I’m not a huge fan of pop punk. Sure, there’s been the occasional band over the years: the Buzzcocks, Green Day, The Descendents, even some Blink 182 despite my punker-than-thou liberty spikes in high school.
Recently, San Jose’s Star 99 was added to that list since I became aware of them last November at the now-defunct Playback Studios, where they opened for MSPAINT. Star 99 were fast and loud but with a sweet, almost innocent, power pop sensibility. It was impressive and won me over.
Two months later, in January, they opened for Dazy at the Catalyst Club in Santa Cruz and then a week later, once again at Playback for Militarie Gun. By the third show I was a fan, singing along and talking with band members Saoirse Alesandro (guitar/vocals), Jeremy Romero (drums), Chris Gough (bass) and Thomas Calvo (guitar/vocals) about when their album was coming out, eagerly wanting to write about it.
Finally, on August 4th, Bitch Unlimited, hit the streaming services as a 10 song, 26 minute abraded album about angst, knowing yourself, and—like any pop punk album worth its weight—heartbreak.
“It’s mostly about attachment and how I was used to being in a relationship and not knowing myself outside of one,” explains Alesandro.
“This guy gave me a pin that says, ‘Life’s a bitch and so am I,’ which is mean!” she laughs. “So I put it as a line in [the song] ‘Spit Take’ and thought about how I’ve reclaimed the word ‘bitch’ in my life.”
Formed in the bleak days of 2020, the band members’ connections go back much further. Alesandro says she and Romero met “a billion years ago” when they worked for Mike Park at the legendary local label Asian Man Records. Her dad, Greg Alesandro, played with Park in the all-Asian ska band The Chinkees, who performed a show at the also defunct DIY punk venue Texas Toast House, run by Gough.
As for Calvo—who’s been falsely identified as “Thomas Romero” in other articles, alluding to him and Jeremy being brothers, which they are not (an inside joke the band has run with)—they met him the old fashioned way, through Craigslist.com.
The four ended up living at another popular Santa Clara County punk house, the Hot Box, but it would take almost another decade until they formed Star 99.
“We just missed each other,” says Alesandro, who makes all of the band’s art and promos, along with fliers and art for other bands in the local scene.
“We wanted to hang out so we said, ‘Now we’re a pod.’”
And if the band’s name sounds vaguely familiar to some, there’s a reason.
“It was a really gross porn shop in Campbell that Jeremy and I grew up near,” she laughs. “I was like, ‘What about this? It sounds more like a band, not a porn shop.’”
A year after forming, the power pop punks released their first EP, My Year In Lists, then dropped a three-song single in 2022 simply called, Star 99 which features a track from their EP (“Wyoming”) and another that would also appear on Bitch Unlimited (“Vegas”).
Their songs, primarily written by Alesandro and Calvo, are self-reflective and honest, often giving the listener the sense they are reading journal entries. The songs are intimate, emotional and daringly honest.
“Thomas’ songs are about Guam, his family and relationships,” she says. “He would send us demos and I would just cry because I knew how important it was for him to get it out.”
Then there’s the re-recording of “Vegas,” a two-and-a-half minute anthem about paranoia and being stuck. Lines like “Pour a glass of water out/it was calcium and lead/an opportunity to recognize my brain is a harbinger of death” and “they’re lying to us through maps” jump right out, making it a personal favorite.
“It’s a Wellbutrin song,” Alesandro says. “I was feeling trapped in my room, my meds were off and I was feeling super paranoid not knowing what else to do so I wrote this song. I was going through it thinking, ‘The maps are all lies!’”
For now, the quartet is focused on the new album and touring—having recently ended a midwest tour and gearing up for a West Coast tour in December, digging into their house show roots.
“We wouldn’t be playing music without all-ages shows,” Alesandro explains. “It’s important to have all-ages shows for a scene to be healthy.”