I’ve mentioned it several times before, but it bears repeating that one of the things I love about Twitter is all the interesting people I’ve met and continue to meet. And since my account is primarily about music, I follow and am followed by several thousand musicians and bands. One that I’ve had the distinct pleasure of getting to know is a hard-working singer/songwriter who goes by the artistic name Def Star. Based in the Chicago area and born Mike Purcell, Def Star is an incredibly creative, talented and nice guy with seemingly boundless energy. In just the past couple of years, he’s recorded an impressive output of songs in a variety of genres, including hip hop, rap, rock, alternative rock, electronic, industrial, trap and pop. He’s also very supportive of other musicians, as well as his fans and followers, plus he has a wonderful sense of humor – all things I greatly admire in an artist.
I recently sat down with Def Star (well, we were actually sitting at our respective computers 2,000 miles apart) to discuss his love for music, what inspires him, and his creative process. I was blown away by his thoughtful, articulate and deeply honest responses.
EclecticMusicLover: Hi Def Star. Thanks for agreeing to an interview! We’ve followed each other on Twitter for a while now, but I don’t really know a whole lot about you. Tell me a bit about yourself and how you came to be interested in making music.
Def Star: First & foremost, thank you for taking an interest in my music! About me: both of my grandpas sang (one jazz/lounge & the other church songs). I witnessed the power song has over women at a very young age when I saw U.S. Navy pilots perform a very well-choreographed lip sync of The Righteous Brothers’ “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’.” In middle school, girls would call me and ask that I sing “If I Ever Fall in Love” by Shai – great song! My tastes were and are in complete & utter disarray – the only file left up there in my mental rolodex is labeled chaos and I think it’s empty.
Really though, I remember absolutely falling in love with whole eras of music and the two that stick out most are grunge rock and gangsta rap. Comin’ up the outside of the track was always R&B. Regardless, ever since I can remember, there have always been songs that absolutely knock me over and latch their claws into my soul and leave these beautiful scars or bandage ones that were already there. Anyway, what I’m intending to get at is this: it never mattered what genre these great works of art were labeled, or what style or culture or anything else anyone could say right here… to me, I’m thankful that I was exposed to an incredibly vast variety of music by people who genuinely loved the music they love and that I’ve been fortunate enough to have had experiences that later on change from mere memory into what is recalled as these moments. I don’t know if they’re milestones so much as they are simply stars in the night sky we call our life; the point is they matter because the chords get struck and they run deep. Not only that but they’re like little shortcuts or portals straight to the heart – for better and worse.
EML: I can identify with how you developed a passion for music at an early age. My much older brother loved artists like Elvis, Fats Domino and Little Richard when he was in his teens, so I got exposed to that music as a baby and danced to those songs as soon as I could stand up on my own lol.
DS: I love the magic that is music and its effects on every single person it touches from inception on. For some, that’s the name of this game, really: the best songs never die. In my experience, it can feed twisted delusions of grandeur not limited even to the absurd such as immortality. Flipside of that? Oh, but all of the rest about it – any which way ya cut it – music is escape, hope, consolation, companionship, love, hate, nothing, everything. I love how some songs can plant themselves firmly in one specific moment in time and other songs are ethereal, transcendent, and timeless.
I’ve said this from the very beginning: “Music Speaks, I Translate.” At the time that I first started saying that (whenever people would ask about how I write lyrics or develop melodies) I wasn’t trying to brand myself or come up with some sort of catch phrase. Today, it’s mine & I own it. It began because that’s how I feel it happens most of the time for me. I get an instrumental from one of a few incredibly talented producers I’m blessed enough to be close, personal friends with; it may be one of a handful of different genres or a unique mix of two or more; I like to consider what the emotion of the beat’s describing or even “saying.” Sometimes the producer says I hear this here or I kept thinking of that there, other times he or she says what they were thinking or feeling when they made it. Most often, I’ve been entrusted with free reign to build whatever I feel like building on the allotted real estate, whether only one verse for a collab or promo, or an entire track for a solo.
