For Record Store Day 2019, Backatcha bring together the old with the new with a double A-side 7” single from two separate California bands. One side features the highly sought-after early seventies psych-rock grail, ‘Just A Star’ by Smiles - famously unearthed by DJ Shadow becoming his "most asked-about record in a mix" (Shadow, 2018). The other side features a new cover version of the song heard here for the first time by Oakland-based outfit Astronauts, etc., the project of Toro Y Moi touring keyboardist Anthony Ferraro.
‘Just A Star’ was first recorded in 1971 by Smiles, a fellow-Californian band fronted by Larry Smith and Rich Norkunas, two teenagers living in turbulent Nixon-era America. They financed the project by promising to provide a copy to friends, schoolmates, family and anyone else they could find willing to pay an upfront donation of ten-dollars. They pressed one-hundred 45rpm records and distributed it amongst their benefactors and soon after the record disappeared into oblivion. Three-decades later, DJ Shadow finds a copy in a Minnesota record store and plays it for his BBC’s Essential Mix series in 2002 revealing no names. It soon became one his most coveted discoveries and until recent years, this elusive 45 remained an enigma with few collectors knowing its origins until its title was revealed at online auction with less than a handful of original copies known to exist.
Growing up in a midst of changing social ideas, Smiles were in their mid-teens when they recorded 'Just A Star'. Norkunas explains - "two young musicians still ineligible to vote collaborated in writing a song that reflected their angst and unanswered questions about what was happening in the world around them.” Wind the clocks forward to present-day and turn-over for Astronauts, etc. version and the songs sentiment is as relevant now as it was nearly fifty-years ago.
Recorded in January, 2019 in Oakland and mixed by engineer Sean P, Astronauts, etc. frontman Ferraro breathes new life into ’Just A Star’. "I was very happy to perform this one. I feel more sane when I listen to fellow songwriters writing about not feeling very sane. The political dimension of this one also feels rather timely. And given my California roots, it just felt like a very good fit overall," says Ferraro.
Last year’s ‘Living In Symbol’ album earned Astronauts, etc. high praise from advocates of all stripes and the comparisons abounded. Whilst nods to David Axelrod, Latin psychedelia, and Canterbury are heard woven into the arrangements, the album opened its doors to a signature sound with Ferraro running in his own lane. His interpretation of ‘Just A Star’ is testament to that, once again carrying the song onto a timeless wavelength.
An exclusive Record Store Day release, both Smiles 1971 original version and Astronauts, etc.'s 2019 version of ’Just A Star’, are made available for the first time on a black-vinyl 7” single with sleeve-art by Bret Syfert. Released by Backatcha Records on 13th April in all good record shops. For more history and info on the Smiles band, go to www.justastar.net