The Fearless Starlight Band practices behind front man Frank Lavelle’s home. (WOUB Public Media/Emily Votaw)

It’s All About the Music: Speaking With the Fearless Starlight Band

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It’s a muggy afternoon in early August, and the bellicose reverberations of a playfully rendered cover of R.E.M.’s “The One I Love” echo over the shimmering Ohio River.

It’s an odd sight: it’s a full band set up within the Doric outer columns of an enormous house overlooking a large, healthy yard that drops off suddenly into the river. The group is a foursome (right now), and, to put it in plain terms, they’re rocking out.

They’re the Fearless Starlight Band, made up of front man (and esteemed lawyer) Frank Lavelle, who is intoning the bitter words of the R.E.M. 1987 hit single with the intensity of a shorn-headed Michael Stipe; drummer Dennis Manns, keyboardist Cameron Hartshorn, and guitarist Branson Moody, who is cutting an image not unlike Peter Buck’s some 30-plus years ago.

So far, the band has rolled out four full albums, a number of singles, and a compilation entitled It All Goes Down (And Other Singles). The group’s most recent effort, Never Enough (It’s Always the Next Song!) is the outfit’s most cohesive release to date, is also the first to feature more than what Lavelle refers to as a “virtual band,” which was made up of a rotating number of young musical professionals who first allowed Lavelle to realize his dreams of making and recording music.

Fearless Starlight Band guitarist and audio engineer Branson Moody. (WOUB Public Media/Emily Votaw)

“The so-called ‘virtual band’ has morphed into some real, live human beings who have been able to get together and play and practice,” said Lavelle in an interview conducted in the midst of such a Saturday afternoon practice session. All-in-all, Lavelle credits the firmer formation of the Fearless Starlight Band to lucky coincidence.

Guitarist and audio engineer Branson Moody is a student of Ohio University’s MPRI (Music Production and Recording Industry) program, and learned of the Fearless Starlight Band through Marcus Meston, a graduate of the MPRI program who is currently working in Nashville who produced the Fearless Starlight Band’s When the Stars Align album. Meston still contributes occasionally the the band’s work.

“(Last year) I texted Marcus (Meston) about going to a show at The Union, and he texted me back saying that he would be at the show, and that I shouldn’t leave without talking to him because he had something he wanted to tell me about,” said Moody. “So, he basically told me about Frank (Lavelle) and plugged me into working with him, and we’ve been working together ever since.”

Fearless Starlight Band drummer Dennis Manns practices with the rest of the band outside of Frank Lavelle’s home. (WOUB Public Media/Emily Votaw)

“I had a pretty good idea that my collaboration with Branson (Moody) would work when one of the first times we were working together I had to take a phone call or a bathroom trip or something, and I told him we needed a solo, and I asked him what he could come up with in the five or ten minutes that I was gone,” said Lavelle. “When I came back he had four blow away solos for me to choose from! (…) He’s a brilliant guitarist as well as audio engineer, and that I couldn’t have done it without him.”

That guitar solo ended up being a primary component of “Words,” a track a little halfway through the newly released Never Enough (It’s Always the Next Song!).

“You know, it’s like a faucet, working on music, and it’s been flowing,” said Lavelle, who made a point to mention the other collaborators in the Fearless Starlight Band, including Nick Funari on bass and Craig Reed, as well as Ohio University’s Matt James, who has contributed some saxophone to various Fearless Starlight Band recordings. “This project would not have been able to come together without several things, most importantly Ohio University and their great MPRI program.”

The Fearless Starlight band rocks out behind Frank Lavelle’s (pictured at center) home. Keyboardist Cameron Hartshorn and drummer Dennis Manns play nearby. (WOUB Public Media/Emily Votaw)

Although the fact that Lavelle has a number of musical partners in the MPRI undergraduate program at Ohio University does indicate that there is a bit of an age gap between Lavelle and his collaborators, just several minutes observing the band’s practice make it apparent that such a difference in years means little, if anything, to the real mission of the group.

“The generation gap doesn’t mean anything. We are full of energy and Frank is full of energy,” said Hartshorn, an MPRI program student who learned about the Fearless Starlight Band through Moody’s involvement. “Frank is up before we are and he’s awake after we’re asleep! There’s nothing weird about the age difference at all. It’s doesn’t mean anything. We are all good friends at this point and really love each other’s company.”

Earlier this summer, the Fearless Starlight Band spent three days recording two music videos with Chris Carson of Cincinnati-based video production company Steadi-Readi, one for “Forever,” and another for “Almost Every Night,” both tracks off of Never Enough (It’s Always the Next Song!). During the production of both videos, the band did make a call for locals to take part in the filming. Lavelle said that the videos are being rolled out slowly after the busy weekend of shooting them.

“I don’t know what is going to happen with the music videos, it might stir up some interest,” said Lavelle. “I would like to do some shows around Athens, maybe get a set list developed. But for me, the most fun thing is, and performing is moving up there, but it’s still making the music, and hearing it all come together. That first initial creative spark – it’s kind of magic when it happens. (…) I think it’s fair to say that for all of us, it’s the music that makes it worthwhile.”