Akron’s Church of Starry Wisdom embraces theatrics, pop, rock, gospel and more
Church of Starry Wisdom was born out of Akron’s niche, cabaret-meets-performance-art series, Electric Pressure Cooker, an “anything goes” open-mic night that allows artists to experiment with sound and style on stage.
The troupe is part theatrics, part rock ‘n’ roll, blending a vast range of styles and concepts. The result is bombastic storytelling through song that is best experienced live.
Jaiie Dayo-Aliya writes most of Church of Starry Wisdom’s songs and lends their operatic vocals to the group as its lead singer.
“I think that we really boil it down to it being experimental pop rock music in the tradition of people like Prince and the tradition of David Bowie and the tradition of Kate Bush,” Daya-Aliya said. “We just bring all that together to serve traditional pop structures.”
The band released its second album, “The Black Rose,” in the fall of 2022.
The result is a blend of dark wave, gospel, R&B and pop-rock with lyrics that serve as modern parables and explore themes of chaos and fantasy.
“I love the album, but I think there is a part of the Church of Starry Wisdom experience that you cannot get on record,” Dayo-Aliya said. “The way that we perform and the way that we command and hold space, the grandness of the music… we're really able to unleash and let the music be as epic as it wants to be.”
Origins of the musical group
Dayo-Aliya had dreams of becoming a serious actor and was heavily involved in musical theater as a student at North High School in Akron and while attending Kent State University.
That’s where Dayo-Aliya met fellow theater major Amy Spencer, and they began working for Heads Up Productions, which became Wandering Aesthetics, in Akron.
“They are a theater company, so… Amy and I, and this sort of troupe of actors, we really sync up,” Dayo-Aliya said.
Spencer and her partner Kurt Brown, also a musician, developed a fictional character named Arcana Smyth, originally conceptualized for a fantasy/horror film series online.
“She's a chaos magician. Her parents were in this very oppressive, negative H.P. Lovecraft church,” Brown said. “And we were just looking for what kind of music… this kind of gospel music... what would this music sound like?”
Brown and Spencer approached Dayo-Aliya about crafting a sound that would be a soundtrack for the worship team of a cult church in their web series.
“My background was mostly like R&B and musical theater, and I could tell that what they wanted to do was something a little wilder than that,” Dayo-Aliya said.
Vince Tyree joined the group as its drummer, and Dayo-Aliya said they felt a “chemistry” when they all began jamming and experimenting with their musical project.
“There was a sound that just came out of us collectively, and I think we sort of looked around the room and it was pretty clear we have something here,” they said. “I found new parts of my voice just singing against the kind of music that was coming from this room.”
Performing for the first time
The group presented their project, which at the time was still conceptualized as a fictional band, to audiences in early 2016 and brought in Natalie Grace Martin on bass.
Debuting the act at Wandering Aesthetics’ Electric Pressure Cooker open-mic night allowed Church of Starry Wisdom to express its unique blend of theater, fantasy, philosophy and performance for a welcoming audience of fellow artists and storytellers.
The group fleshed out its stage show by collaborating with other musicians, as well as dancers, fire spinners and live painters.
“The way that we perform and the way that we command and hold space, the grandness of the music… we're really able to unleash and let the music be as epic as it wants to be."Jaiie Dayo-Aliya
Church of Starry Wisdom’s lineup has evolved over the years, with local musicians like Sarah Benn, Taylor McIntosh and Matthew Hostetler lending their sounds to the band.
The group is diverse, with artists joining together from different backgrounds, genders, races and styles.
“It's so organic. We are all such deep music lovers. We have such a deep appreciation for each other's musical taste,” Dayo-Aliya said. “It's based in our love of art and in wanting to learn from each other, and also wanting to share in the things that we do love that unite us.”
Brown is recognized as the “mad scientist” behind the band and comes from a film background, composing soundtracks through Amazing Suspense Productions.
This knowledge and interest in film is used in Church of Starry Wisdom live shows, where projections are shown to accompany the music.
“We've kind of cultivated this collection of like old experimental films and some different things we've come up with that go with specific songs,” Brown said. “It almost seems like it is part of a musical that like, doesn't exist.”
Church of Starry Wisdom released its debut album, “Dark Machine,” in 2019.
The 12-track release is conceptual and intended to be heard in its entirety.
Lyrical themes touch on the vast loneliness of outer space, with vocals accented by Spencer’s twinkling piano keys, scratch beats, nature field recordings and wistful saxophone.
“I think both of our albums are sort of conceptual, and we have like plotted and planned these theatrical concert experiences that will go along with these songs,” Brown said.
Releasing a pandemic-inspired album
The 2022 release of “The Black Rose” showcases an evolution in the band’s writing and the maturity of its musical themes.
“When we did our first album, it was again, it was more experimental,” Brown said. “We're trying to feel things out. This album, I feel like Jaiie's songwriting has come into sharper focus on this record, and we really just wanted to deliver just like a killer set of pop songs.”
Dayo-Aliya said they conceptualized the album during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic and concurrent protests after the death of George Floyd.
“I wanted people to remember hope, hope through darkness, that we have been through as a human race so much, and yet we survive it,” they said.
Members of Church of Starry Wisdom were having conversations about the Time’s Up and #MeToo movements as well, which further inspired Dayo-Aliya to write songs about finding light in times of darkness.
“I was thinking about the color black in all of its mystery that it represents, but also the beauty of a rose,” they said. “[We were] wanting to make an album that specifically told stories about people surviving and moving through rough times.”
Songs on the album like “French Kiss” sonically communicate a sense of carefree pop, but the lyrics are more urgent, evoking a sense of fleeting time.
"This album, I feel like Jaiie's songwriting has come into sharper focus on this record, and we really just wanted to deliver just like a killer set of pop songs.”Kurt Brown
Dayo-Aliya said the most common response to the music and live performance of Church of Starry Wisdom is surprise.
With its cast of performers, which the band refers to as “the Congregation,” there is a sense of community that comes with being part of a Church of Starry Wisdom show.
“We have one really wonderful fan [who] recently told me that church is a space that they loved as a child because they got to go and be in community with other people,” Dayo-Aliya said. “And that was what she loves about our group is that the space that we create, she feels a lot of that same community, but maybe without some of the dogma that she experienced in that particular space, it is really like her secular church.”
Dayo-Aliya grew up attending church and singing in gospel groups and credits their sister, India, for inspiring them to sing with deep emotion and expression.
“I think the ultimate thing is learning how to put your own pain and your own joy and your own fears into it,” they said. “And I think in this group, really, I felt like my voice sort of developed really, because probably I was writing songs that were coming directly from my joy and my pain.”
Church of Starry Wisdom will perform at the Akron Art Museum’s free Midwinter Tunes 2023 event Saturday, Feb. 18.