I first caught The Dears before their 2005 UK tour. Not sure what to make of their sullen hopefulness at first, I was eventually won over by the epic nature of their songs, an element that fellow Canadian rockers Arcade Fire have hijacked to great effect. The potential in this gaggle of dread-filled merrymen was obvious, though my friends may have unfairly rubbished them for the theft of Damon Albarn and Morrissey's larynxes.
Since then, a lot has changed. Married couple and recent parents Murray Lightburn and Natalia Yanchak are the only surviving members of the band as it was before recording sessions for the third album began. In the time it took to lay down the ten goliath tracks that make up Missiles, two thirds of the line-up had departed.
Given these massive changes, there are few interviews that will concentrate solely on the new album. DiS' exclusive two part interview with Murray Lightburn attempts to shed some light on the circumstances of its creation...
On Natalia's blog she specifically mentioned that Missiles isn't indie rock. What would you say the new album is if it's not that?
Since we started The Dears years and years and years ago, we never set out to fall into any sort of category and I think that's something we've always struggled with. We live somewhere between slightly mainstream and indie rock, which is difficult - we never subscribed to anything. It's just something that we try to transcend. I don't like being put in a category because I don't think that's the goal of human life. And so we try to transcend everything that would be obvious; things like myself being black and from Canada. It's easier for bands to make music that caters to an audience. That's what's sucking about music right now. The Dears have never tried to sound like anything, we've just happened to sound like the things that people say we sound like. You know The Smiths, doves crying... hahaha!
So after everything that's happened with the band would you say the new album, Missiles, has turned out how you would have liked it to?
Well, I mean, I'm not unhappy. Hahaha! Basically I'm satisfied with the fact that we were able to finish it. And that's really it. It is what it is. Whether or not it's any good is really up to the fans. But it's not shit, as far as I'm concerned. I don't think The Dears are capable of making shit records. I love it just because of the nature of my relationship with it. I have a really strange and difficult relationship with the music of The Dears because it's placed on my lap and I have to do something about it, that's the way I see it. I don't sit around noodling on an instrument until a song comes out and, I don't hear a John Lennon song and want to copy it you know? A whole bunch of music comes into my brain at one time; when I'm sleeping, when I'm driving my car, when I'm making love... it just comes in, and in that way I don't feel as if it totally belongs to me. It's in my name but it's kind of like, I suppose, having children. You have a child but at some point you have to let go of that child and release it into the world. In your mind it's always your child, but really it's this thing that was given to you. You have to nurture it, and that is the passive sort of role of nature I guess. I feel the same way about the music. Because we have that kind of relationship with it we're ultra sensitive about what people say about it - I take it really hard when people say shitty things about the music. It only has the best intentions, it really does.
Video: The Dears, '22: The Death Of All Romance'
- - -
You mentioned the fact that the music you produce or the music that comes to you is the same as having a child and setting it free to the world. Are you looking forward to that time when you let your children out into the wild world?
I'm sure lots of parents love that relief of having a babysitter at some point in their lives but I don't think anybody is over the moon about sending anybody out into the world because, let's face it, the world is maybe a step above a piece of shit. At the same time there's all these little pockets of beautiful things and I think that's ultimately what I hope has got me locked in a gravitational pull. I hope it's those areas of the world that I'll succumb to.
The new album has obviously had quite a destructive birth. Can you talk me through where the tensions arose that would ultimately lead to most of the band leaving?
There are two sides to every story. Some of it wasn't pretty and some of it was totally fine. Kreif [Patrick Kreif, former bassist] for example, I've talked to him everyday. I was very supportive of his departure because he had a purpose in mind. I've tried to encourage his project Black Diamond Bay and him as a writer. He was the first person I spoke to about the troubles of the band, he's been incredibly supportive of me in the hardest times for the band, along with Natalia. As far as the other guys go, it's a little bit weird and I'm probably, legally, not even at liberty to say. I can't say much except as far as philosophies and ideologies go, we just really couldn't be further apart. I feel as if I had to essentially rescue The Dears from itself. Hahaha! I started this band, with a borrowed four track, a borrowed keyboard, a borrowed guitar and a borrowed microphone tens years ago; I saw some of the decisions that we were making as a collective and they didn't make sense to me at all. We couldn't have veered further from the path and I just thought 'enough's enough'; I started taking drastic measures. Like I said, the stuff that comes to The Dears falls on my lap and I'm going to protect it and nurture it as much as I can, even if it means death because I believe in it that much. Some people might not think we're an important band but I think, hopefully, in ten years time when people look back and listen to the records they'll say 'hey, you know, maybe that band was a little bit important,' or that 'maybe that message was important' - you know? It's not even necessarily how I intended it, but it is what it is.
I think people get into the music business for basically one or two reasons: one is to make money and two is to be famous. I am a reluctant part of the music industry and I couldn't stress the word reluctant more, but I recognise that it's the shit-stem in place to get the music heard. But the music doesn't exist for that, or else I would be writing covers and trying to do something that is regarded as more popular. The Dears' music, it's not conscious, the way it's made is not conscious. It's just made, and it's like a miracle. Like when a record is finished, I can't remember all the steps from the time the song came into my head. I can't remember everything that happened in the mastering session and it being pressed on a CD, I can't remember how it got from where it was, how it came in to how it was put together. I just want music to always be inspired. It has to be inspired. I'm not a careerist; if I was I don't think the records The Dears make would be what they are. I don't think The Dears would exist as it is. It wouldn't be that, it would be something really, really, really gross and unappealing.
Video: The Dears, 'You And I Are A Gang Of Losers'
- - -
Read the second part of our chat with Murray Lightburn next week.