I started out rappin’ in 1999, singin’ in 2001, rockin’ in 2003 and from there, there have been mixtapes, groups, bands, shows, writing, recording and finally an artist who realized that if he doesn’t light the fire, no one will ever even have a chance to carry the torch. So now, I have a catalog of recorded songs somewhere upwards of the mid-300’s, I may or may not be currently working on an official album or two right now as I type this, there is always new promo material popping up like my first actual music video that came outta nowhere just last week on YouTube:
I’m all over Twitter & InstaGram like a fool, lol! Cliché alert: I figure we have this one life to live, just one. That’s it! So, do I really, truly, genuinely, whole-heartedly, sincerely believe that there’s something going on with my music that’s worth at least giving it a little air and a little light? Yes, I do. If it grows, maybe give it a little more food, air, and light? DEFinitely. Next question: what am I waiting for?!
EML: Well, shedding a little light on your music is my aim! You state that grunge and gangsta rap were the two genres you really felt passionate about – which makes sense as you came of age in the 90s – but I hated them back in the day. I’m much older than you, and in the early 90s I felt music quality had gone over a cliff. I absolutely hated all rap, and just didn’t get the appeal of grunge. I was in my 30s by then, and figured I was already too old and that music no longer mattered as much to me – something that seems to happen to a lot of people as they get older. Most of my friends are now in their 50s and 60s, and few of them have the slightest interest in hearing new music anymore. They think it’s great I have a music blog, but they’re not at all interested in reading it or learning about new music.
I’ve since come around about grunge, hip hop and rap, though I still don’t like gangsta rap. It’s just too much for me.
DS: Re: grunge & gangsta rap… A couple things (& I completely relate to where you’re coming from)… I, too, (now in my late 30’s) have felt like “new” or newer music, style, content (especially rap) has just fallen off & it’s all garbage… I have felt like that at times. But, that’s typically before I’ve given any of which I’m judging an honest chance. There’s usually something about it I like, or I might shockingly end up loving it, or at least then I have legit reasons I don’t like it. But that’s me.
I have since fallen madly in love with other bands & even genres entirely! My journey has seen so many chapters or phases & most often, even if I move on to a new thing, chapter, or phase, I don’t just stop having this place in my heart that a previous love carved out. It’s still there & feels good when filled again with that old love. But I crave the new, too! So, yeah, I went through Emo, Screamo, Hard Rock, Heavy Metal, Death Metal, Post-Hardcore, Electronic Rock, EDM, Pop, Pop Punk, and more. It’s been a TON of fun & I’ve picked up a lotta things along the way that have positively influenced my approach on music and just my overall enjoyment of life. There’s a few artists that are like guilty little pleasures of mine that I don’t talk about often but I love their albums too. Never thought I’d see these particular artists albums in my personal iTunes but they’re there & I’m happy about it, lol.
Gangsta rap today? Not so much. Strangely enough, though I myself am a rapper of sorts, I don’t listen to rap often. I don’t listen to much Grunge today either. Maybe some “classics” here & there or the Temple of the Dog album I absolutely love, but it is the exception rather than the norm.
Last thing I’d love to touch on & it sounds like you’ve experienced a bit of this: your friends have less interest in reading your blog than you’d hoped or expected. I can absolutely relate – simply switch out the words “reading your blog” with the words “listening to my music”… lol! My buddy I make music with and I have discussed how funny it is that people I don’t know at all will oftentimes support my work and my social media sites more than my own friends & family – I’m crazy thankful for any & all interested & supportive, for certain! THANK YOU ALL!!! But some of the people I just kinda expected to pick up some balls and run with ’em just haven’t. And even the whole family thing… some have come around, most haven’t given it the time of day, and some ask from time to time but very few have listened let alone tell others about it. Oh well! Living & learning. It really does take a village though & I do have the greatest family, friends, followers, and supporters.
EML: Your songs encompass an eclectic mix of genres, including hip hop, rap, alt-rock, metal, trap and even pop. Who are some of the artists who inspire or influence you to create the type of music you make?
