Stars’ Torquil Campbell Talks Setting Himself on Fire Long Enough to Make a Play About It

Torquil Campbell of the rock band Stars is a political commentator, pop star, actor, writer, husband, son and dad. After spending two decades on the road with Amy Millan, Evan Cranley and Chris Seligman and recording eight albums as Stars, the band is bringing their lives to the stage in Stars: Together, which opens November 29 in Toronto at the Crow’s Theatre, which also premiered Campbell’s True Crime and Broken Social Scene’s Kevin Drew’s A&R Angels. Ahead of the opening, Ben Kaplan caught up with the 47-year-old to talk about surviving rock ‘n’ roll long enough to leave a legacy on the stage.

Torquil Campbell: I don’t think anybody has ever done this before — an entire band playing themselves in the telling of their own story. If we pull this off, it could be something special.

Ben Kaplan: What does your band do better than anyone else?

TC: So many things.

BK: Give us eight.

TC: Kitchen sink pop music. Music that you can have in your life and by that I mean: we tell the story of your life better than anybody else. That’s the kind of band we wanted to be and that’s what we ended up being.

BK: What do you do best?

TC: Worry.

BK: C’mon…

TC: I’m a good preacher. I’m a true believer and I share my faith pretty well. I let people see I believe what I’m doing.

BK: We’re celebrating 20 years of Stars with this play. Are those two answers the same as they would have been in 1999?

TC: What we were best at 20 years ago was competitive drinking.

BK: What made you pause to celebrate your life’s work, today?

TC: Last week I saw the Trashcan Sinatras, a great Scottish band on tour right now and one of the first bands we opened for, and they’ve just gotten better through the years. But what’s sad about the way the culture works is that we churn through things so fast and so often, that people often do the best things they’ve ever done long after the spotlight has left the building.

BK: Is that where we are today with Stars?

TC: Stars are way purer now. Way better at spreading the joy and being generous. We’re a lot less selfish as people than we used to be. Can I amend an earlier question?

BK: Of course. Amend them all.

TC: What I do best is talk shit. Nobody talks shit better than me. I talk shit supreme.

BK: You also talk in pure poetry. You once told me, after you lost your father, that it was like there had always been someone standing before you to block the wind, and now you had to block it all on your own.

TC: Once you become a dad yourself you have to start being the protector, and I was adjusting to that right when I lost my own protector—losing that one person who always told me it was going to be OK. It was a profoundly altering experience: you have to be the person who says it’s OK when you don’t think it is. It’s a gift and a curse, but mostly a gift.

BK: I asked if you were able to do it, almost with tears in my eyes, because I’m not sure if I can do it: stand alone and face the wind without any protection, and protect the people I love, but you said you surprised yourself. That all of us are stronger than we think.

TC: You find it in yourself when you have to. We all have it, that inner-strength or self-belief, the ability to hold on. We forget and we get confused, but it’s there — it’s a sweet feeling when we step out on our own.

BK: Who do you learn from?

TC: Chris Abraham, artistic director of the Crowe’s Theatre. I’ve learned a shitload from him ever since we met and I feel like my ability to tell stories and my sense of work ethic, imagination and confidence that he invested in me was really incredible.

BK: I think Kevin Drew once said something similar about Chris.

TC: What he really teaches is to take action. Making art is about taking action and not doubting and having faith in your impulses and those lessons, I’ve been taught them before, but I don’t think anyone has taught me as clearly as Chris Abraham has done.

BK: Is the band as ready as you are to bring their beautiful, messy lives onstage?

TC: Stars has invested unbelievable amounts of faith in Chris and every member, within one meeting with him, got it and was onboard. He understands, like we did intuitively, that what an audience needs is an honest connection.

BK: Why do we need Stars: Together?

TC: To circle the wagons. The culture is so maudlin and when was the last time you heard a politician talk about art? The internet has killed the idea of going out at night and people who love theatre and music, art and books, we have to get together and throw shit across borders so all of us can enjoy each other, together — in person, and celebrate art.

BK: Who would you have disappeared from the earth right now in an excruciating fashion?

TC: Besides Donald Trump? The list is long and voluminous, but I could definitely never see Andrew Scheer’s face again and would consider myself fortunate if we could send him to a donut store somewhere in another dimension where he could sit and eat crullers and complain about immigrants and we’d never have to see his stupid little baby face again — that’d be nice.

BK: In a nutshell, what’s Stars: Together about?

TC: How to keep your shit together under any circumstances.

BK: Are there plans to take it out of Toronto? I thought your last play definitely should’ve taken New York.

TC: It’s not a good time for art. But frankly, it doesn’t matter anymore where we do shit, what matters is the people who are there wanted to come out. I’m happy to play Sudbury if there’s people in Sudbury who want to see the show after 20 years in my band. Who gives us a shit about Broadway? What matters is continuing our relationship with people who invest in our art.

BK: What advice would you give a budding musician?

TC: Hang in there. Everybody else quits.

Stars: Together is on at the Crow’s Theatre in Toronto from November 26 to December 15. For more information, see