Starcrawler: Freak-Glam Provocateurs With Appetite for Blood and Destruction | Revolver

Starcrawler: Freak-Glam Provocateurs With Appetite for Blood and Destruction

Arrow de Wilde and her scuzz-rock crew are shaking up the L.A. scene one confrontational show at a time
starcrawler_CreditFrank Ockenfels 3.jpg, Frank Ockenfels 3
Starcrawler's Arrow de Wilde
photograph by Frank Ockenfels 3

Arrow de Wilde has come here to bleed. She's standing tall and slim in shiny white satin on an outdoor stage in Hollywood, stumbling behind the mic, grabbing her forehead, her crotch, eyeballs bulging. "I got a problem with you in my world," she snarls on the song "Let Her Be," as her band Starcrawler rips up the night air with a fuzzy, modern take on Seventies glam rock and punk.

"Come on, turn up your fucking hearing aids!" de Wilde challenges her audience of the moment, which is bold talk considering that Starcrawler is here opening for an all-star tribute to the MC5. The headlining act includes half of Soundgarden, with members of Guns N' Roses, Fugazi, Faith No More and the original Motor City 5. But de Wilde will come as close to blowing that firepower off the stage as a wild-eyed 19-year-old can.

She leaps into the front rows, grabs a fan's cell phone and tosses it into the crowd, and then takes someone's 35mm camera before crawling back onstage to smash it on the floor. The band hardly seems to notice. Guitarist Henri Cash slashes a raw, hypnotic rhythm from a song called "Chicken Woman," and de Wilde begins drooling fake blood and looking like a woman possessed.

"Walked in the house/Slaughter written on the wall," she warns, eyes rolled back. "They're just counting seconds/Before the eye starts to fall."

For de Wilde and the Los Angeles band, rock & roll is meant to be loud, physical and messy. The songs are tough and tuneful, with echoes of Black Sabbath, Kiss, Alice Cooper and T.Rex, soaked in loads of reverb and bad attitude. Starcrawler formed only three years ago and just dropped their self-titled debut in early 2018, but people are quickly taking notice, thanks to their infectiously scuzzy hard-rock tunes and unhinged live shows, which have already earned them praise from Garbage's Shirley Manson and a spot opening for the Foo Fighters.

"I try to control it, but sometimes I can't," de Wilde says of her onstage abandon, over breakfast in Los Angeles, now mostly soft-spoken as she eats a bowl of granola and yogurt. Her hair is bleached to a frazzled blonde. "I just let it happen. Sometimes it happens in my favor, sometimes it doesn't. I forget that people's senses of humor aren't the same as mine."

There was that night at the desert roadhouse Pappy & Harriet's near Joshua Tree, California, when she spit up water on a table full of people eating ribs. The band, which also includes drummer Austin Smith and bassist Tim Franco, sometimes gets mad over the confrontations. "We did have to pay for a guy's broken phone because I knocked it out of his hand at a Foo Fighters concert at London Stadium. Those fans also hated us," she says with a laugh. "They did not like us at all."

starcrawler_CreditNickSayers.jpg, Nick Sayers
Starcrawler, The Garage, London, 2018
photograph by Nick Sayers

The band's 10-song debut, Starcrawler, was produced in L.A. by singer-rocker (and not-so-secret metalhead) Ryan Adams, whose private Pax-Am Studio was decorated with Danzig and 45 Grave posters. De Wilde and Cash write most of the songs together, and Adams advised them to strip things to their essence, including the psycho-twang of "Train," which opens the album at under 90 seconds. De Wilde's blues lyrics were inspired by ancient train hoppers and prison escapees.

"He's a songwriter, so his producing has to do with the song itself — like, stop doing that craziness: 'Don't bore us, get to the chorus,'" de Wilde says of Adams. "I've always liked songs that have good hooks and don't have a bunch of bullshit."

Twice as long as "Train" is the hard-rocking "I Love LA," a churning tribute to her hometown that presents a portrait of the city beyond its Hollywood clichés. "There's so many people you see walking down the street, like a ranchero walking next to an old Jewish lady handing out rainbow cookies," says de Wilde. "There's flowers everywhere and there's different smells: tacos and weed and piss and whatever. At any part of the day you can get two-dollar tacos that are amazing."

The band is rehearsing today, but they're working without de Wilde, since she plans to be busy painting her new apartment a variety of "fun colors" with her boyfriend, filmmaker Gilbert Trejo (son of Machete star Danny Trejo). He directed a horror music video for the manic "Chicken Woman," opening with a scene of a panicked de Wilde covered in blood and limping down an empty desert road.

The album's lone ballad, "Tears," is about de Wilde's only experience with heartbreak. "I dated another musician. Me and Henri started writing it before I broke up with that guy, but then it became a way better song after we broke up," she says happily. They haven't figured out yet how to fit "Tears" into their otherwise hard-rock set, and no one ever asks for it, but the singer already knows how she wants it to unfold: "I've started crying during shows, which is hard, because it strains my eyes. It would be cool to cry during that song — like really bawling."

The singer was born in 1999, the daughter of rock and fashion photographer Autumn de Wilde, who has referred to young Arrow as "my alien baby." Arrow was sometimes photographed with some of her mom's favorite subjects while growing up. Her father is rock drummer Aaron Sperske (Beachwood Sparks, Father John Misty, Blondes, etc.) who gave Arrow her first blast of Blizzard of Ozz at 13 and changed her life. She was on the crazy train for good.

On some school nights, her dad would sneak Arrow into a club to sing the Runaways' "Cherry Bomb" with his cover band. She eventually started a fanzine and wanted to learn more about punk rock and glam, and turned to former Germs drummer Don Bolles for an interview. "I became obsessed with glam," she says. "He came over to my dad's place in Hollywood, and he showed me all these glam records and everything I need to know. Uncle Don, he taught me a lot."

De Wilde started dabbling in short-lived teen bands. There was one called Honey Creeper that lasted three performances before breaking apart. "They thought I was bossy and didn't really believe that I could do anything," she remembers. "They ended up starting another band without me in secret." She put Starcrawler together while still at an arts magnet high school in downtown L.A. Smith was a Facebook friend she barely knew who played drums. She then approached Cash, a longhaired kid who carried a tuba around school but also played guitar. With Franco on bass, de Wilde's dream band was complete.

"It took me a long time trying to find people. They were the only people I knew that could play music that were cool," de Wilde says. "I just picked the right people that were determined. It meshed together."

The sound that came out was close to what she already heard in her head. And the live sets were confrontational from the beginning, some squeezed into a tiny space for 50 friends right off of Sunset Boulevard.

With Starcrawler, de Wilde also discovered a side to herself she didn't realize existed. The crazed banshee that hard-rock fans see onstage now is a long way from how she once saw herself. "I'm a pretty chill person," de Wilde says with a laugh. But being in the spotlight has unleashed something dangerous and explosive. "I'm pretty low energy most of the time. My energy is used up in this one thing. Most of the time I'm sleepy."