DS: Some of the artists that influence(d) me: Chris Cornell, Eddie Vedder, Lane Staley, Scott Weiland, Corey Taylor, Method Man, Mos Def, Tupac, Twista, Kurt Cobain, John Lennon, Aaron Lewis, Craig Owens, Biggie, Hayley Williams, Do Or Die, Joan Jett, Lynn Gunn, Eminem, I.V., Pistol Pete, Bogus, Chavi, J-Slay, Koncept, Ace, Halsey, Alan Walker, 112, Boyz II Men, Wretched, Tool, Eyes Set to Kill … I could go on & on, and the current list doesn’t even begin to think about beginning to scratch the scratch of the surface!
EML: When did you begin writing and recording songs? What is your process for creating new music?
DS: I began writing lyrics way back when I was in elementary school. I loved wordplay, puns, and especially rhymes. My first song? Not 100% sure but one of the first that’s coming to mind in the moment is freshman year high school, History class. Two of my classmates and I played a modified version of George Thorogood’s “Bad to the Bone” called “Bad History.” We shoulda just called it what it was: “Bad Song.” Ha! Seriously. I did have a sweet Fender Squier – the bumper car of electric guitars – but I did not invest the effort early in high school to learn it nor take the time to truly appreciate it.
EML: What, if any, instruments do you play?
DS: I wanna say vocals but part of me feels like that sounds pretentious. The other part of me feels that the first sentence of this response, along with this sentence, sound really pretentious already so we passed that point long ago. Now that that’s been established, I do not play any instruments. Sit me down in front of a keyboard or piano and I can wing some cool shit but I’ve been lucky enough to have this sort of relatively steady flow of instrumentals or other opportunities for collabs in multiple genres which has kept me very busy and growing through the challenges of constantly pushing the borders of my envelope and testing the limits of my comfort zone. I don’t know which it is but I either don’t have a comfort zone at all or my comfort zone is just that whatever-it-is to where I have yet to face a challenge musically that struck me as so uncomfortable or outside of any alleged comfort zone that I didn’t or couldn’t do it (and end up turning out something really cool in the process).
EML: I see that quite a few of your songs are collaborations with other artists, which I think is great. In fact, it seems that a lot of hip hop artists tend to collaborate with other artists on their songs. What do you find appealing about the collaborative process?
To me, I have held this view since day one: any way the music can reach ears that it wouldn’t have otherwise reached of my own accord, I’m in. Even if it means that I spend time or money of my own to get it out there, I’m in. I’m not currently in a position to demand nor expect money for my music. I will be. And it will be soon.. Until then, I will continue to post FREE MUSIC on MY YouTube CHANNEL!!! My apologies, I digress (as per usual). To answer this question directly, my goal with collaborations is three-fold: A) to reach not just my audience with a new song but the other artist’s audience as well. Then, sometimes, one plus one results in a sum greater than two. It’s funny what happens when a flash of excitement in the pan of good timing, for example, can ignite the whole skyscraper. And, B) the challenge of making an impression such that these new listeners want to find my stuff & hear more. Lastly, C) the ability to work with friends and have a damn good time along the way. One of the countless things I love about music is that, generally, the people I’ve known that have anything to do with music and its creative process from A to Z are really great people with a lot to offer the world but they’re not on that mission. They’re not out to take over the world or clutch at status for the sake of status. They have beliefs. They don’t fall for shit. They can typically see through the bullshit or at least have reasons they believe what they believe even after examining both sides of a coin. They’ve got their priorities straight. I need people like this in my tribe.
EML: What artists would you especially love to work with, and why?
DS: I already work with the sickest buncha straight-up artisans so I will respectfully pass on answering this question with names of popular, mainstream artists and provide a glimpse at a few names that are already poppin’ or are right around the corner: I.V. , WavRiders, J-Slay, Red Focus, Chavi, Koncept, Swilly.
EML: Ah, Swilly’s awesome, and I love the collaboration you did with him and guitarist Kevin Campbell on “Right or Wrong.” And “Change Your Life” with J-Slay and Koncept is another fantastic collab.
EML: What are your thoughts about the current state of music and/or the music industry?
