John Milchem certainly has gotten a lot of millege out of the Starvin Hungry monicker he hatched way back in 1995. What originally started out as a umbrella term for his Toronto-based solo meanderings has subsequently morphed into a hard rocking four-piece based out of Montreal. The band recently released their debut full-length Damnesty on Grenadine Records.
"It took nine years to get a Starvin Hungry album out because it took that long to put together a band who could tour," says Milchem. "A touring band is much more attractive to a label than a solo act or a vaniety project. I couldn't afford to put anything out myself and I didn't find too much support from indie labels until I hooked up with these guys."
Alongside guitarist Scott Mucklow, bassist Dave Lavoie (ex-Soft Canyon) and drummer Spencer Warren, Starvin Hungry are finally ready to reach for the brass ring that Milchem spied years back during the band's Toronto incarnation. With allusions of both Queen Street and Rue Sainte-Catherine now firmly lodged in his psyche, Milchem has a two-fold appreciation for the challenges starvin' musicians face in both cities.
"There's a lot of differences between the two. Montreal's a smaller town for one thing—at least the music scene itself is smaller. You can't play as much in town as you can in Toronto. That really encourages a lot of bands to look further afield since you can't play two or three times a month like you can in Toronto. Also, I found it really hard in Toronto to find people to commit to a single band and not get involved in a ton of other projects. Don't get me wrong, I played with some great musicians in Toronto but most of them were involved in two or three other bands while they were playing in Starvin Hungry. It was really hard to get anything moving in one direction whereas in Montreal, it seems so much easier to find musicians who are really talented but also desperate to play."
Damnesty is a straight-ahead rock and roll album—nothing more, nothing less. Strong songwriting, catchy hooks and tight playing; all captured in their sheetkicking glory by Bionic's Jonathan Cummins. The ex-Doughboys guitarist may not have been Milchem's first choice as producer but as a stalwart of the Montreal scene, he was the logicial fallback to say the least.
"We hooked up with Jonathan because I was originally trying to get in touch with Ian Blurton, who we were hoping would produce the record. Now, you have to understand, Ian Blurton is a notoriously elusive character and at the time, he was really busy producing the Weakerthans plus he was on tour doing sound for Nashville Pussy. So I kept calling Cummins to try and get in touch with Blurton because I knew they were playing together in Jonathan's band Bionic. He didn't know where Blurton was either so we kind of bonded over this shared experience. At some point, when it became apparent Ian was going to be too busy, I finally asked Jonathan if he'd be interested in producing and he said, 'Why the hell didn't you ask me in the first place? I'm right here.' That's basically how that came to be."
With a new album in the can and a strong pedigree in their back pockets, Milchem and his bandmates are ready hit the road. Potholes and hairpin curves be damned because Starvin Hungry have come too far to purge their visions of rock and roll success.
"We're going to be going out on our first extended tour in July," says Milchem "At this point, we're still just doing short weekend jaunts but the band is definitely ready to take things to the next level. The plan at this point is to go from Winnipeg to Halifax, get our feet wet on this tour and get the Starvin Hungry name out there."
Starvin Hungry play the Silver Dollar Room in Toronto as part of the NXNE festival on June 10 (1 a.m.). For more information on the band, please visit their official website at www.starvinhungry.com
Writer: Cameron Gordon