Very fresh off recording their third album, singer/songwriter Dave Hamelin of The Stills sat down to talk to QRO. In the conversation, he covered the new record, how it relates to their last two, Logic Will Break Your Heart and Without Feathers, why Feathers didn’t sound like Logic, new song “Snake-Charming The Masses”, playing the new material live, returning to New York City, their new label, Arts & Crafts, representin’ Quebec, the difference between Canadians and Americans, going from playing drums to singing and playing guitar, who “Lola Stars & Stripes” is about, who “Allison Krausse” isn’t about, and more…
QRO: How were your recent recording sessions?
Dave Hamelin: They were really good, actually. It was pretty interesting – we kind of had a weird past year, and I think the record is interesting. It’s definitely not anything we’ve done before.
QRO: How much more do you have left to do?
DH: Mix it, and that’s about it. So it’s kinda done.
QRO: How many songs do you have?
DH: It’s twelve songs.
It’s weird – it sort of ended before it started. We went in there and banged it out. I haven’t thought about it, since we recorded it. I feel like I don’t have any perspective on what it actually might be. It could be awesome, or it could be terrible. But I think it’s awesome.
QRO: Had you been working on the songs before?
DH: For a while. We’ve been sort of working on finding, having a new voice on this record, challenging ourselves, doing things that we haven’t done before.
We’ve been listening to a lot of weird stuff, like Steve Reich, Philip Glass, and David Shea… Our record doesn’t sound like that, just elements of us trying to go beyond what we’ve done before, I guess.
QRO: How was it different then making your last two records?
DH: The last record (Without Feathers), the goal in that was to not make anything like our first album (Logic Will Break Your Heart). The goal.
QRO: Why specifically so different?
DH: We were definitely under the impression that there was definitely something we were a part of that we didn’t want to be a part of. