Arrow de Wilde never had much of a choice in her young life other than to be a rock star.
The 18-year-old grew up in Echo Park at the dawn of the L.A. indie rock boomlet. Her parents — photographer Autumn de Wilde and drummer Aaron Sperske (who has played alongside Ariel Pink, Father John Misty and Beachwood Sparks, among others ) — filled their house with artists, musicians and industry folk who made singing in a band feel like an entirely reasonable career path.
But even they couldn’t have foreseen how naturally she’d take to the role.
“It would have been impossible to rebel,” De Wilde said of her home life growing up. “They’re not the kind of parents you could rebel against. Unless I decided to be really conservative.”
Now her project Starcrawler — a hard-swinging stoner-metal quartet with a taste for ’70s glam and dazed SoCal sleaze — has a Ryan Adams-produced debut and the ears of the whole town’s rock scene on edge.
Not that it was an easy road to a record deal and packed European tours, even if was a short one. When De Wilde founded the group with guitarist Henri Cash, drummer Austin Smith and bassist Tim Franco, they faced all the usual snares of starting a band in high school. But they just happened to do so right as the city’s all-ages DIY scene started crumbling.
Even a few years ago, the Smell, Pehrspace and the like were reliable places for a young act to find its sea legs. Right when Starcrawler started to get good, some of these places started going under.
“It’s hard being underage in L.A because there’s barely anywhere to go out at night,” De Wilde said. “There used to be way more all-ages venues but they’ve all shut down. You don’t want to play cheesy Sunset Strip bars.”
Fortunately, the band’s talent was self-evident and quickly got the act into more traditional venues. Part of that was Starcrawler’s well-honed sense of rock history.
It takes some gumption for a band to write a breakthrough single called “I Love L.A.” when you’re several generations removed from Randy Newman’s smirking classic of the same name, or the ’70s Sunset Strip and ’90s grungy underground where you get your sound.
But as the band worked with Adams to make its recently released self-title Rough Trade debut, it found a depth and brevity in its writing that made it clear this band was no throwback.
“He really made the songs what they are. It was really exciting, it made it feel like something real,” De Wilde said of Adams’ guidance. But to judge from the record, he just helped shape an energy that was already in abundance.
“Let Her Be” and “Ants” are antagonistic, buzz saw rock singles that bristle with teenage electricity. It’s no accident that Adams and Elton John were early Starcrawler champions. But the band’s chemistry — and De Wilde’s captivating and freaky stage presence, as seen in her straitjacket attire in the “Ants” video” — can’t be taught by anyone.
“I wasn’t like this onstage before this band,” De Wilde said. “The first time I realized it, we were playing this empty studio space that was pretty much a closet on Sunset. There were only 50 people or so but it felt packed and it was so much fun.”
As the band makes the rounds to the next stage of its career, its members are navigating a music industry under siege on many fronts. On one hand, they’re in a young band that doesn’t square with all the trends that define their demographic on streaming services (teenagers rule hip-hop, but hard rock is still a bit calcified). There used to be a clear path forward for a young group like this. Now there’s attention, but who knows how they fit into the larger pop ecosystem.
Plus they’re fronted by a charismatic young woman as the music business wrestles with its own dark corners of harassment and marginalization (as seen at last weekend’s Grammy awards, where women won few major awards and album of the year nominee Lorde did not perform).
Still, De Wilde is confident she can handle it.
“Honestly, I get more harassment from other girls,” she said. “Our fan base is all old men who are really excited because they used to be punks back in the day and they’re excited about what we do. I’ve definitely had creepy guys come up and say stuff, but everybody goes through that.”
Part of that may be from her upbringing, part of it may be a one-of-a-kind self-possession and confidence as an artist. But part of it may be because she’s picked some really good role models too.
“Iggy Pop was so, so good at Desert Daze, because it was all so DIY out there,” she said. “When you’re out in the desert, everyone just goes crazy. It was truly great to see him, and not in an ‘Oh cool, check that off’ kind of way.”