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The Star Department

What could be more evocative an album title than The Pea Green Boat? Perhaps the songs on said album, crafted as they are by Michael Orange and Justin Commins, who hail from Dublin, Ireland, and call themselves The Star Department. Their sound is reminiscent of Belle and Sebastian meets Glen Phillips meets I’m From Barcelona (with a less overwhelming number of band members), with tracks like “Sandcastles” and “Antlers” showing off their melodic sensibilities and wide-ranging vocal pipes.

Formed in 2006, The Star Department was originally a quartet, with a debut EP (Flickering Lights) which snagged plenty of critical acclaim (including a nod from Nokia) and plenty of airplay. Fast-forward six years, and they’re now a duo, with the other bandmates in the rearview mirror.

“We met in 2006, through our old guitarist, John,” explains Michael Orange. “I had been away travelling, and John asked me if I wanted to get involved a few months before I got back. We spent a bit of time writing, added another member, released an EP, played lots of shows – and then we kind of hit a wall.”

That was when four became two.

“Justin and I stayed writing together and sort of changed our way of doing things band-wise – and that’s where we’re at now,” Orange continues.

They invited a couple of other comrades onto their Pea Green Boat, too, to help out with the production side of things.

“My old band opened for Field Music in Dublin in 2010,” Orange says, “that’s how I met David (Brewis), and we kept in touch. They are one of my favourite bands and lovely people, so I asked him if he’d be up for mixing a song.”

Brewis mixed the single version of “Antlers” for The Pea Green Boat, and Tom McFall (production for Stars/Bloc Party/R.E.M./Editors) hopped on board to mix the rest of the album.

“Justin had worked with Tom before with his other band, so we asked him to mix and we think he did a wonderful job, wonderful chap that he is,” Orange grins.

Before the mixing stage was reached, though, The Star Department found that with only two members, they had a far more focused approach in the studio, with Orange and Commins each bringing in songs for the other’s consideration, and working together to craft arrangements.

“I think we both prefer this way of doing things now,” Orange says, “it seems to make more sense, and it’s nice to have control, to some extent.”

On their breaks between sessions, he reports, they’d “drink lots of peppermint tea and talk shite,” Orange listening to tracks by the likes of Magnetic Fields and Max Tundra, among others.

“I’m generally really inspired by artists who are brave with what they do, and don’t generally try to fit into any kind of scene,” he says, “what I listen to changes all the time – we have no set genre in mind at all when we’re putting songs together. There’s a lot of trial and error, but I don’t think it’s particularly avant-garde or anything. It’s an alternative kind of pop, I suppose.”

The alt-pop of Pea Green Boat hews to a character-driven theme, for the most part, with each song telling a different story of a character’s perspective of living, trying to make sense, and struggling to evolve in a dystopian-type reality.

“That being said,” Orange says, “I think it’s a hopeful album, and I thin kyou have to have a sense of humour with life in general. In terms of my own favourites, I like “This Ship Won’t Sail” and the last song, “You’ve Punctured My Lung,” which has some majestic trumpet from our Glaswegian friend, Gordon. Our friend Niall also played bass on a lot of the album, and he did a great job. It was a team effort in that regard, and we’re both really proud of the whole thing.”

The Star Department will be taking Niall on the road with them for their tour dates, as well as their friend Mike, who makes “incredible music” under the name Mail Order Messiahs.

“He’ll be playing guitar, keys, and singing,” Orange says. “We’re looking to do a little tour of Ireland, and then get over to the U.S. and Canada for some shows. It’s always really nice to see other parts of the world and meet new people – so  yeah, we’ll put the album out in February 2013, and look to tour as much as possible.”

For more info on The Star Department, visit their official Facebook HQ and stop by their page on Bandcamp.