In his latest essay, writer James Shotwell explores how growing up in the Midwest informs the relatable melancholy of Iowa group Stars Hollow.
Stars Hollow offers listeners a collection of poetic yelps, melodic heartache, and jangly riffs that perfectly encapsulate the experiences of countless people born in the states that lie between the coasts. Their music wrestles with knowing you’re not living up to your full potential and all the mistakes that come with trying to change. It’s about recognizing your ability to love more, give more, and do more if only you could get off your ass and let go of the things you cannot control. It’s a lot, both musically and emotionally, and I mean that in the best possible way.
“With Weight,” the lead single off the band’s upcoming debut album, is a textbook example of Midwestern emo’s careful balancing act of punk, alternative, and folk sensibilities. It taps into a type of shared catharsis that only exists in that community. You don’t need to know the words or the story behind the song to understand that the track’s sheer existence has helped alleviate the group’s negative thoughts or feelings. As a result, listeners may feel a similar sensation or self-actualization that helps propel them toward a clearer head and more positive thinking. That makes “With Weight” a kind of magic trick because it convinces listeners to shed the anchors they allow to weigh them down, especially where romantic entanglements are concerned.
The only thing you need to know about people from the Midwest is that we cling to hope because, for most of us, hope is all we have. Nestled between our crumbling highways and the fields that seem to stretch on endlessly is a rich tapestry of small towns and villages filled with people whose dreams go unrealized more often than not. For us, making it out looks a lot like living a regular life to people on the coasts. We fantasize about living our truth and surrounding ourselves with equally free-spirited people. Our friends and family rarely dream as big as those of us who dare to flee our ZIP codes more often than the one time every year when our bosses finally give us time off, but we love them all the same.
If you read enough about life before the internet, you’ll find that authors often describe the Midwest as a place where hard-working people lead stressful lives of quiet desperation. The idea of this endless struggle is something that now resides in the very marrow of our being. We do not know how to relax, and we certainly do not take any opportunities that come along for granted. We will work ourselves to the bone because we are the children of people who had to do that very thing just to survive. We do too much to make too little while fighting the voice in our heads that says we deserve even less. As a result, we are targets for people willing to leverage our collective desperation for personal gain. We are the factory workers, farm help, and data entry specialists that make so much of quote/unquote “normal life” possible for people who never consider the toll such labor takes on a person’s soul.
In many ways, the men of Stars Hollow are perfect stand-ins for anyone caught in the seemingly endless expanse between where they’ve been and where they want to go. It’s not hard to close your eyes and picture the members replaced with any collection of twenty or thirty-somethings screaming and singing their lungs out in basements, clubs, or rented VFW halls. They possess the intangible quality that makes them feel like someone you’ve known your entire life, as though they were present for the quiet moments and interactions that informed your every action. They are among those who — for lack of a better description — just get it. More importantly, they continue to move forward despite knowing that reaching the heights they aspire to is highly improbable. Stars Hollow refuses to give in or give up simply because the road ahead is treacherous. They see the journey for what it is, an experience that will challenge them in ways we cannot predict so that they may become something greater than what they are right now.
All of that is a long way of explaining why “With Weight” is an exuberant celebration of growing pains and the risks we take to make a life we want to live. Stars Hollow is finding a way to embrace themselves, flaws and all, in a manner that will speak to listeners on a profoundly soulful level. We all either know someone that feels the way they do, or we are that person. Possibly both. We know what it means to long for something more while simultaneously dreading having to say farewell to the things that have made us the people we are right now. Our spirits are screaming for some release to break the tension and anxiety that started building within us the day of our birth, but we do not let those cries deter us from pressing onward. We believe that all the wild thoughts and ideas that keep our hearts pounding in our chest are more than fanciful delusions, and we commit — every day — to seeing them through.
If you recognize these feelings, do yourself and become familiar with Stars Hollow.
Stars Hollow will release their new album titled I Want To Live My Life on May 7.