Falling Stars

Screenshot 2024-03-28 at 5.30.48 PM

Falling Stars’ new album Lonely No More starts off strong with “Lonely Planets.” The fuzzed-out rocker unfolds like a kite twisting in the wind, thanks to languid guitars, keening harmonies, laser-sharp keyboards, and a guitar solo with metallic bite.

For the Cleveland band co-founded by vocalist-guitarist Christopher Allen and guitarist Tim Parnin, “Lonely Planets” is just one example of their guitar-forward approach on Lonely No More. “Sky Is Falling” is indebted to swinging British pub rock; the hard-charging, guitar-heavy “Indigo” boasts a faint psychedelic sheen and Allen’s tenacious vocals; the piano-burnished “Walk Don’t Run” possesses a swaggering groove and a barnstorming rootsy vibe.

At other moments, Lonely No More wears its influences proudly: “Tell Me What You Want,” with its simmering, shoegaze-tinged grunge riffs and piercing guitar squalls, recalls Dinosaur Jr., while the easygoing “Love Is Enough” boasts a freewheeling vibe reminiscent of the Replacements’ more stripped-down moments.

In some ways, Lonely No More reflects Falling Stars—Allen, Parnin, bassist Dave Padrutt, and drummer Gerry Porter—going back to basics. “During the pandemic, I played more guitar than I had in a long time,” Parnin says. “It was back to woodshedding in the basement. I was working from home and I think I logged as many hours playing guitar as I did when I was in high school.”

But in other ways, Lonely No More is Falling Stars doing what they’ve always done: listening to their gut and following their creative instincts. “The songs we end up recording are generally the ones that stick in my head and Tim’s head the most,” Allen says. “We’ll have little demos on our phones, and then we’ll bring them to the band. But if it sounds good while we’re playing it, we’ll record it. And we took the best of the best and put them together for an album.”

On “Love Is Enough” and a cover of Tom Petty’s “Walls,” Falling Stars worked with Don Dixon (R.E.M., Smithereens), who also produced the band’s 2017 debut album, Stranded in the Future. However, the group tapped John Agnello (Dinosaur Jr., Kurt Vile) to produce and mix the bulk of Lonely No More. Parnin had worked with Agnello several times before, and knew the studio vet was a great fit. “We knew this would be in his wheelhouse,” he says. “So many bands do studio project work, but this would be all of us playing in a room together.”Agnello and the band headed to The Magic Barn in Solon, Iowa, to record Lonely No More, spending three days in the studio. It was a deliberate choice, as the space features all of the high-end gear from the famed (and now defunct) New York City studio the Magic Shop—a place where David Bowie and Lou Reed had also recorded.

“Chris and I were talking to John and he went, ‘Why not Iowa? I love the board there,’” Parnin says. “It’s only eight hours from where we live in Cleveland, so it’s the same drive as going to North Carolina or New York City. I’m like, ‘Let’s mix it up. Let’s go to Iowa.’” Parnin ended up immensely pleased with the decision. “There’s not a lot of MacGyvering on the engineering front because everything sounds incredible in the room. It’s my favorite studio I’ve ever been to.”

Agnello’s knack for coaxing out the best performances from musicians—and not going for an overly polished sound— also ended up being a perfect fit for Falling Stars. “He knows once you get the groove and the spirit, you’re done,” Parnin says. “You don’t have to hem and haw with the fine points—whereas other people would be like, ‘It has to be exactly perfect.’”

In the studio, Agnello also gave great advice to Falling Stars as they worked to cut “Tell Me What You Want,” a song Parnin and Allen had dozens of versions of in their archives. “He’s great at getting attitude from vocals,” Parnin says. “He helped lasso that one in, because it was just spilled paint all over the place. It is my favorite vocal on the album.”

Falling Stars always have a healthy pile of demos and musical ideas brewing; in fact, of the new songs, “Indigo” has been part of their live set for nearly five years. For Lonely No More, Parnin and Allen gathered in Allen’s garage to sift through and flesh out the voice memos each had amassed, meeting steadily every few weeks.

“I actually try not to write anything before Tim comes over to write,” Allen says. “We really have had so much luck with magic where we get together and all of a sudden the song is there and we’re like, ‘That’s fun as hell. I want to hear that again, and I want to record that.’ Or Tim will come in with a riff and say, ‘I really dig this riff. What do you think we can make with this?’”