I LOVE the state of music right now! I feel like this: whether we recognize it or not, and as much as many may complain about the lack of anything original and a void of any artists aiming at a new paradigm or even daring to shake things up for fear of public opinion and sales quotas, there are so many talented, unique, incredible artists and bands that are out there killin’ shows, slayin’ audiences, rockin’ mics, sellin’ merch, packin’ venues, puttin’ out EP’s and albums, promotin’ it on multiple social media platforms like crazies just like me … that ARE making music that sounds like nothing I’ve ever heard and moves me in new ways. And that’s a big goal with my music is to create a truly genreless, timeless product that is a cohesive album yet plays like a playlist of your favorite songs over many years and genres of music, all in one, ready to go from the point of purchase & play. An instant classic. A soundtrack to the movie that is your life.
EML: Have you performed live very much?
DS: I have performed live and I love it! I wish I could say I’ve done it a bunch of times or been on tour before but I can’t yet. I’m that new – to the “scene.” As far as experience, the Romans would say I got a couple of X’s under my belt. Specifically, live performances of mine I could count on my hands. More importantly, I got miles traveled beneath my feet and even if they high now, the message is still deep. Plans to do more live performing? Absolutely. AB. SO. LUTELY!!! I made up this little diddy and I do believe it applies here: “Whatever lights your fire, rock it to infinity.” So, HELL yeah!!! I’m taking this thing as far as life allows, much of it is outta my hands but I gotta keep trying to do whatever I can. Hmmm, lyrical… “much of it is outta my hands… but I gotta keep – try’na do – whatever I can”… sweet, lol. Hashtag lit AF, am I right? rofl.
EML: You’ve recorded quite an impressive output of tracks, but haven’t released a full album yet. Why not? Do you have plans to release an album anytime soon?
I have a secret.
But first, thank you! I’ve said it before and I will happily repeat it ad infinitum: I appreciate that you have taken the time to even know enough to ask these great questions! This has been a serious trip & thanks for humoring me, I hope my tangents aren’t unbearably obnoxious. I’ll wrap it up here now, sorry! LOL! (I’m not sure if it’s because I’ve had some days upon which to think about this thing and it’s finally coming out now, or if I’m just in a zone, OR if I just think this is SO cool because your platform – the Eclectic Music Lover – it’s the most comprehensive music review site with these exquisitely written pieces on songs, albums, artists, bands… it’s an honor to be a guest, as it were.)
Now for the secret, and now that I think about it, I touched on this earlier too but here it is again and it’s really working in my favor: over the years, I may not have been doing much self-promotion but I have been writing, recording, and amassing a killer library of songs that I have at my fingertips to release here & there while I’m currently, possibly, confidentially, secretly, hypothetically, theoretically, not really but maybe actually, recording two albums right now concurrently. One or both of these maybe’s, if what I just wrote were true, will be out sometime during the Year of the Earth Pig.
EML: You are hilarious, and I’m really touched by your kind words about my blog! Is there anything I’ve neglected to ask that you’d like to tell your fans & followers?
DS: Great question, once again. And thank you for offering the opportunity for the interviewee to chime in with somethin’ he might’ve hoped to have show up in the piece – very considerate, I like your style my friend! I think we’ve really covered a good amount of ground here. I’m not sure if I’m ready for a full-blown commitment so we’ll just keep it casual for now, mmmkay?! LMAO jkjk!!! I have a broken machine in my head that plays with words, thinks it’s funny, and gets me in trouble cuz it never shuts off. A constant stream of comic genius; can you imagine?! The HORROR!!!
Nah, but on a serious note, I suppose I would love to just know that anyone who comes across this article and wants to find out more about me or hear more music, knows where & how they can do that. For me, I have my YouTube channel https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCExzLvLnZIgpzZ2Gfa4cXDA and they can connect with me on Twitter and Instagram. (Some of his music can also be streamed on Soundcloud.)
Thank you, thank you, thank YOU!
EML: And I thank YOU my friend for being such a great subject, and taking the time to share your detailed thoughts and perspectives with me and my readers. You’re awesome, Def Star, and I can’t wait to hear that album – or two!
Here are a few more of his songs I especially like that showcase the broad range of his music style: