Just seconds into the performance of the original song “Old Houses,” the virtual audience erupted with praise: “WOW, who is this?!?” “Love her voice!” “I feel like I’m in an ’80s dance club!” “Stunning sound!” “I’m a new fan!”
STARLUNG is comprised of Forrest and Bella Merrill, a young, married couple residing in Pleasant Hill. They grew up in the Bay Area, attended the same high school in Lafayette and have been making music in some manner for most of their lives.
Their distinct sound carries with it a sense of nostalgia. Much of their original music shares elements with various genres of the 1980s, a decade that came and went before either of them were even born.
“That influence is from my dad,” explains Forrest. “He’s a big music guy with sorta like an ’80s post-punk influence. His favorite band is the Cure … and I’m a big fan of synthwave. You put those two things together, and that’s most of the STARLUNG sound – with some trap beats.”
The vocal work from Bella is another hallmark of their well-defined sound. Distinctly rich in texture and of a lower register than many might expect from a female vocalist, Bella’s powerful voice is often the driving force for STARLUNG’s danceable upbeat tunes, as well as their hypnotic, melancholy ballads.
She says she found her voice through the female vocalists who inspired her.
“We’re all just a conglomeration of influences,” shares Bella. “Mine include Kate Bush, Amanda Palmer and my mom.”
One reason that STARLUNG was “off the radar” in 2020 is that much of “the scene” is defined by those who routinely perform at or attend live shows, something this duo doesn’t appear to have much interest in after trying out the live band model pre-pandemic.
“We used to be called evesrib,” Forrest explains. “We had a bass player and a drummer, and we performed a live set of material at Retro Junkie. But our bass player moved, and we kinda got away from being strictly post-punk. By the time the pandemic hit, we had already kinda stopped performing.
“We go to bed early,” he adds with a laugh. “You know, if you’re trying to go to bed at like 10 o’clock … it’s tough, man.”
With both working full-time jobs with differing schedules, the duo prefers to focus on making and sharing music when they can and enjoying the collaborative process.
“Often Forrest will start with a set of chords or a guitar melody, and I’ll sing over the track until something fits,” Bella says. “I love finding and tracking harmonies, and Forrest helps me to refine them. We’ve slogged through many, many lyric writing sessions together, and it’s a great testament to our relationship.”
STARLUNG has a number of singles and a couple EPs available on all streaming services. They released their latest single, “pipe dream,” on June 1.
“Honestly, it’s like our favorite song that we’ve released so far,” boasts Forrest.
Contact Dave Hughes at MrDaveHughes@gmail.com.
Dave Hughes is a lead advocate for the local music scene in and around Concord, California. Having volunteered for years at the grassroots level with advocates for social justice, Hughes developed effective community organizing skills, which he later applied to the regional independent music network to launch various platforms to showcase and celebrate local music during the pandemic. Along with the team of music-minded volunteers he assembled, Hughes worked with Visit Concord and the City of Concord in launching Concord Couch Concerts, which has since produced over 30 hours of content featuring over 100 local acts. The success of this effort paved the way for Hughes to launch the downtown concert series "Singer-Songwriter Saturday", an FM radio show on 90.5 KVHS called "The Beat of Diablo," and this freelance column of the same name. Understanding Concord as the "City of Dave Brubeck," Dave is driven by a sense of duty as a local musician and Concord resident to posit that this is not only a city rich with music history, but one that yields excellent music today in its robust, eclectic, and thriving music scene.