Stark is a band for then and now, yesterday and today. A powerful quartet transmitting exquisite sonic tension across three decades–melding dissonance with sublime anthemic melody and rhythmic precision that embraces a wealth of influences: from post-punk, grunge, and shoegaze to New Romantic, synth-pop, funk, fractured art rock, and more.
Spinning four-minute masterpieces of Everyman angst, the band’s lyrics and sound portray the aspirations, anger, apprehensions, and ardent hopes of a generation that came of age during the Reagan-Bush administration, yet retain up-to-the-minute relevance for today’s listeners. Tinged with alienation and vulnerability but never nihilism or resignation, the band produced stirring, meticulous compositions that ebbed and flowed like a tidal force. An energy prepared to battle Time and wear down a reality the group’s members knew deserved to be rethought, reconsidered, reanimated with a more vital force.
Stark seemed to coalesce in almost alchemical fashion, brought together by the bitterly cold wind that cut across the flat landscape of Urbana-Champaign in fall 1988, just as the elements had done for centuries. This year was different, in that the Midwestern college town now linked four disparate souls bound by a passion for edgy, angular, sometimes anthemic rock that could meld dissonance and melodic beauty within a single sonic excursion. This brisk and bracing place—a farming community clustered around a massive land-grant university— also gave rise to bands like the Didjits, Hum, and Poster Children and attracted regional and national acts like Smashing Pumpkins, Adrian Belew, Dinosaur Jr., Husker Du, and many, many more.
Inspired by this dynamic backdrop, Stark emerged as a confident, poised collective intent on forging its own identity by remanipulating its many musical and artistic influences–especially those in seeming opposition to one another. The group consisted of Shannon Drew (drums), Brendan Gamble (vocals/backup guitar), Matt Golosinski (bass), and Chris Rogers (guitar/background vocals). All had been members of the vibrant local scene playing in other noteworthy and influential bands, including Poster Children and Obvious Man (Drew), Ack-Ack! and Poster Children (Gamble), Hardcore Barbie and Obvious Man (Golosinski), and Tugrik Dhugugrik and Obvious Man (Rogers). What the groups and personnel shared was an aggressive, irreverent approach to music, yet not reckless or sloppy. And underneath this stance was often a desire, not so secret, to recognize and craft more melodic and even pop-oriented material that could play within certain genre conventions even while testing the limits of those conventions in the quest for something new and unexpected.
Given that, it was no surprise that the band felt equally comfortable trotting out an occasional cover from Prince or Tom Jones/Art of Noise (“Kiss”) or The Sound (“I Can’t Escape Myself”), alongside mostly original material. While Stark embraced the drama and theatrics of performance, often wearing make up and dressing up in thrift-store apparel intended to cut a look at least a little out of step with the rest of their cow-punk and Replacements-inspired peers, the band retained a sense of humor and humility, without ever forgetting their primarily serious and dedicated engagement with their craft.