The name of Gene Osborn’s band, We Are Star Children, does not come from a Bruce Dickinson song called “Starchildren.” Osborn says he’s never heard the song, and that he’s shocked to find the chorus of the song spells out his band’s name. “I’m equally shocked no one else has brought it up to me before,” he laughed.
Still, he appreciates the title of the song, and loves, at least, the name of the album it’s on: Accident of Birth.
“Man, that’s a great album title,” said Osborn. “There’s a lot to be said of the words we choose, right?”
He’s not kidding. Remember, We Are Star Children began its existence under the nom de plume Straight Punch to the Crotch. And the two bands will always be linked, and by more than overlapping membership—We Are Star Children comes from the name of the final EP released as Straight Punch to the Crotch.
“I think it was simultaneously the best and worst band name,” Osborn said, almost sheepishly, of his band’s erstwhile moniker. “I adore it, and I’ll always have a soft spot in my heart for it, but the material migrated so far away from that name.”
To be sure, We Are Star Children’s music is light years removed from that of Straight Punch. With Arrows, WASC’s first full-length album, puts that distance into stark relief. Long gone are the outwardly goofy non sequitur songs. This album enchants with sophisticated pop tunes that swirl and sway and build to richly orchestrated crescendos. It’s a record filled with goose pimple-inducing rallying cries like the majestic and driving “Die Alone,” with swaying cabaret folk laments, like the winsome “Success,” and lovelorn ballads like the tremolo-guided “The Ballad of St. George.”
The band brands its particular model of folk rock as “adventure pop,” augmenting its traditional rock ‘n’ roll lineup—e.g. guitar, bass and drums—with trumpets and keys, and, on record at least, woodwinds (flute), brass (flugelhorn, trombone), and even a string section courtesy of the Charlottesville High School Orchestra. But Osborn stresses the “pop” in “adventure pop.”
“I think we pay homage to traditional song structure,” Osborn said. The songs typically have verses and choruses, he said, and occasionally a lengthy bridge. Meters tick off at standard speeds, and tempos are rooted in standard time signatures. “At the end of the day, as heady and as obtuse as some musicians can get, I really like the accessibility of pop music,” said Osborn. “I can’t get past it. I almost think it’s like physics or something.”
The adventure, then, comes from both form and content. There is no typical lead instrument; what could be traditionally handled by an electric guitar is pushed on to horn sections or strings. Gang vocals often carry the weight of the group’s narrative songs, which find Osborn inhabiting damaged characters, as on the flute-driven “Flowers By My Feet and Side.”
“There is a sense of adventure there,” he said. “Like, ‘Are we going to get through this?’ And even some of the narratives deal with danger and espionage and stuff like that.”
Indeed, what made Straight Punch to the Crotch so winning also benefits We Are Star Children, a smirking sense of humor that invades With Arrows’ most earnest moments. The band is more serious, but it still refuses to take itself too seriously.
“That’s always been a real natural urge for us,” Osborn said. “But we’re not taking ourselves too seriously with those experiments. It all has this winking-at-the audience, laughing-at-ourselves feel.”
As such, the distance between the groups is best measured in more concrete quantifiables—the six years since its name change, sure, but more importantly the four years between With Arrows and Love to the Wicked, its first post-Crotch EP.
“I think it takes this long to produce something like [With Arrows], considering everything else we’ve got going on,” Osborn said.
Each of the six Star Children, Osborn said, hold down full-time jobs and have “very full lives.” While the band was writing and recording With Arrows, Osborn’s wife had a baby. So, too, did trumpeter Aly Buchanan. After a while, the years between records just added up, though they were hardly inactive ones.
“I mean, I was cognizant of the amount of time between the two albums, and it really just, once we were peeling back the layers in the studio and getting the sound just right and getting it all fit together, we just kept saying, ‘We’re going to keep working.’ And there was the occasional impulse to just leave well enough alone and release it, but we wanted it to sound like this.”
Osborn conceded, though, that the orchestration of With Arrows makes replicating it on stage a tall order. But, he offered, “We’ve always said within the band … that we make an album that works as an album and a live show that works as a live show. I had the hunch of, ‘Oh, let’s play the album,’ because I’ve seen bands do that, but, you know, the arc of our album isn’t the arc of our live show. And in many regards there’s a healthy difference between our live show and the album. And we embrace that.”
“The last thing I want to do is play the album note for note and have the audience sit there and listen,” Osborn added. “I think it should be a lot more organic than that.”