Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Blip Nation Interview: Meet by_starla

Blipper since: October 3, 2008

Pete Dulin: What part of the world do you live in?

by_starla: I live in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. I can see the Philadelphia Art Museum from my apartment building. I grew up in Bucks County, PA, but moved to Philadelphia when I started my doctoral studies at the University of Pennsylvania, and I have lived here ever since. I love the city – the culture, the restaurants, the historic buildings, and the people. It’s also wonderful to see shows without worrying about where to park.

Pete Dulin: What prompted you to join Blip.fm?

by_starla: A friend introduced me to the site. I think he may have heard of it from a mutual friend on Last.fm. Neither of them is blipping anymore, but I am still here.

At the time, I had joined Last.fm to find others who loved music as much as I did. My friends and co-workers tended to view music as pleasant background music, or a diversion for a Saturday night. I guess I got tired of having friends’ eyes gloss over as I was waxing enthusiastic about a band, or of trying to explain why I saw so many live shows, especially in venues where I had to stand for the entire show.

It was a revelation to find so many people my age on last.fm who loved music as much as I did. Blip was even better.

Dulin: Where do you learn about and hear new music?

by_starla: Blip.fm is a major source for me. I also listen to Blalock’s Indie Rock Playlist and the Indie Rock Playlist every month. I used to be a music magazine junkie, but I’ve since stopped reading almost all of them, with the exception of The Big Takeover. I use Metacritic to keep track of upcoming new releases. I go to last.fm sometimes for recommendations and information about new bands. Allmusic.com also is helpful when catching up on more established bands, but it’s hit or miss with new indie bands. I don’t read blogs as much as I should, but I do occasionally visit Hype Machine to catch up.

The Internet has made a huge difference – it’s so much easier to find so many wonderful bands from all over the world. I am grateful not to have to rely on the radio (although I am fortunate to have WXPN here). I like doing research. Currently, I seem to use the skills I developed in graduate school more to discover music than to write history papers.

Dulin: What about Blip.fm appeals to you for listening to and playing music?

by_starla: After about 2.5 years on the site, I have made so many good friends from around the world (including my boyfriend @2liveis2fly). I also have amassed a great music collection due in part to what I have learned from other blippers.

I enjoy the immediacy of sharing music in real time with people from all over the world. We get equally excited about new releases from old favorites. We share and enjoy the personal associations brought up by nostalgic blips. I think theme blipping is Blip’s version of word games – there’s a wonderful sense of playfulness in trying to come up with the next blip. And we all love having friends introduce us to a new favorite band or song.

I also love the kindness of blippers. I remember @eliott_is_dead sending me my first reply when I was still tentatively figuring the site out. He and others were funny, encouraging, knowledgeable and passionate about music. Even though the site has grown so much since 2008, there’s a sense of community on Blip that keeps drawing me back. I’ve dealt with some difficult times while on Blip, and am thankful for the friendship and support I have received from other blippers.

Dulin: You have over 34,000 Blip.fm listeners. If all of them moved to one place and made you mayor of the city, what would you call the city?

by_starla: Harmonium.

Dulin: What song would be the theme song for the city?

by_starla: The most mellow theme song ever: Great Lake Swimmers, "Unison Falling Into Harmony."

Dulin: What influences your blip picks? Mood, nostalgia, new artist/song, social interaction, or other factors?

by_starla: All of the above. It really depends on my mood and energy level. Lately I seem to be doing more random blipping off the top of my head. When work is crazy and I am tired and have little energy, that’s what happens. But I still love putting together playlists around a mood or a genre or a theme. That’s my favorite way to blip. It’s fun also to blip spontaneously, playing off the blips of other blippers, so I sometimes do that too. I also periodically blip only new releases or new artists. I like seeing what others think of songs that strike me when I am trying out new albums. And it’s always fun to go down a rabbit hole with @2liveis2fly or other blippers, exploring the work of one band or artist.

Dulin: Your real name isn't Starla. What does your Blip.fm DJ name mean?

by_starla: I made up the username when I was setting up my last.fm account. I was on a major Smashing Pumpkins jag at the time, so I decided to pay homage to two favorite SP songs with the name: "By Starlight" and "Starla." I decided to use the same name when I created my Blip account. I also used the same avatar, which is a screen shot from the SP video for "Thirty Three," another of my favorite SP songs.

Dulin: When you're feeling sad or depressed, do you have a "go to" song or artist to help cope?

