Daytona Starsky is that kind of guitar player who has a physical relationship with his instrument. He frowns and bites his lips whenever he is in action with a curvy six-string body in his hands. At the age of eight, while still living in the Netherlands, where he was born, his father taught him to pluck the fingerboard and strum harmonies.
“My dad was a musician. There were always guitars around the house,” Starsky, now 26, told me last Friday night after sound check before a show at Purgatory, a queer bar in Bushwick.
“And my father was like, you know, if you’re gonna pick these things up, I’d just have to teach you how to play them because they’re not toys,” he added.
Since those first guitar lessons, Starsky has been looking for a sound.
His earliest influence had come from his mother, her favorite artist was David Bowie, and the late singer’s influence can be read plainly in the name of Starsky’ debut album, Reality Station, released last month on a small Brooklyn record label called Super Fine Audio.
“The idea that I came up with was like, what if there’s a television station that’s reality and I’m just looking at it like a spectator,” Starsky told me. “Every song in the album is kind of like a different channel on the larger reality station.”
Moving to Brooklyn as a teenager made Starsky fall in love with hip hop. Listening to André 3000 inspired him to learn English and he started using the rhymes to make his own flow. You can hear this on Starsky’s earlier EP Moon, which came out in 2019.
“There’s a lot of great verbal communication of larger ideas that condense down into hip hop rhyming,” says Starsky, who tells me that his biggest role model is neither a rapper nor David Bowie.
“Lenny Kravitz is my Jesus,” Starsky said with a smile on his face. The lower range of his deep voice actually reminded me of Kravitz’s. When I listened to Reality Station for the first time, I felt the vibes of my favorite Kravitz album, his 1998 masterpiece 5. On songs like “Blame The System,” Starsky finds himself traveling the same robotic, and yet organic, vocal routes as Kravitz had blazed on “Black Velveteen.”
On stage, magenta and cyan lights poured over Starsky and his band, immersing the audience in a dreamy set, reminiscent of the aesthetic of the “Black Mirror” episode, “San Junipero.”
Downstairs, at the bar, I could see a group of people, mostly women, wearing headpieces of diverse kinds, including horns and flowers. Everything at a bar like Purgatory contributed to the dreamy state that Starsky’s music had taken us.
“We wanted to do something intimate.” Starsky added. He used the plural third person referring to his band and to the producer of Reality Station, Rich Morales, who has previously worked with singers like Sia and bands like Linkin Park and the Killers. Starsky met Morales at a restaurant where he used to work, and Morales used to eat after working nearby.
“I knew he [Morales] worked in music and I was like, ‘I don’t care what you think of it, but can you listen to my music and see if you like it?’” said Starsky. Morales was the first person to listen to what he was working on and soon became a mentor for Starsky’s budding career.
“We’ve been working together ever since,” he added.
Morales, a Brookliner of Puerto Rican descent, grew up listening to a wide variety of music including salsa. He told me he was very excited to hear how his detailed production translated to the acoustics of Purgatory’s stage.
The show had felt as brief and as long-lasting as a dream. After the last chord stopped resounding, it took a moment for the crowd to come back to reality, following the invitation of one of Starsky’s favorite songs in his album, “Wake Me When Is Over.”
“The next project you’ll hear will probably be completely different. It’s like David Bowie.”
Daytona Starsky’s new album is called Reality Station, out on Super Fine Audio.
All images taken by Juan de Dios Sanchez Jurado.
For more news, sign up for Bushwick Daily’s newsletter.
Join the fight to save local journalism by becoming a paid subscriber.