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Star 99’s Newly Released Debut Album Comes With Fresh South Bay Ennui

In Music
TWEE THE PEOPLE: A group of old friends reunited last year to make new sounds as Star 99 during a tumultuous year. Photo Courtesy of Star 99

TWEE THE PEOPLE: A group of old friends reunited last year to make new sounds as Star 99 during a tumultuous year. Photo Courtesy of Star 99

Heraclitus said that no one steps into the same waters twice, but when Saoirse Alesandro stepped back into San Jose last spring after four years in Los Angeles, she and three of her closest friends dove right in and started a band.

“She got back in May, and we started band practice in June,” says Star 99 guitarist Cole Calvo. 

Naming themselves after the long-standing but now-shuttered Campbell adult video store, Star 99 quickly found their rhythm and recorded an EP. Released earlier this month via LA label Bug Body, My Year in Lists flies by in a concise fourteen minutes. The album bursts forth like a secret too-long withheld, finally in the right company to be shared, a twee-punk peon to the bubbling, anxious feeling of growing up in the suburbs and never really feeling at home.

“I think it’s because we’ve known each other for so long,” Alesandro, the band’s singer says. “We trust each other. I’m not used to working with dudes who will let me write a love song about my best friend and not shoot me down.”

She’s talking about “Brady Song,” the most traditionally twee tune on the album (no distortion, no drums, some whistling), a tender and bittersweet ode to a friend who’s thinking of leaving, but can’t remember where she’s been.

“Asked you where you went, you said: I don’t know, I don’t know, I don’t know, I don’t know,” Alesandro sings.

In his book on the subject, Rolling Stone critic Marc Spitz dubs twee “the gentle revolution,” arguing the genre of Cub, Belle and Sebastian and the Smiths fights for “the freedom (and often the daring) to be soft in an increasingly hard world, alive and thriving.” It’s appropriate then that Star 99 come about at a time when the dominant sound in San Jose’s underground is blistering hardcore.

“In hardcore, there’s this issue of authenticity,” Calvo says. “But I’m super neurotic, and I’m second-guessing myself all the time. I play in a hardcore band, and I go to hardcore shows, but I still feel really weird there sometimes. As a soft brown dude, this band is most aligned with my natural day-to-day line of thought.” 

Hardcore also tends to proceed through a series of declarative statements (Minor Threat: “You’re just a sheep looking for a shepherd.” Gulch: “Prisoners of guilt seated at the throne.”). Star 99, on the other hand, brings a more inquisitive standpoint to the San Jose underground.

“There’s a questioning aspect in our music,” Calvo says. “A lot of the time you can hear us second-guessing ourselves in the song itself.”

True to his word, two minutes into opener “Loose,” a bouncy anthem of alienation that repeats the phrase “I think it’s terrifying to know someone well,” Alesandro is already questioning it all.

“What do I know?” she sings, as the song reaches its crescendo. “What do you know? What if I don’t? What if I don’t?”

On the beautiful and bittersweet “Wyoming,” a simple moment of mutual regard spirals into an uncrossable gap, with Alesandro observing, “I watch you watch me watch you watch me.” 

When Calvo takes over lead vocals on “Sleep Talker,” he opens with the fearsome couplet “Weekend at your house, a couple of days / We all get nervous with nothing to say.”

“Saoirse is famous for keeping journals,” Calvo says. As if on cue, she laughs, holding three worn-in journals up to the camera, all of them immediately at hand. “She’s always writing in them, writing things down. I felt like My Year in Lists fit Saoirse. There was a scribbled, journalistic quality, like a page of a diary being put into song.”

So, while the Star 99 video store may no longer be around, the good news is Star 99 the band is beginning to plant roots in the South Bay. Just by being here at all, they’re already making an impact. Historically, twee has been great on representation for women and queer artists, but there is a flipside of the genre.

“Twee is super queer and super femme, but it’s also super white,” Alesandro says. “So it’s been cool to be a group of people of color, mixed-Asians and Pacific Islanders, and feel like we’re making space in a genre that’s been very white.”

Star 99
Album: My Year in Lists
Cost: Name your price
Listen at: star99.bandcamp.com

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