‘I’m on the Elliott Smith diet,” jokes Liza Thorn. “When he was really strung out toward the end, he only ate ice cream.” It’s midnight on a Thursday, and both members of Brooklyn-via-Los Angeles-via-San Francisco duo Starred have ducked into the sweltering office of Heathers bar. Despite the heat, both look like they’ve just stepped out of a Saint Laurent ad (in fact, they were recently photographed by Saint Laurent creative director Hedi Slimane)—guitarist and sound engineer Matthew Koshak in his T-shirt cut into a tank, shaggy hair, and tattoos, and singer-guitarist Liza Thorn in her enviable thrift-store finds and messy, bleached-blond bun. Both are very tall. “This is the only thing we do that’s social,” says Koshak before leaving to start their set.
If Thorn and Koshak seem a bit tired, it’s probably because they’ve been busy getting their hustle on. Since moving to New York from L.A. a year ago, the band has released a well-received EP with Pendu Sound, picked up some lucrative modeling gigs, DJed all over town, played some buzzed-about gigs (including one opening for Courtney Love at her secret show at the Dream Hotel), and begun working in earnest on their debut full-length, which they plan to complete on their own before shopping it around to labels. “I’m on a vampire recording schedule,” explains Thorn. “The place where our studio’s at, we’re only allowed to do music at night, so we’ll record until 8 a.m. and then I’ll sleep till 3.”
Thorn and Koshak first met a few years ago in San Francisco when Koshak was doing sound for Girls, the now-defunct band of Thorn’s ex-boyfriend Christopher Owens. (Thorn moved to San Francisco at the age of 14 to live with her dad, a Buddhist priest.) The two hit it off immediately, and Koshak, a professional sound engineer, offered to record an EP for Thorn’s band at the time, Bridez. “We became friends, best friends,” Thorn says; playing music together was a natural next step. So they moved to L.A. and commenced writing the heartbreaking lo-fi pop songs that would eventually make up the Prison to Prison EP.
Recalling Third-era Big Star and Mazzy Star, their first release’s minimal, dreamy, fuzzed-out beauty seems like a far cry from the music of So So Many White White Tigers, Thorn’s first band back in San Francisco, for which she screamed her head off and rolled around in broken glass. But Thorn sees no difference between her work then and now. “I think the music I make now is aggressive,” she says. “I feel like this music is pretty intense on the emotional end of things, whereas being physical and throwing yourself around the stage can be just as powerful as a Leonard Cohen song or something that’s quiet.”
The band moved to the East Coast somewhat accidentally after Thorn traveled here to film a movie and decided to stay because “I didn’t really have anything in L.A., and I lost my driver’s license.”
New York is not the easiest city for an artist to live in, and Thorn and Koshak have experienced some hard times. Thorn, who has no day job, compares being an artist to trying to survive on a desert island. But she also seems confident in, even proud of, her decision to live solely off her creative pursuits. “My comfort is secondary to making art,” she says. “This has been the most difficult year of my life, but it’s also been very rewarding in a lot of ways.”
One of those rewards was meeting Courtney Love, who contacted Thorn after hearing her music online and invited Thorn over to her house to hang out. Friendship blossomed, and Love offered Starred an opening spot on her upcoming tour. “It’s like going on tour with Marianne Faithful,” Thorn says. “She’s an icon of her time. She’s really supportive and really sweet to me.” It’s easy to understand what Love might see in her: Both musicians share emotional depth, classic rock fluency, a pathos-laden rasp, and a unique sense of style. A bit of Love’s snarling anger even seeps into Thorn’s voice at times, although you get the sense that most of it is swirling just below the surface.
Another similarity? Unlike some indie rock holier-than-thous, Thorn is not afraid to admit she wants success. “At the end of the day, I want to be playing my music to as many people as possible,” she says. She and Koshak will be financially stable for a while after this tour, she says.
Still, despite her singleminded passion for what she does, Thorn has moments of self doubt. “Always my general feeling is, ‘Everybody hates me.’ It’s just been ingrained in me, feeling like an outsider. I have so much doubt—I’m always teetering on having a fucking breakdown.”
“I don’t know. I need another drink.”