but not in a real capacity. I just had some songs I had written and I really liked these and wanted to play them live. I did a show in a place called Alphaville in Brooklyn and that was unofficially the first Noh Starrs show. But then when I got to LA and was crashing at my friend’s Joo-Joo… He plays in a band called Froth and they were opening for Tamaryn on a tour we did and the first show we played was at a place called the Chapel in San Francisco and I was kind of sitting backstage not in a good mood, I had just gotten some family news that was a bit of a bummer. I heard them in the background and thought this band is really good and then I heard them covering a Brian Eno song, and Brian Eno is one of my favourite musicians of all time so I just went out and started watching them. That venue makes great food by the way and while I was eating my food Joo-Joo came up to me and asked for some food. The rest is history. I stayed at his and we played a show in downtown LA with a couple of friends who all also played in other bands, Laena from Feels who’s an amazing guitarist, Trevs on drums and Jeff from Nummer on guitar. From there the Noh Starrs were born.
Eve-Marie: Can you tell us a little bit about the collaboration and the current line-up?
Brian: Well, it’s complex, as of now only two out of eleven people who played on the record are in the current live line-up. Robbie Wood, who is from London, plays guitar. He was in the audience that first show we played in Los Angeles. Lida Fox who plays keyboard now, played on the record as well. She was not in LA at the time most tracking was done but played some dubs and backup vocals in New York. Then Warren Stubbs, our drummer, he is the best drummer I know. Sometimes my friend Matt McAuley comes and plays saxophone. It really is quite a loose thing but I like it that way, I like to be constantly changing, I get bored otherwise. It keeps it exciting and means that everyone is there for the right reasons.
Eve-Marie: Can you tell us a little bit about your residency at New York venue Berlin?
Brian Hill: Well, we currently have the New York residency at Berlin, we just did the first one and it was really fun. Then we have an LA one next month in a place called the Bootleg. I get to choose the majority of the bands which makes me really happy, like TV Baby for example, I’m super into them I really love what they’re doing.
Eve-Marie: Weren’t you banned from Berlin after a show in February after smashing their disco ball?
Brian: Well, yes [laughs]. They emailed us not even a week after we were kicked out to invite us back. I’m not really wild, that just happened to be what happened that night.
Eve-Marie: What’s the first song you remember hearing and made you want to play music?
Brian: I guess it’s a bit embarrassing actually but my uncle bought me a CD player for my birthday, it was like a walkman with two CDs. One was Green Day, which I did not like at all and the other one was Queen’s Greatest Hits. I forgot what song it was, either Under Pressure or Bohemian Rhapsody, but I was into it, and from there I guess the song that really wanted me to play guitar would be Substitute by The Who, such a weird amazing pop song. My dad was really into The Who, he gave me The Kids Are Alright and I learned every song in a week. Sell Out is an amazing record, I love the production, and the commercials.
“I think that’s the thing for people to look forward to, the constant changing nature of the band.”
Eve-Marie: How do you write songs?
Brian: Before I started writing music, as a kid I was always writing stories. The last song on the record is a short story I wrote, some of it comes from a real life stalker incident. I had a stalker when I first moved to New York, it was one of the weirdest things that happened to me and extremely uncomfortable. This was when I was like eighteen or even younger, I moved here at fifteen. It never really turned into a thing that was dangerous but I would go through phases of being really freaked out, thinking that maybe this person is in love with me but maybe also wants to kill me. It’s not so much about the actuality of it because I did not really think she would do anything or I would have called the cops but it’s about the mental strain, so I wrote a short story out of that idea. Those things are the most interesting to me, like these things that happen and the blur between fiction and reality. My favourite writers are JG Ballard, and William S. Burroughs, people who write about their lives but also use the freedom of fiction. It is all real.
Eve-Marie: What can we expect from a Brian Hill and the Noh Starrs gig?
Brian: It’s always different and that’s what’s exciting about it. I like that it’s always changing. I like that the music is always changing. I’m personally always changing. I think that’s the thing for people to look forward to, the constant changing nature of the band.
Eve-Marie: How should we listen to your music?
Brian: Naked with friends on a really good stereo system and really loud.
Brian Hill and the Noh Starrs are playing Berlin NYC on 28th July and The Bootleg in Los Angeles throughout August. On September 30th they play Central Park’s Summer Stage.
Follow the band on Facebook.