Interview: The Dears
Wed, 12 Nov 2008 16:53:15
The Dears Videos
Of all the indie-rock buzz bands that have emerged from Montreal in recent years—a pack led prominently by The Arcade Fire and Wolf Parade—The Dears may have endured the most turbulent ride. As a hint of all that's gone down, their Wikipedia page shows 12 former members and two current members: husband-and-wife team Murray Lightburn (lead vocalist/songwriter) and Natalia Yanchak (keyboardist/backing vocalist). After the last incarnation of The Dears completely fell apart during a tour supporting 2006's Gang of Losers, Lightburn was left weighing his options. In the end, he hunkered back down and wrote the adventurous and challenging (and newly released) Missiles. Now he has a newly reconfigured Dears lineup back out on the road, hoping that this trek will go a lot better than its predecessor.
Lightburn called in from his tour bus while battling a late-autumn cold. He talked about the drama of The Dears, both inside the band and inside their songs, as well as the reasons why listeners need to put away their laundry before putting Missiles on the stereo.
Before you started making Missiles, you were writing songs with the idea that they'd wind up on a solo album. How did you move away from that idea and decide that they needed to be on a Dears album?
I think just the way they were sounding—the chord changes—it just wasn't how I imagined a solo... I also realized that I don't think I'll ever do any kind of solo project. As far as my priorities go, my priorities are to The Dears. There's nothing I can do about it. It's inescapable.
Songwriting sounds like an almost mystical process for you—you're not struggling to pull the songs out of you, but they're arriving to you.
At least that's how it's been for a very long time.
Do they arrive fully formed?
To be honest with you, the way things come into my head is pretty cacophonous. I can't really harness it all. If I was able to, it would be pretty out of control. I just put down as much as I hear in my head and then play it for people and hopefully they'll hear the harmonics, and then they deliver what comes to them from hearing it.
Do you go through droughts? Do the voices go away?
Not really. [Laughs] I'm hearing music in my head all the time.
A lot has been made in the press about how The Dears stripped down to you and Natalia for Missiles. But you're back out on the road with a full band again. What did you glean from past experiences that will make this time more manageable?
I just think the attitude is right. You know, without naming names, I think some people took a lot of things for granted. It's a shame because it's a pretty amazing life we have as artists—to go out and play. It didn't have to get as grim as it did. There were some really promising things happening, but people pushed the panic button and jumped ship. It was a little rocky, but it wasn't anything to freak out about, in my opinion. It's really, really weird. One thing led to another and panic set in. You know how panic is—it basically turned into a situation like someone yelling "Fire!" at a football game. [Laughs] They trampled each other on the way out. Me and Natalia were standing there like "What the hell?"
I was watching the Chronicles documentary on your website and it almost reminded me of the Metallica documentary, especially the parts about communication breaking down.
Yeah, that's the death of any unit.
You discovered that your bandmates had a side band by stumbling across it on MySpace. Is that a true story or is that apocryphal?
Well, they already had a MySpace up before one of them decided to say something. They had a whole thing going on, and they didn't say anything to us. I thought that was a really weird thing to do. It's kind of mind-blowing. If you asked them about it, they'd probably deny it, but that's what happened. Obviously that came from a certain place; they felt the need to do that because of something we did. I'm not saying that I've been an angel in the situation, but I've always worked to hold myself accountable for my actions. Whatever. It's "he said, she said" soap opera bullshit. Right now we're on a bus and we're playing Chicago tonight, we have a new album out, and it's over. Boom, done. We're moving on. And you know what? You know who's not on the bus and doesn't have an album out right now? Them.
When you're pushing into new territory musically, you're at a different place personally, and you're playing with an entirely different set of people, does that make any part of the back catalog feel distant?
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