Ryan Star has two talking magnets on the refrigerator of his Manhattan apartment.
"Sometimes, we have them talk to each other," Star says, laughing.
"The road will be long," he says, adopting an Obama-like tone.
"The force is strong," he continues, switching to Yoda-speak.
Following both strands of advice has brought Star to where he is today - on the brink of releasing his major-label solo debut "11:59" (Atlantic / Burnett) Tuesday, and finally achieving the mainstream popularity the Dix Hills native has been chasing for the past decade.
"People who know me know I've put this record before everything and they'll be glad that it's finally out," Star says. "I think people will be excited to see me live my '11:59,' my moment."
A slow climb upward
It's a moment that's been a long time coming for Star, whose band Stage had a major-label deal in 2000 only to put out a well-received album that didn't get much promotion. He also did a memorable stint in 2006 on the CBS reality show "Rock Star: Supernova," which he didn't win, but did allow him to win over the show's creator Mark Burnett - also of "Survivor" fame - who has supported Star's career ever since.
How has Star - who, by his own admission, was a hard-charging, hyper-focused career-building musician when he was younger - dealt with the slow and steady climb to major-label hit-maker status?
"I stopped putting so much weight on it," he says. "I got looser. When you remember you're doing what you love, nothing can really get you down. I just thought, 'Why should I be flipping and stressing when I should be enjoying it?' "
The 32-year-old quickly adds, "I would tell 18-year-old Ryan to relax, have a drink and chill out."
It's no accident that Star has to repeat the chorus of his single "Breathe" so often these days that it's practically a mantra - "Breathe, just breathe, take the world off your shoulders, put it on me."
In today's world of flashy, insta-No. 1 debuts, it's easy to forget that for most major-label artists, success comes slowly, one radio station at a time. That means lots of meeting-and-greeting and radio-station glad-handing in addition to touring. In three days last week, for example, Star visited Denver; Spokane, Wash.; Portland, Ore.; Huntsville, Ala., and the Fort Lewis Army Base in Washington state.
"We're doing all we can to keep Ryan and his music out there," says Eric Wong, senior vice president of marketing at Atlantic Records, as well as Star's manager. "We're not relying just on radio. Six out of the album's 10 tracks have already been licensed to outside parties. We're keeping him out on tour. He's very active on the social networks and we've already had a few viral videos. We're going to work to keep his visibility high."
Competition for Lady Gaga
Even though the "Breathe" video made quite a splash in November, landing Star on CNN and other national media for the clip's attempts to raise awareness about unemployment and to try to get some New Yorkers jobs, it wasn't until radio started embracing the song that Star started to make a significant dent on the charts.
The song is currently in the Top 20 on Billboard's Adult Top 40 chart and has cracked VH1's Top 20 Video Countdown. "I've reached a point now where I'm competing against Lady Gaga and Katy Perry for radio play," Star says. "That's just unreal."
In fact, battling Perry and her "California Gurls" rubbed off on Star, leading him to make a last-minute change to "11:59," which had essentially been on deck for release by Atlantic Records since last year.
"I knew I had a day before everything was finalized," Star says. "I walked into the president of the label's office and said, 'Yo, check out this song.' I put it on and he was, like, 'Can we record this?' Literally, 12 hours later I'm recording it with Howard Benson. That doesn't happen. . . . It took four years to put out the album, but only two days to do this song? It was like a whirlwind and now it's going to be on the album and it may be the next single."
"Start a Fire," which Star co-wrote with Lion of Ido's Ido Zmishlany, could easily be a single, with its driving beat and seize-the-day lyrics.
"I wanted to do Katy Perry meets Pearl Jam - my version of what I want modern-sounding to be," he says.
He pauses before adding, "I wrote it thinking Grammy performance, you know? Why can't I dream big?"
Actually, Star may have to start dreaming bigger. He will achieve a lifelong goal Tuesday, when he headlines Irving Plaza. "That's where I grew up watching shows and all my favorite shows were there," he says, remembering how he sneaked his way onto the stage after a Live show. "I always thought that was the dream to play that venue. I don't know a better night to do it than my official Day One, the day I come out with an album."
Recording "11:59" was also dream fulfillment. "I approached it the way I think Peter Gabriel would approach a record," he says. "I surrounded myself with talented people and I could direct it a little more. I didn't have to play every instrument like I used to. I don't know what I'm going to do next - maybe it'll just be me and a piano again - but I really enjoyed this process."
In addition to working with producer Matt Serletic, Star marveled at the musicians who were willing to help him out. "I'm playing with guys who played with Paul McCartney on the record," Star says, referring to the great drummer Abe Laboriel Jr.
"The album goes from just piano to full productions like 'Unbroken,' " Star says. "It's everything I am."
Even seeing his CDs in the Long Island record stores he used to frequent is a dream come true. "I used to put my demo tapes into the record stores under the 'S' section for Stage," he says. "It was the opposite of shoplifting."
However, it's the impact of "Breathe" that is really forcing Star to realize how much has changed for him. "So many radio stations are playing 'Breathe' now," he says. "It used to be 'Hey, I remember you from 'Rock Star: Supernova,' or 'Hey, I remember you from Stage' or 'Hey, I remember you from when you opened for David Cook or The Script' - now, for the first time, it really might be, 'Hey, I heard you on the radio.' I started seeing that for the first time a couple of weeks ago."
Even more important to Star, though, is the impact "Breathe" has had on other people. He says that last month, he received a letter from a girl who had so many problems that she was planning on committing suicide and was packing up her things to make it easier for those who found her to handle her death. "She said that as she was tidying up, 'Breathe' came on and she stopped right then and there and wrote a letter to me instead," Star says. "It was the most humbling, beautiful thing I've ever read and it was scary and dismal, too. To me, it taught me so much about why I want to get out there more than ever.
"I believe my place in music, my place in the world is for things like that," he continues. "I want to put a positive message out there at a time when we need it. I think we're all superheroes and it's Love vs. Hate. I think we need to put out as much love as we can. That's what I'm about now. There's a lot of good to be done out there."
They're giving a lift to a rising Star
Ryan Star works with a mix of high-profile entertainment heavyweights and Long Island homeboys on his major-label solo debut. Here's a look at his "11:59" inner circle:
Mark Burnett - The reality-show king became Star's champion after meeting him on Burnett's "Rock Star: Supernova," where Star was a finalist. Burnett believed in Star so much that he signed him to Mark Burnett Records, which is releasing "11:59" with Atlantic Records.
Matt Serletic - Best known as the producer for Matchbox 20's biggest hits, Santana's "Smooth" and Aerosmith's "I Don't Want to Miss a Thing," as well as the founder of Emblem Music Group, Serletic produced "11:59."
Randy Scott Slavin - Part of Star's Long Island posse since the Stage days, when he directed the band's behind-the-scenes "Stage" DVD. Slavin, who won the special jury award at the South by Southwest Film Festival in 2008, directed the cheerleader-iffic video for "11:59's" "Right Now."
Ido Zmishlany - The front man for Valley Stream-based Lion of Ido, Zmishlany and Star have been collaborating for years, including the "11:59" potential single "Start a Fire." Lion of Ido will open for Star at Irving Plaza Tuesday.
Frank Zummo - Like Star, Zummo is a Half Hollow Hills High School grad, and when he's not playing with his band Street Drum Corps, he's an in-demand studio drummer. He drums on "Start a Fire," and he and Star collaborated on songs for the upcoming Street Drum Corps album.