A while back, I was fortunate enough to review the latest record from Montreal indie rockers The Dears. I found Missiles to be a rich and generous record, offering a more stripped-down rock and roll sound while maintaining the band’s famous graceful, cinematic atmosphere.
The band, now down to the duo of vocalist Murray Lightburn and keyboardist Natalia Yanchak, has become fan favourites for their deep, orchestral live shows and their complex arrangements. Musically, they are one of Canada’s best indie rock groups and their sound is at once layered and accessible.
I recently had a chance to interview Lightburn via email. I asked him about the process leading up to the October 21 release of Missiles, how the band’s creative process unfolds, what bands on the Canadian scene he listens to, and how he manages to make “killer pizza.”
The process leading up to Missiles was an interesting one. With two-thirds of the band having departed, how did the fluidity of the group impact the writing process?
I think it affected the execution more than writing itself. Because there wasn’t really a band in the studio, more like a bunch of people with ideas. The writing just kind of happens on its own and isn’t really reliant on a group. That’s only when we start arranging things, shaping them.
Do you greet the changes to the line-up with optimism? How do you feel the sense of newness will impact future records?
I’m always trying to be optimistic about everything. I don’t have a crystal ball so I couldn’t say how things will be in the future. Dears records just sort of evolve until afterward you look back and go, “WTF just happened?”
Your music has always had a very cinematic feel to it. Are you influenced by film? If so, who are some of the artists or filmmakers that have made an impact on your creative process?
Science Fiction is probably my favorite genre of film. For whatever reason, I’m always hoping you can play Dears music to Blade Runner.
Missiles is a tremendous and lush record, one of my favourites of the year. I found the album’s simplicity compelling, as though there was almost a stripped-down effect to the arrangements while still maintaining a sense of scope. Was there a conscious effort to create a more basic rock sound with this record?
I don’t find this record simple at all. It’s extremely layered, intricate. But the fact that you find it simple means that maybe we succeed in making something that was really complicated into something simple.
You noted in a Guardian UK interview that “The Dears not are but is.” I was very taken with this statement. Can you elaborate a bit on that for our readers?
I think because I realized finally that The Dears is singular. It’s a spirit. It moves through people on all sides. I know how that sounds, believe me. And that’s why I don’t take myself too seriously. But I can take The Dears quite seriously because I’m starting to believe that it is important and that it can live forever, even beyond my humble little life.
One of the most notable aspects of Missiles for me was the amount of affection that so clearly went into the album. Do you feel that the issues with band members and record labels created a deeper sense of infatuation with the songs?
Maybe. I don’t know. I haven’t analyzed it that much. Songs come in and The Dears deliver them. That’s all I can tell you for now. I already went through a period of trying to figure out who gives a shit to the point of not giving a shit about whether and who gives a shit.
You are currently on the road as I compose these questions. How is that going?
For the most part, pretty well. The Secret Machines are incredibly lovely humans and a fantastic band. They are not hipsters, just really awesome dudes. They work hard, play hard and I admire them deeply. Between that and how The Dears sets have been unfolding, I could not ask for a better tour.
There have been countless comparisons with your vocals and those of Damon Albarn and Morrisey. How do such comparisons make you feel?
Absolutely fucking bored to death.
I noticed via Natalia’s blog that you make killer pizza. What toppings go into this masterpiece?
I try go as traditional as possible which is possibly still an insult to Italians. I put great care into choosing the tomatoes that will make the sauce. I research a bit on what makes a great sauce. The simpler, the better and I never use tomatoes out of season. We can ours in September. I use buffalo mozzarella and a few basil leaves. A tiny sprinkle of fleur du sel. Olive oil. All of that goes on a simple dough that cooks on a pizza stone at about 500 degrees Celsius for 12 minutes because I don’t have a wood fired oven. Damn.
What are your feelings on the current Canadian music scene? Who are some bands you listen to and, to make it interesting, who are some bands you avoid like the plague?
I don’t have any feeling at all about the current Canadian music scene. I avoid most bands like plague.
Thank you kindly for taking the time to answer these questions. I am eternally grateful and I wish you and Natalia the best.