Local quartet Star & Micey speaks on South-by-Southwest and the road to the Beale Street Music Fest
Story by Samuel Prager photos by Jonathan Pekar & Jamie Harmon
For many Memphis musicians, playing the iconic Beale Street Music Festival is only a dream. However, for the eclectic, Memphis-born, indie folk-pop four-piece Star & Micey, it’s a dream come true.
The band consists of bassist Geoff Smith, guitarists Nicholas Redmond and Josh Cosby, and drummer Jeremy Stanfill. In some form, the band has been together for more than five years and plans to stick around for many more. In addition to playing instruments, all of the band members are vocalists and take part in harmonies. “It’s positive music for positive people. There are four singers and everyone’s having a good time,” says Stanfill, the most recent addition to the band.
The band started when longtime friends Josh Cosby and Geoff Smith began playing music together in high school, although the two had unknowingly gone to elementary school together. From then on, the constantly-evolving band (at the time, just a duo) started a journey that would carry them to the stages of legendary local venues like the Hi Tone and national settings like the recent South-by-Southwest Music Festival and Tech Conference in Austin, Texas. “The band started because I was writing songs and I needed someone to sing backup and play bass. I had nothing and Geoff was my friend at the time and he said ‘I’ll do it, your sister thinks that bass players are hot,” Cosby jokes. “My sister is real pretty, so he picked up the bass, sang backup and we killed two birds with one stone.”
A few years passed and the band would change its lineup several times, always seeking a drummer that fit their unique mold. Smith and Cosby were in the process of writing their debut, self-titled, full-length album in 2009 when Cosby met Nicholas Redmond, who worked at Ardent Studios at the time and would later that year become one the band’s primary song writers, guitarists and vocalists.
“When the band started with Geoff and I, nothing really happened. Things just wavered and then I happened to meet Nick at an open mic night that I went to on a whim. He thought I was a weirdo,” Cosby says. “And he was weird, by the way,” Redmond says, in reference to his band mate. “I gave him my demo and number and he gave me a call,” Cosby says. “We got ahold of each other and he said ‘Do you want to play these songs on your porch all day long or do you want to do something in the world with them?’ and I said ‘I want to do something in the world with them.”
From that point, the band’s core three-piece was established. However, with Cosby, Smith and Redmond, the band still lacked a faithful drummer. The band jokes about making do by playing drums with their feet while still strumming the strings and singing in tune. The trio then toured and recorded demos for months, searching for a drummer that would be the perfect fit.
In the past few years, the band has gone through accordion players, violinists, an assortment of other additions and a few drummers that didn’t quite pan out. That is, until Jeremy Stanfill, a drummer and friend from earlier in the band’s history, rejoined to establish a complete four-piece band. “We went through all of these phases of losing drummers, losing band members, building up this big thing, playing drums with our feet and having a crazy gypsy six-piece band, to the now just core four-piece,” said Smith. “Having Jeremy back in the band makes it feel more natural than it ever has.”
Along with a pair of studio releases under Ardent Music, the band has a large collection of live singles that have been recorded over the years. Although Star & Micey has toured for most of 2013, the band played an astonishing string of 16 shows in a matter of four days at South by Southwest last month. “I love those nights when you’re staying at someone else’s house, some people are still drinking whiskey and walking around the kitchen. It’s like 4:35 in the morning and you’re just kind of a fly on the wall, hidden somewhere deep in the U.S.,” Cosby said. “Everyone is going to bed, the show’s over and it’s all about going to sleep, then waking up the next morning and you’re going to a new city—it’s a new day.”
In October of 2012, the band released their second studio album, the “I Can’t Wait” EP, recorded in Oxford, Mississippi’s Sweet Tea Studios. The recordings were produced by Dennis Herring, who has worked with a wide array of artists ranging from Elvis Costello and Buddy Guy to Counting Crows.
“We’ve made it this far without any money and I couldn’t be happier – I’d rather be happy and making no money than unhappy and working at a desk,” Smith said. “It’s a wild lifestyle but I couldn’t imagine doing anything else. I’m glad we’re still here and making as much of a splash as we can.”
The band attributes many soulful southern singers such as Otis Redding, Sammy Cook and Hank Williams Sr. huge influences on their song writing, in addition to Memphis’ own Stax Records. Along with these greats, the band says family and friends also provide a well of inspiration.
“I’m proud to be from Memphis. We have such a rich musical heritage. Stax, Al Green, Elvis – so many people from around the world come here for those reasons,” Smith says. “It seems like Memphis doesn’t appreciate its own history as much as the rest of the world does.”
The band has been featured on NPR’s World Cafe and topped Paste Magazine’s 2012 list of “Top 12 Tennessee Bands You Should Listen to Now.” Friday, May 2 will mark the band’s debut Memphis in May performance. The group says they feel that playing the show is a huge honor for any musician, Memphian or not. With an estimated 80,000 attending, the band is more than ready to play alongside nationally recognized acts like The Smashing Pumpkins, The Black Keys, ZZ Top and many more. “It’s pretty exciting. It’s Music Fest – it’s a lot bands’ dream, especially here in Memphis, to play on that stage,” Smith says. “Also, the lineup is just amazing. We’re playing on the same stage as The Black Keys, which is indescribable.”
Star and Micey plan to continue making their own special blend of music by recording a third studio release in the near future and touring throughout the spring and summer.
“I just want us to continue meeting great people, keep making lasting friendships and of course keep going forward with what we do, which is being best friends, writing songs together and playing music that we really believe in,” Smith says.