Interview – Kimi Shelter of Starbenders

Looking for something a little different in the form of a Rock-n-Roll fix? Well, then you are in luck… because Starbenders have it in bundles. Out of Georgia, Starbenders is a band which unifies the Glam of ’70s with Punk of the ’80s, all while oozing Classic Rock-n-Roll.

Possessing flair, style, and an attitude which will not be denied, Starbenders made some noise on the Rock scene with the release of Love Potions in 2020, but now look to take a big step forward with their forthcoming album Take Back The Night (out September 22, 2023). Feeling like the planets are aligning for them creatively as they rock and roll forward, their leader Kimi Shelter recently took some time to talk about the band, influences, the progress made with the new music, plus more.   

Cryptic Rock – Starbenders have been forging their way in Rock-n-Roll for a decade now. Unique to others on the scene, the band is a mix of heaviness, retro glam, and more. First tell, what led to the formation of the band and what has the journey been like to this point?

Kimi Shelter – Before Starbenders, I worked with our producer, Nico Constantine, on another project that never quite made it into fruition. With strong conviction I knew I wanted to keep working together, so I went home and wrote what was to be our first song as if my life depended on it. Ironically, it was called “Abduct Me.” He represented the first sign of hope and possibility in the desolate landscape of my life. It felt like a giant flashing sign saying “EXIT.” I hadn’t ever sung before.

Prior to that point I was very much a lead guitar player who could occasionally do background vocals. Nico was just as surprised as I was at what he heard and told me to put together a band
and some more material to go into the studio with. The rest is history from there, we don’t consider our true born on date to be until Emily (Moon) joined in 2017.

Cryptic Rock – That is a very interesting story. As alluded to, Starbenders really are quite unique. In truth, this is really quite refreshing in a time where it seems Rock-n-Roll is rather vanilla; just our opinion. What initially inspired the artistic direction of the band and how has that intent progressed?

Kimi Shelter – The bar was set in naming the band ‘Starbenders’ as an homage to Bowie. It took a little time for the magic to settle into its current form, and it still shifts at its leisure as magic does. My ethos has always been to take what’s there and make the best of it. As a child, my mother wouldn’t just buy us Halloween costumes. She would take us to the goodwill or have us make our own outfits. I absolutely hated it at the time. As my peers would be in their finely sewn princess fashions, I squirmed next to them in DIY glory.

I’m appreciative of it now because it’s the way I’ve learned to do our styling. All the pieces are second hand and based entirely on what the universe decides to unveil that day. In that way it always grows and evolves. My goal is to just dream up another place to take things and keep evolving. So long as everything is ripening, I’m satisfied. I’m not looking for things to be “complete,” just “in process.” This goes for our sound, our style and our spirit.

Starbenders – Heavy Petting / Institution Records (2016)
Starbenders – Love Potions / Sumerian Records (2020)

Cryptic Rock – It is a very good way to look at things and is a great place to create. As a songwriter, guitarist, and vocalist, you can hear so many different influences. You can feel elements of Glam Rock from the ’70s, but also darker Alternative Rock of the ’80s era. Out of curiosity, what are some of your inspirations?

Kimi Shelter – My first instrument was violin; so I grew up on a very strictly enforced diet of classical music. Not realizing the seeds that had been planted, I carried on until Rock-n-Roll, Metal, Punk and Grunge struck my fertile musical embryo with a crack of virile lightning. Everything clicked into place and I was a girl in heat, looking for everything loud and electric that I could find. Van Halen, Led Zeppelin, and Dio met the Mozart in my heart and had a fucking rager.

I get very frazzled when having to dissect inspiration. There’s something sacrilege about attempting to untangle your neurons, so I hope this satisfies the question.

Cryptic Rock – Absolutely and it is really cool to hear you came from a Classic foundation and it grew from there. What is interesting about Starbenders is that while you clearly display these influences proudly, it is not a derivative of such, and something unto itself. Is this something consciously in your mind when writing to steer clear of, or do you just do what you do and not concern yourself with such things?

Kimi Shelter – This comes from the safe place in the relationship I have with our producer and the band. I’ve been given the dignity to not ask questions during conception and allow whatever is trying to manifest to break through. From there, the baby is passed along to be developed and reworked if needed. We have a pretty clean working environment in that way.