I have whole playlists of beautiful songs that I can crawl into when I am feeling depressed. If I had to choose one artist, it would probably be Cloud Cult. Their music is transcendent. They survived incredibly painful experiences (particularly the death of a child) in part by healing their pain and grief through music. The hope and love that their songs express are inspirational to me.

Dulin: What musician, singer, or band would you most like to meet? Why?

by_starla: Probably Richard Thompson. He’s a brilliant musician and songwriter who deserves far more popularity than he has – but fellow musicians rightly view him as one of the best guitarists ever. He’s made breathtaking music at all stages of his career, from Fairport Convention, to Richard and Linda Thompson, to his current solo career. I’ve been fortunate to see him perform live many times, and it would be even better to be able to sit down and talk to him. He has a wonderful, dark, dry sense of humor, and I think it would be fascinating to hear his take on the music business and life in general.

Dulin: What song or lyric do you wish you would have written? Why?

by_starla: I’m struggling to answer this question too! I guess I would say "Mercy" by Black Rebel Motorcycle Club. It’s a beautiful, simple song, and very moving. I would like to be able to express longing and regret and sadness so eloquently and purely.

Dulin: If you could blip one song that could reach everyone on the planet, what would you choose?

by_starla: This is the most difficult interview question for me. There are so many moving songs that represent and touch different aspects of being human. (And as my friends will tell you, I have a terrible time picking just one song.)

After thinking long and hard, I have come up with two possibilities. One is Sam Cooke, "A Change Is Gonna Come." Such deep pain in the song, but also such vivid hope for a better future. The other is James Taylor and Yo Yo Ma’s rendition of "Hard Times Come Again No More." @2liveis2fly introduced me to their performance. It’s ethereally beautiful, simple, touching. And Stephen Foster’s lyrics are eloquent.

Dulin: If you were on a world tour as a Blip.FM DJ and ambassador, what three countries or cities would you visit first? What DJs would you like to meet?

by_starla: I am wincing while answering this, because there are so many Blip.Fm DJs I would love to meet. I hate the thought of leaving anyone out or hurting any feelings. So, please know if you aren’t listed for this tour, I would want to plan subsequent tours to meet everyone.

I think my first stop would be to visit @SabriESC in Calgary – hoping that @badtemperedzombie, @wayoutosphere, @everythingispop, @Surreality, @evablue, and other Canadian DJs would be able to stop by for the visit (knowing that it would be quite a trek for those living further East). (On my way to my first stop, I would want to stop by CA to pick up @lilyetc so she could come along too.). I would then work back East to England to see @Qrobur, other UK DJs such as @snapbadger, @Arth, @CreepyGirl – and hopefully @Dolittle if she could stop over from Ireland. My last stop would be Italy to see @mammara – we have a long-delayed date to see live music together sometime, and he’s one of my oldest and dearest friends on Blip. It would be wonderful if @pratinsky and @spacespencer could stop by too, but if not I’d have to make stops myself to see them before going home.

Dulin: Think of another Blip.FM DJ. You don’t have to reveal who it is. What question would you most like to ask him or her?

by_starla: I’d ask @mammara for a catalog of his music collection – more of a request than a question. He blips such a wonderful range of music, that I am certain his collection would be an inspiration as well as a source of new music for me.

Dulin: If you could invite any band/musician over for dinner, whom would you invite, what would you serve and what music would you play throughout the evening?

by_starla: I’d invite Richard Thompson, and also John Wesley Harding (he lives in Philadelphia now). It would be great fun to talk about folk music, politics, and the state of the world in general with them – and I would hope they’d have their acoustic guitars with them for some post-dinner music. They both have eclectic taste in music, so I’d probably set iTunes on shuffle so we’d have a jumble of indie, rock, indie pop, folk, alt country, and blues all night. As for food, Richard Thompson is a vegetarian, so I would serve roasted red peppers, cheese, olives, and bread to start, followed by cheese lasagna with a huge salad, lots of Chianti Classico, and finally some homemade bittersweet chocolate ice cream with butter cookies, good coffee and some Oban.

Dulin: How has your musical taste changed over time?

by_starla: It’s gotten broader. My early love was classical music, due in large part to my father’s influence. He was an excellent clarinet player, and I remember listening to classical music with him, identifying composers and instruments, when I was quite young. (Because of him, I played clarinet, bassoon, and some piano-great experiences.) My parents also exposed me to jazz and a lot of musicals as well as to some 1970s pop music. I still listen to a lot of classical and jazz off Blip, and make it to NYC to see 5-6 operas a year at the Met with my dad.

