StarHawk

Michael Williams

A low-ceilinged basement in south Marquette hosted the sounds of Judgment Day, 1977, last weekend. This is not the best way to describe StarHawk, whose sound seams patchwork of prog-rock, jazz and ambient-funk music into one cohesive product.

Part of StarHawk’s successful genre mesh is their member chemistry—each instrumentalist has collaborated with the others before. All have created music since middle school, two of whom started jamming in fifth grade. For twenty-somethings, their musical cohesion stems from their individual talents and visions merging with each other. But they are tough to describe.

This is Neil DeGrasse Tyson and Pope Francis tripping brown acid in the desert. This is Stalin’s yoga jams. This is the Ocarina of Time floating in a black hole. Their sound is big, but not hulking.  Was this a basement or a cathedral? Or a pineal gland draining into the River Styx? Starhawk is certainly not Styx. It’s more like Nintendo-occult-Kraftwerk. And heavy, but not in a rock sense or a metal sense. Heavy in a jazz sense or in an eight-bit sense.

Bassist Spencer Higgins said their sound reminds him of the tensions between nature, man and machine.

“I think of it as star travel, but in purgatory,” Higgins said. “Or you’re wearing all cashmere and you’re petting a cheetah in the bed of a truck.”

Luxury meeting trash.

Ben Van Howe controls the sound effects in StarHawk and finds their music begets metaphor.

“You’re crawling through a swamp and you peek through tall grass and you see a metropolis,” Van Howe said. “A car goes by on a really busy highway. StarHawk exists in the limbo between the swamp and the city.”

Van Howe, an English masters student, was wearing a white Members Only jacket glowing fluorescent under the lights. He controls the pulsing rhythms and white noise that backdrop the bass, keys and drums. Starhawk has no guitar, though Van Howe originally played six-strings.

“It just made sense without guitar,” he said. “It made it more complicated to pin down as a certain thing.”

He said audience members told him they didn’t know what was happening, but that’s okay. Freeing his hands for samples and effect patches allowed StarHawk to distinguish their sound from traditional four-piece instrumentation, but that only developed in recent weeks.

David Jim Frazier plays synth, which, in his view are the brightest of StarHawk’s instruments.

“Our music is like snorkeling in magma,” Frazier said. “It’s like you break out of Guantanamo Bay, but you’re in Alcatraz. Have you ever seen ‘Ice Road Truckers?’”

Then there’s Kevin, StarHawk’s invisible muse. “Stairway to Kevin;” “Kevin Isn’t Too Far Away;” “Knockin’ on Kevin’s Door;” “Just Like Kevin.” He’s ubiquitous.

“Every song I write is about Kevin,” Frazier said. “This is all for Kevin.”

StarHawk strung five songs together for the show, playing one long, calculated epic to Kevin. In front of them, the following acts, mostly from out of town, bobbed their heads. StarHawk isn’t exactly head bobbing music (nor head banging music, for that matter) but it was a compliment nonetheless. A signal of affirmation.

“I thought we weren’t gonna drink before we play,” drummer John Bloom yelled over the soundcheck.

Like the rest of StarHawk, his shirt is floral patterned, non-Hawaiian variety. His drum kit is five pieces, but sounds like eleven when he plays, thanks to his aggro-drumming, maximal style. No fill is missed under his reign.

“On bass, I’m like the metronome,” Higgins said. “Jon’s the fireworks.”

If they were members in Dungeons and Dragons, Van Howe said, Jon would be a Barbarian.

StarHawk practices in a similar setting: another low ceiling in Frazier’s and Higgins’ house. Their roommate, senior human centered design student Kyle Wood, acts as assistant manager.

“We’re our own management, but Kyle’s our assistant manager,” bassist Spencer Higgins said. Wood films StarHawk’s practices and shows, helping them tweak and continue improving.

Familiar with these songs, Wood knows what instruments are drowned out and can help adjust volume mid-set.

Outside, Bloom smokes a cigarette before playing. He gets a call from Higgins.

“Be in in a second,” Bloom said approaching the door. He hangs up and turns. “How lazy is that?” After he enters, the other members file outside to catch a breath before they play.

This is Odysseus summoning the Geek Gods. This is a four piece band from Marquette, Mich. with no guitar, striving to make what they haven’t heard here.

StarHawk will play at the Merlot Mansion on Saturday Feb. 7, when the audience members will be lifted to Kevin.