It doesn’t always look the same, but we’ve managed a formula that’s allowed us to grow a more original voice in the very crowded choir of modern music.

Cryptic Rock – Right, and that makes the band refreshing. Starbenders have found themselves on some unique tours including one with Alice in Chains and another with Asking Alexandria’s Danny Wornsop. For those learning about Starbenders for the first time on tours such as these, how do you find their reactions?

Kimi Shelter – They’re usually blown away. Most people are surprised they hadn’t heard of us before, but that’s the way it goes. You just have to outlast until a spark ignites the pyres you’ve been building in the dark of night.

Cryptic Rock – Yes, and hopefully more will awaken to what Starbenders are. You recently put out the new single “We’re Not OK.” This is a rather deep track. It shows a conflict with the idea of spirituality, but also there is a feeling of confusion and dissatisfaction in the modern world. Is this a fair assessment, and what can you tell us about the song?

Kimi Shelter – For sure, I think a lot of people feel that. Do you really believe it’ll be ok? Do you really have the guts to have faith? Or are you just going through the motions hoping that the universe doesn’t notice your hypocrisy. Are we really happy? What is in our hearts? We have to learn to not just listen, but understand when a higher power is attempting to answer our prayers. If we’re so focused on clinging to the impression of joy, we will likely miss the real thing when it comes. Really the message is radical acceptance.

Starbenders – If You Need / Sumerian Records (2022)
Starbenders – Sex / Sumerian Records (2023)

Cryptic Rock – That is quite a profound truthful statement. With this new single out you are also preparing to release your third full-length album entitled Take Back the Night this fall. Coming three years after your Love Potions album, what was the writing and recording like for this album, and, what can we expect from it?

Kimi Shelter – I find the record to be more cohesive than Love Potions is. The songs were written and recorded in a tighter window, which is really powerful. The band really came with it, everyone was on the same page of destruction. These past few years have been incredibly tough, so we put all of our restlessness into the music. Music is like alchemy. You’re able to take an emotion or a memory that might have been very painful and transmute it into something that can touch others, transmuting their pain by letting them know they aren’t alone.

Sometimes you don’t know how to even express what you’re feeling and then you hear it in a song. You can listen over and over and with each play you feel less alone. It’s truly incredible. I guess that’s what we hope to do with this record.

Cryptic Rock – That is right, music does offer you a place to call your own. Without music many of us would be drowning in the world without a place to turn.

In preparation for the new album the band is doing some extensive headline touring this summer before some festivals in the fall. How excited are you for this tour?

Kimi Shelter – Very excited! We’re built for the road, so it’s really healthy for us. We also love The Haunt and are really excited to finally do some shows together.

Cryptic Rock – Excellent. It seems like the live performance is an intricate part of what Starbenders do. How do you approach marrying the mood of Starbenders music with the imagery of the live shows?

Kimi Shelter – The live shows are their own thing. It’s about showing the power of the band up close. That’s all it is. We have a saying in the band, “Show up, rock out.” Not much more to it. I think as the band grows, we’ll definitely get creative with stage design, etc., but right now it’s all in the hands.

Starbenders – Take Back The Night / Sumerian Records (2023)

Cryptic Rock – It will be fun to see that blossom. Last question. If you are a fan of Horror and/or Sci-Fi films, what are some of your favorites?

Kimi Shelter – I’m not into anything scary, but my band members are. I do like Sci-Fi though. Mostly magic stuff and aliens. I thought Hellier (2019) was one of the most interesting and polarizing things I’ve seen in a long time. It’s a slow burn, cult level docu series.

Starbender Tour Dates:
Sept 8 – Blue Ridge Rock Fest
Sept 21- Louder Than Life
Oct 5th – Aftershock
Oct 09 Wolverhampton – KK’s Steel Mill
Oct 10 Leeds – The Key Club
Oct 12 Nottingham – Rock City Beta
Oct 13 Glasgow – Cathouse
Oct 14 Manchester – Satan’s Hollow
Oct 15 Southampton – Joiners
Oct 16 Bristol – Thekla
Oct 18 Brighton – Green Door Store
Oct 19 London – Boston Music Room
Oct 18 Brighton – Green Door Store
Oct 19 London – Boston Music Room

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