Growing up with a guitar in his hand since a teenager, Marcus McNamee would enroll in the jazz music program at Mohawk but he’d graduate to the world of hard rock in bands like Radio Free Universe and become Marcus Starr. He hasn’t given up on that all together with his solo career that we first learned of some eighteen months ago with his debut EP release. With the spotlight on his songs, Starr is focusing on more heartfelt blues, country and folk music and with his sophomore EP, The Wrong Side of the Tracks, officially being released this weekend, he continues that musical journey but this time out, Starr has become much more comfortable with his move from sideman guitarist to singer, songwriter and frontman for his own songs.
“My first attempt was starting over, starting new and trying to figure it out but you get better and better and my new songs are way better,” says Starr. “I was a little nervous about my first recording but it was done and it was a learning experience. I had never sung before so that’s something I wanted to work on and with this album everything has gotten so much better. I’m going full tilt — I’m writing as much as I can, playing as much as I can and having as much fun as I can. There’s something in me that I just have to create and the older I get, the more focused on that I get. I just love to write and enjoy telling stories in my songs.”
Songwriting and tell stories is the main focus on Starr’s new release. With his new collection of songs, Starr has raised the bar all around with one track in particular an easy stand out upon first listen and audiences are responding to “A Woman Needs A Man — Like A Fish Needs A Bike”. At first glance, it has more than a striking similarity to Don Williams’ “Tulsa Time” with a light–hearted Georgia Satellites swampy groove probably conjuring up JJ Cale but with it’s humorous metaphors, you have to wonder if it’s a fun party starter or a feminist statement.
“I didn’t write it as a feminist statement but you can take it however you want,” says Starr. “I was at the Corktown and a buddy of mine was up to his old tricks hitting on every single woman that was not looking at him. I was telling him about how there is plenty of fish in the sea, watching how he was striking out with style and I thought I got a write a song about this. I wanted to use a fishing analogy and it came together easily.
“Initially, I was kind of embarrassed about it but the first time I played the song the audience got into it and now people always want to talk about that song with me so I knew there was something more to the song than I first thought,” adds Starr. “I wrote it right after “Me Too” and I didn’t want people to think the song was about me but it’s become my most popular song so I had to record it. It always goes over well live and people end up singing along before the end of the song so I got over my preconceptions.”
Recorded with Brock Zeman at Big Muddy Studios in Ottawa, Starr works within the roots rock framework but songs seem more structured than his first outing. Starr’s last decade or two in Hamilton have provided real fodder for songs like the title track, Starr’s own ode to the Hamilton North End, or “Miles Between Us” features Brennagh Burns with an Adam Carter directed video for the ballad featuring Hamilton skyline shot from the escarpment as a back drop. Overall, Starr’s second EP showcases a great development but it’s only a taste of what’s to come for Starr.
“I always wanted to write a song about Hamilton and Wrong Side of the Tracks is a fun story about a tough musician and his dad from Hamilton’s North End,” says Starr. “I’ve gotten into some bad ass characters in my songs — I like the gritty side of life and telling some real interesting short stories. I really love where my songwriting is going but this is the album is going to show where I’m going because in addition to these songs, I’ve got six more songs already ready to record and I’m going to put the two sets of songs together to release a full length vinyl album of them,” says Starr. “People want stuff now so instead of spending a fortune on a full album, it’s cheaper, faster get music to the people, have a good show and when those songs get old, boom, I’ve got six more songs. Wrong Side of the Tracks is side one of the upcoming album that will eventually be released.
“We’ve got a great show planned to celebrate this EP,” adds Starr. “Cory Mercer is going to warm things up and then the Will Gillespie Trio will take to the stage. We’re going to premiere the video for Wrong Side of the Tracks, which features some great photos of the north end from probably Hamilton’s best street photographer Alex Zafer. Then my band will come on. I’ve got Archibald Jay on keys, Mark Trudeau on bass and Nick Burson on drums with me on guitar and vocals. The songs always come across a little more rock and roll when we play and I think they should because live you put more energy into them. It’s a good rock and roll show with slide guitar — we’re doing a long set and I’ll be bringing up some special guests. My music blends a lot of styles — it’s rootsy, rock and roll, some blues, a little bit of country — but you can dance to all of the tunes so it’s a lot of fun for sure and that’s what I want for our live show.”
Marcus Starr Band plays Saturday February 22 at The Mule Spinner with Cory Mercer and Will Gillespie Trio opening. Doors open at 8 pm and advance tickets are $20 and $25 at the door.
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