I’mma Let You Finish Arcade Fire, But The Dears Made Montreal’s Best Indie Rock Album of 2017

While your Instagram feed was likely blowing up courtesy of Arcade Fire’s Everything Now tour, another Montreal band was quietly selling out halls across Europe. Partners in life and music, Murray Lightburn and Natalia Yanchuk took The Dears on the road in support of the brilliant Times Infinity Volume Two. Released in the fall, the album itself was the culmination of an ambitious project that began in 2012. Conceived in two volumes, the series takes a long and serious look at our most universal emotion: love.

It’s a theme well suited for the cinematic sound the band has perfected. Lightburn and Yanchuk have encapsulated the emotion in their sweeping romantic compositions that span their 20-year career. Lightburn is quick to point out there is a definite difference in their thematic approach this time out. There’s something deeper with these albums. Could be the emotions of their long-storied career or the wisdom that comes with age.

With The Dears set to return to North America this month, Lightburn opens up about the bands longevity and what’s been at its heart after all these years.

The Times Infinity project was ambitious with both records being recorded at the same time.

Yeah. It was very, very challenging. We just kept accumulating music over the years and ended up with ten songs on each volume. Some people could argue that we could have taken the very best of both volumes, make one album and call it a day but I think for us it’s not really how we operate. We were going for two really solid albums. We’re still an album-making band. We just pursue what we think is the strongest material and what lends well to the overall theme.

The songs themselves seem emotionally challenging as well. Were these tough songs to make?

The overall theme for the project was a celebration of the band being around for 20 years but also what is at the heart of the message of the band: finding and holding on to a very deep and meaningful love. It doesn’t have to be romantic; it can be on a familial level. Friends you’ve had for a lifetime. It’s addressing all of those things. It’s just something we’ve never fully tackled. We’ve talked about love but we’ve never gone deep. More importantly, across the two albums what we’re addressing is the risk. There are a lot of people who are terrified of committing in a real way to anyone. It’s kinda terrifying, the thought of losing those people. They become an integral part of who you are. If you lose that partner you wonder if you’ll ever find another one that you’re able to do everything with and rely on and can really, like, have as your best friend and confidante.

Do you feel that way about your identity in terms of The Dears? Like, when you speak of losing part of your identity, how do The Dears figure into that?

The Dears is something we want people to rely on, to relate to. I’m telling you, I’ve lost track of how many times I meet people and they tell me a story about how such and such a song meant a lot to them at a particular moment. We recognize [that] now more than ever. We’re very aware of our role. So being at the top of the charts doesn’t mean anything to us. What’s more important is maintaining that role for people. We’re there when they need us. The music is there when they need it. So having this stuff out in the world, it doesn’t matter when they pick it up. They can have it week of release or pick it up in five years, it doesn’t matter. I think that’s the cool thing about what The Dears have to offer and why we’re still here after all this time.

How important is it for you to create something that leaves a lasting impression?

We’ve never prided ourselves on making records that were made for a first listen. The kinds of records we’re making are very deep and involved. You really have to listen a few times to get all the details. The way I would recommend people listen to The Dears is in bits like you’re reading a long book. I don’t think any one reads Milton’s Paradise Lost in one sitting. Not that what we’re making is that. I think we’re trying to make something that lasts. Things that people can always go back to, that will always be there when people are ready to pick it up. People are going to discover this band on this album! It’s crazy to think that after 20 years. That’s the beauty of sticking around and continuing to produce stuff. The more that you’re out there producing stuff, the more chances there are for people to discover you.

Can bands still leave that type of impression or is the age of the career band over?

I would like to think that if The Dears came out in 2017 for the first time, everything would be the same moving forward. I think what we do is always going to be interesting to people that are ready to receive what we’re doing. But on a more general level, I think it’s definitely tough. It was always tough, but I think now that funnel is getting even more fine. I don’t know how a band cuts through. I think you gotta look hot. Very important. I mean, if Billy Joel came out now he wouldn’t stand a fuckin’ chance, y’know? Even Bruce Springsteen. What would happen to him if he came out in 2017? He’d have a fuckin’ tough time. Maybe the songwriting would cut through. But there’ s no long-term development any more. You get six months. You get one single. A band like REM, if they came out now, wouldn’t stand a chance because they wouldn’t get that development time. They didn’t break out until the fifth album, for God’s sake! Today, you’re lucky if you make two albums.

And you’ve made seven albums. How have things changed for you over the course of 20 years?

We just finished this double record and I was deep in it for a number of years. I definitely feel like we’re not gonna take as long between albums going forward. I think we’ve gotten more efficient in our record making. I mean, sure, we started working on this album in 2012, but the only thing that slowed us down is that Natalia and I had a baby. At that time a couple of guys got married. Life got in the way. But I think what we learned from making this album was how to be efficient. Once we started making it we really banged through it because we knew what we were doing. So we went with tight blueprints and just knocked it out. All business, y’know? I think that’s how we plan to continue on making records. Just be as efficient as possible.

Would you ever perform in front of an orchestra?

You can do that, but it’s kind of like gratuitous when it comes to pop music. Pop music doesn’t really need an orchestra in most cases. You see Metallica with one and you’re just like, NO. That’s just not something the world needs. I mean, God bless everyone involved with it, I’m not slagging any one, but is it really necessary? I don’t think so. People like the idea of having these ornate things happening, but with a band like The Dears, there’s already a lot going on. I think that the cool thing about classical music is that it’s composed for orchestras. It was the way at the time. They weren’t thinking of a rock band playing with it,you know? I think pop and rock should respect that in the way they incorporate the orchestral.

So you’ve successfully framed orchestral concepts in a rock ‘n’ roll context?

I think that’s always been the idea. To take the stuffiness out of classical or bring some stuffiness to rock ‘n’ roll, depending on how you look at it. With The Dears, there’s definitely this clinging to the shreds of dignity one can possibly have playing in a rock band, a sort of elegantly wasted spirit. I mean, we don’t even have hard liquor on our rider any more. Those days are over! There’s something about, in our world especially as we get older, you look at young bands and you admire how they can be firmly committed to being rock ‘n’ roll and get away with it. But when you’re in your 40s and you have children, you can’t really be hung over any more, number one, and I think there’s something unappealing to me about getting on stage, almost close to 50, wearing jeans and a leather jacket, trying to be a rock ‘n’ roller. If I’m gonna play rock ‘n’ roll, I’m gonna class up this place a little bit.

Upcoming Tour Dates
Nov 8 – Rum Runners – London, ON
Nov 9 – Great Hall – Toronto, ON
Nov 10 – Maxwell’s – Waterloo, ON
Nov 11 – Mansion – Kingston, ON
Nov 16 – Mill’s Hardware – Hamilton, ON
Nov 17 – The Rondo – Windsor, ON
Nov 18 – The Warehouse – St. Catharine’s, ON
Photography: Richmond Lam