Stark Shay: “It’s a cry for help for Mother Earth.”
“These days, everyone is talking about flattening the curve,” say Cleopatra and Cordelia Degher, known collectively as Stark Shay. “After this crisis, maybe we’ll also start thinking about how to flatten the carbon curve. How should we go forward when things return to normal?”
For their debut release as Stark Shay, the musical siblings (born seven years apart) chose “We Begin Again,” a song about climate change and climate activism, released on Earth Day and “dedicated to Greta Thunberg and all of the young climate activists out there.”
“I would say, musically, it’s the kind of song you’d drive down the west coast to,” says Cordelia, who dropped her debut EP Open Up in 2015. “Surfy, chill, bedroom rock. Lyrically, it’s a cry for help for Planet Earth. If you love Greta Thunberg, you’ll love it. Not sure you know this, but we’re Swedish as well as Californian, so we have a special soft spot for Greta.”
Both the song and a video were produced by the sisters’ dad Darius Degher, whose late-90s Swedish band Burning Bridges released one CD and performed at numerous festivals and clubs around that country. In San Diego during the 80s, he fronted the psychedelic new wave band Darius and the Magnets, as well as recording with Warren Zevon before embarking on a solo career and releasing several CDs. His video for “White Boy Raving” aired on MTV’s 120 Minutes, making Billboard’s Top Twenty Video list.
"Our dad actually threw together the video like three days before the release," says Cordelia, "and we had no idea he was doing it 'til it was almost done. Some [clips] were provided by a videographer friend. But I’m pretty sure he just found most of the clips online and put them together in his mad scientist laboratory, the studio."
Now, back in San Diego, Darius Degher recently dusted off 17 unreleased Darius and the Magnets songs for a new compilation, and the Magnets track “Saturday at 3PM” was heard in the 2017 film Pitching Tents, set in 1984.
“The albums that my dad released in the 90s, when I was growing up, I know by heart,” says Cleopatra, who was 20 when she released her own debut EP in summer 2012. “Cardboard Confessional and Garage Sale of the Soul were the soundtrack of my childhood. I know the lyrics to all those songs way better than my dad does. He’ll be playing one of the songs, and I’ll have to correct him when he sings the wrong lines.”
Cleopatra followed up her debut with a full-length called Pacific, mixed by Jeff Berkley in San Diego and mastered by Gavin Lurssen (T-Bone Burnett, Jackson Browne). Her music has been showcased on NPR’s World Cafe Next series, and she once sang “Footloose” onstage with that night’s headliner, Kevin Bacon.
Cordelia took up guitar at five and songwriting at ten. She won SDA’s 2014 Battle of the Bands, took second place in the 2015 Conscious Music Young Voices songwriting competition, and was a national winner in the Reflections Arts Contest. Cordelia’s solo single “October” was released February 13, Cleopatra’s newest EP is Watershed, and the sisters have recorded more music as Stark Shay.
The production on “We Begin Again” reflected the era of its creation. “We actually didn’t record our parts together,” says Cordelia. “I recorded my parts about a week before Cleo came down from Berkeley to visit, at the start of the pandemic lockdown. And then she added her parts. We’ve both recorded the majority of our music at our home studio with our dad, so this really wasn’t much different.”
The track recalls an earlier era of topical, ecological folk music. But can’t focusing so much on getting a message into the lyrics reduce a song’s musicality to more of a poem with background music?
We Begin Again
“Lyrics are really important for me to be able to connect with a song,” says Cleopatra. “What makes a song interesting is the combination of a line of lyrics to a particular melody. So, I don’t worry about any musicality being lost. As long as it’s also fun to sing and I can play around with the sounds in the words, I’m happy.”
“By the way, when my dad heard this question, he said ‘What, the guitars aren’t loud enough?’”