Stars Like Fleas enjoy putting people in uncomfortable positions.
STARS LIKE FLEAS with SAFRON SECT at the Music Gallery (197 John), Friday (September 12), 8 pm. $15, advance $10. 416-?204-?1080.
Right now he's in the middle of Brooklyn - a place known for pumping out the kind of bands that give scenester bloggers raging hard-?ons - but Shannon Fields, one of the two masterminds behind highly touted folk collective Stars Like Fleas, couldn't care less.
In fact, one of the first things he lets me know is that he's desperately looking forward to getting out for a while. Strange when you consider the underground success his band has cultivated over the years, but Fields has seen what lies beneath the hype, and he's more than happy to distance himself from it.
"It contributes to the false energy of the whole thing. It's a lot of noise and distraction that you can easily get caught up in and carried away with, and you'll focus on the wrong things if you're not careful.
"When people who are into things like big collectives, freak folk and all that nonsense hear us, they realize that Stars Like Fleas are not really about that."
What they are about doesn't appear to be as easy to define. One listen to their latest, The Ken Burns Effect (Talitres), an album that marries dreamy psychedelic folk and pop with free-?form noise improvisation, attests to that.
Fields talks at length about the new disc, and the feat of wrangling in so many contributors - an impressive list including players who've worked with Beirut, TV on the Radio, Fiery Furnaces, Fantomas and Yoko Ono - for which his only advice is to take plenty of ulcer medication.
He jests, obviously, but when asked whether the album is some kind of homage to the PBS documentary filmmaker, his response is decidedly layered.
"The Ken Burns Effect is named after the technique the filmmaker popularized in his documentaries, taking a still photograph and zooming in to a portion and pulling out. It's part of his visual language for storytelling.
"It's the idea of someone's technique or artistic signature becoming a plug-?in for other people to drop in and use. I think the name of disc works well as a metaphor for the conditions a musician faces at this particular time. People sort of make music by genre, by concept. It's something I would never want to do, but in some ways it's inescapable, and you're constantly pushing against that."
Onstage, Fields continues to push boundaries with his band's performing style so things can be heard and played in entirely new ways.
"We're trying to reproduce the same spontaneity and volatility while maintaining the shape of the songs. There's a lot of improvisation, but there's also a lot of form and guiding principles.
"What I try to do is keep people a little bit off-?centre and put them in uncomfortable positions, because that's what I'm interested in - the stuff that's wrong or that doesn't make sense, and what happens when you force that a little bit while still trying to arrive somewhere that can affect us all emotionally."