Music Features

The Dears (Interview)

As a music fan, I’m forever in conflict. I want to spread the news of the artists whose music moves me. To share them with my friends, with family and online, so I can feel that I’ve done my part in contributing towards the success that they deserve. And equally, when I hear their music played on mainstream radio, on an advert or even breaking into the charts, I celebrate it as a victory against manufactured, crass pop, marketed to the masses. But there’s another part of me that doesn’t want this. The selfish part of me that knows that a sniff of wealth or fame can irreversibly influence an artist’s integrity, and ultimately their work. It’s a conflict that I've been pondering frequently following a recent conversation with Murray Lightburn of Canadian indie band The Dears. I’ve always felt that The Dears have possessed the talent and passion to make it to the very top, but that they’ve been held back by a lack of support from mainstream media. To what extent has this driven the band to continue to make such quality output?

The lack of support from mainstream media and music outlets is something that Murray also recognises:

In Canada, they just announced a total shutdown of HMVs; they’re finished, they’re bankrupt, they’re done. Frankly, there was a small part of me that was celebrating. Because we’ve always struggled to keep our records stocked properly in those stores. I’d always hear on release day, even in our home town, that people went to HMV and they couldn’t find our record. And that could be because it sold out quickly and they didn’t order enough but it’s still tiresome, you know. You put all this work in and then all the normals go to HMV and they can’t find the record. It’s like “fuck you, you suck”. It’s like radio. Terrestrial, mainstream radio is unsupportive, so I don’t give a shit about them. But the independents and college radio stations have been so supportive over the years. And growing up, that’s where I discovered all the music I liked.

It’s getting worse. The way that festival line-ups are determined is not by taste in music any more, it’s by an algorithm now, numbers, numbers, numbers, volume, business. It’s horrible, it’s fucking horrible. There’s no taste-making anymore, even in music journalism. There’s nothing organic, it’s all led by numbers. Even when you’re in a band getting press, it’s based on how many shares they could possibly get. They’re not even writing about bands, reviewing bands that are good, it’s all based on numbers.

Somewhat ironically, however, Murray explained that he would never have felt comfortable if the band had had the support to "make it":

We were once kind of a “buzzy” band. Every band that scratches the surface of notoriety gets a little buzz. And I was instantly uncomfortable with that. It’s good that we got that buzz, I always equate it with that scene in the Indiana Jones movies where the ball’s rolling and he’s trying to make his getaway, and he grabs his hat. I feel like we’re one of those bands that had just enough notoriety to have a long career. And most bands would probably have quit because they didn’t march into arenas. For us, I think everyone around the band at that time wanted that to happen because, you know, it feeds all those mouths. But for me, on a totally selfish level, I was always uncomfortable. I always felt embarrassed to be in a newspaper. Maybe it was the way I was raised. I don’t like the attention that much. I can ham it up on stage and crack jokes and be a front man. But once I leave the stage, I like my privacy, I like my anonymity, I like being in a band that not a lot of people know. I enjoy that a lot. I enjoy the balance of just making enough money to be able to raise my family. It’s a working-class version of rock stardom. I have to work very hard for everything that I get, and I have no problem with that. I’m not a lazy guy. I work ten hours a day on music and being out on the road, I’m working extremely hard, and I like it. I like to work.

Ultimately, he’s happy with what The Dears have achieved in their twenty-plus years, and with what they continue to achieve.

We take a long time to develop what we’re making because we’re not making pop, throwaway records. We’re not in a rush. And the records are ready when they’re ready. We spend a long time writing, a long time recording and putting them together.

I feel like what we’re contributing is meant to last a really long time. As long as we continue to keep the fire burning, people will continue to discover our music for years and years to come. We’re in the library now, our records are there and people can discover them as long as we continue to say “these records exist, and here’s a new one”. That’s what’s important. Eventually, in everyone’s lives, they’re going to need The Dears. I don’t care when it happens, we did our work, it’s ready. It doesn’t have to be simultaneous, it’s there like a bottle of medicine in the cabinet. You don’t expect everyone to have a headache at the same fucking time.

And he talked about the band’s latest project, the Times Infinity series, confirming a global release for Volume Two is targeted for the first week of June:

It was interesting because it was like a puzzle. We had recorded a huge body of work and right on the last couple of days of the first session in Toronto, all the songs went on an eraser board. And we listened to everything, there must have been twenty-something songs. And each person had a symbol next to a song to say that was a pick. We went through the entire list and from there, it became apparent how the two records should be split. And which should be the first one and which should be the second one. And it worked out really well.

I think we knew we were making two records from the beginning because we had so much material. So it was like “okay, this will be a cool project”. In my mind, I pictured it as a compilation of new material. Even the artwork is reflective of a collection of music based on a theme, that is made by an entity that is non-descript, that you would buy in a store. “Here is a Lover’s Compilation”. That was the idea behind the aesthetic.

They might not be the only volumes, we might do more. Maybe not immediately but in years to come, we might add to the Times Infinity series.

The entire work is partly inspired by the history of the band and looking back a bit, but it’s not supposed to be autobiographical. It’s also meant for people to reflect on their lives, it’s supposed to evoke that feeling of reflection. A lot of our stuff is about self-reflection and addressing certain things within ourselves. So this is in line with that idea in that you’re not just reflecting in the present, you’re reflecting upon the past but also at the same time, reflecting on the future, based on your history.

And it’s heavily based on not being alone. It’s about sharing a life with somebody, and what that means. Or wanting to share a life. I think sometimes when people are alone, they say they like being alone but I don’t think anybody likes being alone. Or else they wouldn’t be on Facebook constantly, they wouldn’t have any friends. I don’t believe that anybody wants to be alone. I think sometimes people give up on the idea of finding someone. And I think this record could hopefully be something inspiring where people don’t give up on that idea. Maybe not necessarily looking but leaving themselves open to being with someone. Because it’s not that bad. When you find a partner that you can share your life with, it’s a pretty beautiful thing. And it’s empowering, rather than stifling, when you find the right partner. And that’s what this album is all about. It’s about foreverness and soulmates. And that could be in anything, in friendship, in lovers. But you’re not facing the shit alone. And that’s very romantic, whether it’s romantic in the traditional sense or platonic. I think we don’t really talk about being afraid of being alone. It’s all in there, it’s all on this collection. How do you deal with, how do you reconcile that fear of being alone or dying alone? Being alone in some bluesy apartment, is that what you want or do you want to be surrounded by family? It’s not supposed to be in a bluesy way, you’re supposed to draw strength from it. Because when you’re able to face these heavy subjects, truly face them, then you’ll be stronger.

Our thanks to Murray for taking the time to talk to us at No Ripcord.  Times Infinity: Volume One is available to purchase and to stream now, with Volume Two scheduled for release in June.