Garrison Starr: former sorority babe turned country-rock upstart. The lesbian songwriter’s passion reflects wisdom beyond her years
In a previous life, singer-songwriter Garrison Starr was a proud sorority sister at the University of Mississippi. This collegiate footnote seems out of character for the queer country-rocker that is, until you hear her speak. A passionate conversationalist, Starr chatters in that speedy inflection that’s adopted by all sisters during Rush Week.
During a recent telephone interview, Starr discussed her sexuality, her career and lessons learned about the biz. Throughout our chitchat, her voice morphed from animated to defiant to sober.
At 32, Starr still has a big future ahead of her. But when it comes to the incessant touring of an itinerant chanteuse, she sounds like a seasoned performer.
“It does get old,” she says. “But it’s my life. I’m a road hog.”
Her current tour, which stops in Dallas on Thursday, has her performing in sacredly intimate venues. Starr’s gig at Bend Studio promises to be so purposefully small that concertgoers might feel like voyeurs. And it turns out, sometimes the smaller the gig, the better the return.
“They’re great, because you get to pay your bills,” she says.
She already knows about making her way through the mainstream music biz.
“When I got signed to Geffen, I thought I was going to be rich and famous,” she recalls.
That was in 1997 when Geffen released her first album, “Eighteen Over Me.” But it took five years for her to release and finish her sophomore effort.
“The process of waiting for a label, then waiting for record stations, I don’t have time for it anymore,” Starr says.
It wasn’t until her third album, “Songs from Take-Off to Landing,” that Starr bid adieu to corporate culture.
Although she’s now been out for years, Starr bristles at the notion that she intended to make sexuality part of her public persona.
“I had a girlfriend in school,” she recalls. “And I was basically run out because of it. I was an outcast. That’s not the way I wanted to talk about my sexuality.”
It’s arguable that being openly queer has meant good things. Even though she’s opened for sapphic legends like Melissa Etheridge and Melissa Ferrick, Starr is ambivalent when it comes to the “lesbian with a guitar” tag.
“I don’t want to carry a flag for anybody,” she says. “I don’t want to be, “‘Oh, look, the new Melissa Etheridge.'”
Discussing her upcoming swing through the Lone Stare state, Starr is enthusiastic about making an impression on Texas audiences.
“It’s an amazing market to me,” she says. “It’s just so big. Pat Green can sell out stadiums, even if the rest of the country doesn’t know that much about him. I really need to spend more time in Texas.”
Now that she’s steering her career in the alternative route, Starr sees herself in the driver’s seat.
“When you’re really young, you have a different idea of what your career is going to be like,” she says. “I think I’m finally getting to a place where I’m happy where I am at the moment. I’m happier to be taking more ownership.”
And her success takes on a different look.
“The fun times for me are seeing a friend I haven’t seen,” she says. “Sometimes it’s just staying in a nice hotel, maybe getting a massage [or enjoying] a Jacuzzi. That’s really what I try to be present for in my life now.”
Readying to self-release her latest effort, “The Girl That Killed September,” Starr reflects on another indie stalwart bisexual righteous babe Ani DiFranco.
“I know we’re not reinventing the wheel,” she says of the upcoming release. “But I wish I had had the confidence she did. I wish I had known all that when I was 20.”
STARR POWER IN DALLAS
Garrison Starr performs at Bend Studio 5014 McKinney Ave. Sept. 13 at 8:30 p.m. $20. 214-606-0770. Reservations recommended.
“You taste of potato chips in the morning/Your face has the Marlon Brando club calling.”
Those are Rufus Wainwright’s lyrics to “Tulsa” a song inspired by a chance meeting in Oklahoma with Brandon Flowers, pictured, the swoony lead singer of The Killers.
Don’t be fooled by their retro threads. The alterna-pop band’s latest disc, “Hot Fuss,” promises to set dance floors on fire while winning heaps of praise for their craftsmanship. And like Rufus, gay boys can’t help staring at Flowers’ gorgeous puss.
Daniel A. Kusner
Nokia Theatre, 1001 Performance Place. Grand Prairie. Sept. 13 at 8 p.m. $39.50-$42.50. 214-373-8000.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition September 7, 2007