Throughout the 1970s, I listened to a lot of AM radio in the back seat of my parents’ cars (and I sadly still know the lyrics to many songs I wish I could forget). I remember being enthralled by MTV in the 1980s, and going to high school dances featuring a lot of Billy Idol and Journey and Madonna. I branched into rock when I was in high school (Led Zeppelin, Blue Oyster Cult, U2, etc.), but didn’t really listen to much indie or punk or blues or alt country until I was in college, when I started to make up for lost time. R.E.M., Talking Heads, XTC, Husker Du, The Replacements, Smashing Pumpkins were all early favorites.

Over the past 12 years or so, my musical taste has broadened a great deal as I have discovered new bands and explored favorite genres, especially indie music in all its many sub genres. There are some prominent elements in my musical taste today. I love melody and harmony. Expressive, intelligent lyrics get my attention. I respond to primal blues riffs in acoustic blues, electric blues, and in folk, rock, and country iterations. Acoustic music, whether rock, folk, alt country, or country, also appeals to me. And for some reason, fuzzy guitars in psychedelic rock and shoegaze also get me every time. 

Above all, I like to be moved, touched, and sometimes challenged by new music.

Dulin: Pick one song that encapsulates your personality, and explain why.

by_starla: Sandy Denny, "Who Knows Where The Time Goes." I can be fairly contemplative, nostalgic, and emotional. The song’s lyrics and traditional-sounding melody represent that part of me.
Dulin: What artists and/or songs would you want to hear on the soundtrack of your life?

For childhood scenes, Simon and Garfunkel and John Denver (both of whom I listened to a lot with friends in the 1970s and early 1980s).

For high school years, some Yes (90215 was my first concert), Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin (to recall times sitting in a friend’s basement listening to her playing along on a purple drum set), B-52s, Genesis, Peter Gabriel, Kate Bush.

For college, R.E.M., The Cure, Violent Femmes, 10,000 Maniacs, The Replacements, Husker Du, Talking Heads, XTC, Smashing Pumpkins, The Clash.

Graduate School years: Richard Thompson, John Wesley Harding, Built to Spill, Galaxie 500, Luna, Smashing Pumpkins, Throwing Muses, Pixies.

Post-graduate school: John Gorka, Dean & Britta, BRMC, more Richard Thompson and John Wesley Harding, The White Stripes, Nick Cave, PJ Harvey, Bob Dylan, Bob Mould, Laura Marling, Emily Jane White, Kristin Hersh, Aimee Mann, Eels, Ryan Adams – too many others to list. (It would have to be a very long movie with multiple soundtracks….)

Dulin: What is your dream job?

by_starla: I’m pretty happy with my current job (teaching and directing undergraduate and graduate academic programs), but if I could do anything at all, I would choose to be a reviewer of music, books, and restaurants—with the ability to review only what I really loved.

Dulin: Any other thoughts to share?

Thank you for the opportunity to answer these questions, and for providing windows into fellow Blip DJs’ lives through these interviews. And many thanks to all the wonderful Blip DJs who make Blip such a vibrant community.
Pete Dulin is the co-publisher and editor of www.presentmagazine.com and writes freelance for magazines, websites, and newspapers. He can be found in the Blip Nation at http://blip.fm/slipperydistortion. He can be reached at Twitter.com/petedulin, http://www.facebook.com/pete.dulin and www.petedulin.com.


  1. of course i adore this, and as always she is the most modest, considering she is tre' brilliant and modest and didn't even tell me she granted the interview, great as always pete *_*

  2. Really enjoyed this Pete & by_starla! Wonderfully descriptive!

  3. It was fun to read about my Blip.fm neighbor across the river. Thanks!

  4. very nice pete and by-starla, but i must to confess that leave me a litlle sad that she don´t includes rio de janeiro in her travel ahahaha

  5. This was a banger. Thanks.

    -DT @sarcasticoptimist

  6. Great interview Pete! I feel as thou i know one of my favourite Blippers that little bit more :)

  7. @by_starla and @mammara were always the best source of music gems.


  8. Thanks so much Pete and @by_starla. Loved the comment about the welcome you received from @eliott_is_dead when you first started out. When I started blipping you were one of those djs that helped me to figure things out :)