One Star Hotel
“At midnight on December 31, 1999 I was walking down the street in Philadelphia and this storm came up and lightning struck me and three other people that happened to be walking near me. When we woke up from the shock, we realized that we had each been given superpowers on different musical instruments–Rick on bass, Alec on drums, Daryl on keyboards and myself on guitar. We are simply fulfilling our destiny.”
The above is the 100% completely untrue tall tale detailing the manner in which Philadelphia’s own, One Star Hotel, formed as a band. They’re despicable liars whose CDs aren’t even coaster-worthy enough to protect my grandma’s coffee table. Quite honestly, they are a laughable embarrassment to my birthplace, The City of (Totally Dishonest) Brotherly Love, and should be run out of town with fiery torches and, like, really sharp weapons immediately, if not sooner! Sooner, please!
Okay, I tried, I really did. I was merely channeling the jokey (fakey!) spirit of the band, and trying on a fib (or ten) of my own. While One Star Hotel almost succeeds, I just plain fail. But that, I’ve learned, is the thing about these guys – failing is a foreign concept, surviving, not optional.
One Star Hotel is seemingly effortless in their artistic approach, and relies not on a showoffy parade of big-balls braggadocio that much less notable rock acts survive on, but subsists, rather, on inspired songwriting and unforced evocation of many messy emotions. Their country-fried Americana rock and roll is less honkey tonkin’ Jeff Gordon Nascar worship, and is more a nod to the lovey-dovey (a very manly lovey-dovey, of course), stars-in-the-eyes Jeff Tweedy school of breaking and mending hearts–a comparison even the band itself has no problem embracing, and rightfully so.
On their most heart wrenching track “Starlight,” such lyrics as, “…then the starlight broke and washed across your throat, you found the hidden notes and sang them until you choked” recall that strange sort of barfing up hearts brand of romance followed only by a whispered “Oh shit, that’s…(pause for the dramatic effect)…deep.” One Star Hotel’s songs touch listeners in all the right places at all the right moments, under all the right circumstances no matter how wrong or cruddy other things seem to be developing. They’re the sort of band whose lyrics you’d want scribbled at the bottom of your breakup letter just because the “Awww, pretty” aspect would outweigh the “That no-good motherfucker!” aspect by a sizeable margin, and let’s face it, size(able margins) does matter.
The band, though, is not all brooding gazes and pretentious posturing. Without some semblance of a sense of humor, One Star Hotel, when faced with the some of the nasty demons in their turbulent past (lineup changes, car wrecks, spontaneous shattering of back windshields, stolen equipment, less than friendly crowds, etc.), might never have survived under the pressure. When asked which “fantasy team of artists” the band would like to work with some day, for example, vocalist Steve Yutzy-Burkey replies, “Really anyone from this season’s American Idol.” It is this cheek-pinching sort of charm that lends itself to the sanity of the band, thus making the boys (sorry, men–really strong ones), all of whom still have regular part-time jobs, seem entirely too human for the music business–another topic on which Yutzy-Burkey minces no words.
“I would pretty quickly puncture the fantasy bubble and tell [any young prospective rock and rollers] that [surviving in the music business] is a lot more about becoming a business-minded self-promotion machine” says Yutzy-Burkey, in a really cool fatherly sort of way. “It is a lot of work…but, if you have to play music, you have to play music. You need to have a drive and a clear idea of what you want to do and say and stick with it, and be realistic along the way,” he continues, clearing away the smoke in mirrors for those looking to the industry as a means to make Big Dreams come true overnight. His insight is one lost in the clouds of many bands’ pipe dreams, but valuable still for up and comers actively willing to face all sides of the music.
It is the music (very literally), though, that seems to have escaped the wrath of One Star Hotel’s jinx ridden list of Things That Have Kinda Sucked Throughout Our Collective Existence. No matter how hard the circumstances have tried to harsh Hotel’s mellow, the music, the beautiful, heartbreaking music remains unharmed, untouched by either disaster or even worse–ordinariness. Writing the lyrics is a personal emotional tryst for Yutzy-Burkey, and one that the band really has no outside hand in. However, the music, the technicality of their records, bears the fingerprints of every member, and all suggestions, discussions, and band input are taken into thoughtful consideration. “We spend a lot of time working together on the sounds and parts and how everything blends. We generally record demos of each song as we are working on them as well, just to be able to step back and take a listen when we are not actually playing the song.” the cutie-pie singer explains, and this proactive collaborative process proves to be their driving force, a force that stands identifiable beneath the fluid, comfortable sound of One Star Hotel.
On the band’s sophomore CD, Good Morning, West Gordon, the title track whooshes and whirls half its listeners into outer space and the others down on the range with its wonderfully lush wash of spacey, fuzzy sound, while “Thunderhead” surprises with some unexpected (but approved of!) synth work. One Star Hotel knows when to experiment and push its listeners, which is stirring in and of itself, but it is the band’s ability to pull back and expose the music’s bare bones at face value that proves most impressive. Each song reads like love poetry without all the icky angst and rhyming dictionary reference clogging up the place. The sentiments are simple enough–love, loss, regret–but the words themselves are hardly just ink stains on paper. They come to life beside the melodies and mechanics and manage to both bear the heart of the singer and rip out the hearts of those listening.
As a band, One Star Hotel’s music is timeless and perfect, attractive but never too pretty, serene and unsettling, classically inspired, but identifiably all their own. As people, One Star Hotel proves to be grounded and focused, cool (but not too much for their own good) and charmingly goofy. The combination of musical mastery with the openness and willingness for constant insight and education on how the world of music works is fit for the Perfect Package, if ever there was such a thing. Perhaps with the addition of Bo Bice or the Paula Abdul approved, Constantine Maroulis to Hotel’s lineup, such fantasies won’t die hopelessly idle.