The Starlings were a nom de studio for singer and multi-instrumentalist Chris Sheehan, a New Zealand native who released two albums under this name in the early '90s as but one stop on a surprisingly varied musical journey.
Sheehan was born in Christchurch, New Zealand, in 1965 and taught himself guitar as a teenager. At the tender age of 18, Sheehan joined the already successful new wave band the Dance Exponents as a second guitarist in 1983, staying long enough to record three albums with them: Prayers Be Answered, Great Expectations, and Amplifier. Facing slipping popularity, the group split up and Sheehan followed the group's drummer, ex-Psychedelic Furs Vince Ely, to Los Angeles, where both guested on the first solo album by Ely's then-girlfriend, Jane Wiedlin. Sheehan moved from Los Angeles to London in 1987 and began recording one-man-band records under the Starlings name two years later. After a promising first EP, Letters From Heaven, released through the Rough Trade label in 1990 (which gained some indie chart notoriety for a ripping cover of the Byrds' classic "Wasn't Born to Follow"), Sheehan signed to Anxious Records, the vanity label founded by ex-Eurythmics Dave Stewart. (Sheehan had become the house engineer at Stewart's studio.) The Starlings' first full-length release, Valid, wasn't released until 1992, however, not least because Sheehan had become a fairly serious heroin addict during his early years in England. The album was written and recorded while Sheehan was still using, but he successfully completed rehab the same week the album was released.
Although Valid scored good reviews, it did not sell, a state of affairs Sheehan blamed squarely on his record label. Rather than stew in private, Sheehan poured out his angst on the seething Too Many Dogs, a festival of no-minced-words venom that makes Nine Inch Nails sound like Sunday school teachers. Unamused, Anxious Records buried the album, let Sheehan record a follow-up, then refused to release it and unceremoniously dropped him.
Sheehan basically dropped the Starlings name at that point and spent the rest of the '90s as a journeyman backup musician, performing and recording with Babylon Zoo, the Mutton Birds, and Sisters of Mercy, among others. Sheehan released a "solo" album, Planet Painkiller, under the name Chris Starling in 2000; later that year, he rejoined the re-formed Sisters of Mercy as rhythm guitarist. ~ Stewart Mason