is a pop music newcomer. Although Five Star Motel, his Private Music debut, is his third release, its his first for a major label following acclaimed under-the-radar predecessors Radio Fusebox (1999) and While You Slept (1995).
But the fact of the matter is that Stochansky has been playing music for almost his entire life; professionally for well over a decade in a variety of roles and formats. The Boston Globe dubbed his performance at South By Southwest Music Festival 2000 "one of the best live shows," while Canadas Globe and Mail declared that his "weaves of seductively layered melodiesand poetic lyrics demand attention."
So rather than the work of a fledgling performer, Five Star Motel showcases a fully-formed and inventive talent. A singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist whose wealth of experience has resulted in the distinctive creative voice of a true artist.
His own musical tastes, meanwhile, were informed by his parents regular purchases from a record club. "They would get a record every month, so there were always lots to play," Stochansky remembers. There were James Brown, Tom Jones, Nina Simone there were records everywhere amazing!" Stochanskys own first purchase was "the double blue greatest hits by the Beatles", while punk and New Wave bands such as Talking Heads, the Smiths and the Waterboys were also important influences.
Stochansky added piano to his repertoire as a youth, which led to early attempts at songwriting and recording. "I used to have two little tape recorders," he says. "I used to play piano into one of them, then play it back and sing to that recording and tape it on the second one. I thought I had invented multi-tracking!"
Stochansky eventually became a teenage disc jockey at Torontos college station, CKLN, while studying music and film at the Ontario College of Art and Design, where he composed soundtracks for his own films. "It was a time for incredible growth," he says. He began performing on his own after graduation but was sidetracked into playing for others.
In 1991, Stochansky began a seven-year stint playing and recording with Ani DiFranco, the Barenaked Ladies, the Indigo Girls, Janis Ian, Jane Siberry and Jonathan Richman, among others. But making his own music has always been Stochanskys primary goal, which led him to put out While You Slept while still in DiFrancos band and ultimately, in 1998, to go solo and pursue his own goals in earnest.
"I was a musician who was really sensitive to peoples songs; they would hear me and just hire me because of that," Stochansky notes. "But what I really wanted to do was make my own music."
While You Slept and Radio Fusebox were warmly received for their ambient constructions, which Stochansky likes to call "pop that could easily be played by a symphony." Five Star Motel changes course a bit. Following Radio Fuseboxs release, Stochansky decided to learn to play and write on guitar in order to write songs with it and take his music in a different direction.
"I was basically trying to write a guitar pop record," Stochansky explains. "I didnt want to have anything extraneous. I wanted to write simple songs and have them be really lush and sweeten them with production. But basically you can pick up a guitar and do every song on the album and theyll still work. That was the goal."
Its what hes achieved, too. Five Star Hotel is indeed lush and rich and irresistibly melodic. Driven by ringing guitar patterns and subtly deployed keyboards - as well as by Stochanskys keening vocal style, which has been compared to U2s Bono, the late Jeff Buckley, and The Kinks Ray Davies - the 12 songs here recall the best of pop and rock, marrying craft and emotion into a range of material that ranges from melancholy to shimmering and uplifting.
Tracks such as "Stutter," "22 Steps" and the Beatles-evoking "Mavis Said " build from quiet starts into carefully orchestrated swells of sound. "Wonderful" boasts a more direct punch, while "Miss USA" grows from its acoustic guitar start into a driving kind of anthem. "Here Nor There" has a hypnotic quality marked by some of Stochanskys most accomplished guitar arrangements; "Paris" and "Hymn," meanwhile, are evocative mood pieces that bookend the album.
"I kind of surprised myself in that I wrote songs that were much more accessible or pop-oriented as opposed to when I write on piano and go for more odd kind of chordings," Stochansky says. "I think the way I write is just a bit left of center and, therefore, my songs have cinematic kind of tone, lyrically or otherwise."
Five Star Motels songs mine a variety of subjects, from the universal wish on "Wonderful" to become a superhero - in order to bring back his grandmother - to the sweet romantic remembrance of "22 Steps," about an unrequited teenage crush. In "Miss USA" Stochansky tries to help a father understand his gay daughter. "Everest" deals with "the struggle of success."
"Theyre songs about me, about people I know, but I think in a way that anybody can relate to them," Stochansky says, adding with a laugh, "Theyre all hard (to write) - even the easy ones are hard. But playing music is everything to me. Its sex, love, hate, anger and humbleness all mixed into one ball."
And on Five Star Motel its a ball Stochansky throws with great confidence and skill, like a seasoned veteran who still has the change-the-world enthusiasm of a neophyte.
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