This time around, Falling Stars decided to build out their chosen demos in bassist Dave Padrutt’s home studio. “The tracks were really well put together,” Parnin says. “I’ve never done an album in my life that had more complete demos.” Padrutt also had a larger influence on shaping the songs on Lonely No More, co-writing several tunes, taking lead vocals on “Sky Is Falling” and contributing arrangements and other pointed changes; for example, he suggested playing “Tell Me What You Want” in a minor key rather than a major key, which “turned it into a different thing completely,” Allen says.

“Dave’s had a big influence on the writing and the style of the way things turned out on Lonely No More —making things a little more pop, for example. We’ve filtered these things through Dave’s brain, where the first two records were really just me and Tim.”

Not only did taking this extra demoing step give drummer Gerry Porter music to work on remotely from his home in Los Angeles, these recordings gave Falling Stars a sturdy foundation as they headed into the studio with Agnello. “There’s no writing in the studio at our budget,” Allen quips with a laugh, while Parnin adds, “We’re not making a Def Leppard record that’s going to cost six or seven figures. But when you go into the studio, it really helps when you’ve already sat with the the tempos and arrangements. It was, ‘Let’s get there and just get to work, because it’s going to be a three-day sprint, and then we come home and go back to everything else we have going on.’”

Traveling to Iowa to record also worked with the band’s schedule. Falling Stars could stay on-site at the Magic Barn and had minimal distractions, while the pricing and equipment were also top-notch. Efficiency was especially important because both Allen and Parnin are entrepreneurs—the former is a coffee roaster who co-owns a local coffee bar and brand, while the latter runs a boutique guitar shop—and balance Falling Stars with other musical projects. Parnin plays in glam rockers Cobra Verde and the fuzzed-out hard rock act Sweet Apple, while Allen plays in the long-running alt-country group Rosavelt.

“We’re busy in our individual lives,” Parnin says. “It’s not like, ‘Oh, we’re practicing every Thursday,’ or ‘We practice on Tuesday and Thursday at the practice spot.’ Playing with Chris, we’re economical with our time. When we get together, we want to get something fruitful done.”

It also helps that the musicians also have a long history together. Allen’s first gig ever was a battle of the bands at his high school—and Parnin happened to be the soundman, who provided his future bandmate with a Marshall amp and speakers. Over the years, both musicians knew each other from playing in various bands in the Cleveland area. However, the duo planted the seeds for Falling Stars at the musical memorial of a mutual friend, during which Allen asked Parnin if he knew the Replacements’ “Bastards of Young” on guitar.

“He’s like, ‘Of course I do,’” Allen says with a laugh. “Then we said, ‘Let’s just get together in the garage to see if we can write a couple songs.’ And immediately we were like, ‘This is worth pursuing.’ So we were pretty diligent.”

The pair released Stranded in the Future and followed it up with 2019’s Let It All Go EP. Along the way, Falling Stars have played a steady stream of gigs both as headliners and as opening acts for artists such as Drive-By Truckers, The Smithereens, Marshall Crenshaw, The Lemonheads, and The Dream Syndicate.

These experiences have helped Falling Stars define and refine their musical approach, particularly the lyrics. As always, Allen approaches Falling Stars songs from the perspective of a teenager. “It’s this kid who is probably a bigger loser than he realizes, but he also has a lot of confidence,” he says. “The lyrics are about having a bit of a positive take on things. That’s important.”

Lonely No More’s subject matter isn’t quite as specific as previous efforts. “I spent a lot of time writing and rewriting ‘Tell Me What You Want’ to make it something very specific,” Allen says. “But a song like ‘Lonely Planets’ is a little bit more vague.” For Falling Stars, however, keeping things looser and rawer is often just their speed.

“Sometimes it’s just rock ‘n’ roll music and it feels good to sing it,” Allen says. “That’s the case of a song like ‘Indigo.’ I don’t even know what that song means—I just love the feel of it. The sound of it feels right.”

“You paint good colors, and sometimes you just write things and you figure out what they mean later,” he continues. “There’s definitely some of that on this album. Sometimes it’s the beauty of a free write—and you let it flow.”