Real men wear Spandex. “And mullets and short shorts!” claims Stellar Kart’s guitarist Cody Pellerin. Pellerin proves he can rock the look in the band’s music video for “Innocent,” a raucous track from Stellar Kart’s third release, Expect the Impossible, on Word Records. But viewers heed the risk: “You will laugh,” Pellerin warns, noting that his own mother, a woman “not easily embarrassed,” told him he crossed the line into “goofy” territory in his on-screen getup.
But if there’s a band that can pull off such silliness, all the while spreading the weighty message of Christian redemption, it is the punk-pop cut-ups of Stellar Kart. Today, Stellar Kart front man Adam Agee and Pellerin are crammed around a 17- inch stump of a table in the children’s corner, the only available interview space in the bustling Barnes & Noble bookstore outside Nashville. Onlookers pass with quizzical glances at the scene that recalls Alice in Wonderland. These grown men with lip rings and scull caps look like giants squeezed into tiny chairs. Heroes of their childhood bedtime stories, the Berenstain Bears, stare down from the shelves as if on security duty.
The farcical scene isn’t far from Stellar Kart’s reality. Whether rocking 200-plus shows a year or cutting up in the studio with producer Ian Eskelin (All Star United), Agee says the band has mastered the art of whimsy. Mundane is not a part of its vocabulary.
“Fun” seems to be the buzzword for this band, referenced no less than five times by Agee and Pellerin in a span of 30 seconds. (And later echoed by Eskelin.) “We were a lot less stressed this time,” says Agee. The band’s last album, We Can’t Stand Sitting Down, was recorded in record time—eight days.
Eskelin deconstructs the recording process with Stellar Kart: “So many times, things get overanalyzed and torn apart to the point where the original idea gets lost. With these guys, the trick is to capture all the energy as it pours out. If it’s fun, it usually turns out right,” he told CCM via email. One listen to Expect the Impossible proves his point.
The band executes a varied musical approach, infusing its signature fist-pumping fare of past albums with ’80s-style synth throwbacks, hair-band guitar licks and a few ear-splitting screams from Agee that would make punk purists proud.
“There are songs that sound like anything from Simple Plan to Depeche Mode or Linkin Park. We wanted to give something for everybody, and we didn’t want anyone to get bored,” says Agee, who got his musical start with guitar lessons from drummer Jordan Messer’s father.
While there was no shortage of good times in the studio, the challenge for this seven-year-old, four-piece outfit was to maintain a signature sound while evolving into new musical territory. Pellerin calls the record “a big stretch” but promises diehard fans won’t be disappointed with the departure.
“I grew up with the ’80s pop/rock stuff like Van Halen. Adam is a pop guy, and Jordan is a punk guy. When we come together musically, it’s a collaboration of the four of us [with bassist Brian Calcara]. Because of Adam’s melodies, it still sounds like Stellar Kart,” he says.
Agee adds, “We got together in a room, mashed earplugs in our ears and jammed out. This is where the creativity of the band comes in and makes the lyrics and melody into a song.”
While the band laid down 10 tunes for Expect the Impossible, some tracks inevitably ended up on the cutting room floor. “They were repetitive, and we didn’t want to go down a road we’d already been on,” Pellerin adds.
While the band mines new sonic landscapes on Expect the Impossible, the lyrics also take an unexpected turn. “The [lyrics] hold more of an outside influence, as opposed to what I’m going through personally,” Agee says. “Simple” and “direct” are still the first-choice adjectives to describe Agee’s compositional style, a talent that won him accolades for co-writing the band’s rock radio smash and Dove award winning “Me and Jesus.”
“‘Me and Jesus’ was a ladder between albums two and three, and without that song, I don’t think this record would be what it is,” Pellerin says. Besides legitimizing the band in the eyes of its peers and industry execs, Pellerin says that, more importantly, they saw lives changed. “At every show, people tell us how that song helped them through [bad circumstances]. ‘Me and Jesus’ inspired us to get to the point, because we saw what it could do.”
Life on the road, most recently accompanying Newsboys on the “GO Tour” for 50 dates, afforded Stellar Kart the opportunity not only to whip thousands of listeners into a frenzy with its arena anthems, but placed the band in direct contact with their fans. Postconcert, the guys heard story after story at the merchandise table.
Agee notes the impact of these heart-to-hearts: “There is so much more available to kids—good and bad things. A lot of it has to do with relationships kids are in. Everyone’s looking for love and acceptance.” Agee, a relatively new father, has a one-year-old little girl at home. What Stellar Kart has to offer is “hope, love and companionship,” he says.
This is where these jokesters get serious. Songs like the aforementioned “Innocence” address purity from an oft-overlooked male perspective: “Everyone just tolerates what’s wrong/I’m not some empty space for rent/I want to be innocent.”
“We want to provide the positive way while still keeping it fun and uplifting. We want to say, ‘Here are mistakes we made back in the day. Don’t make those same mistakes,’” says Agee. “And ‘Here’s a way out: Jesus loves you.’”
— Lizza Connor Bowen is a singer/songwriter and freelance journalist who, like Stellar Kart, loves God, great music and a good laugh (every day if possible). lizzaconnor.com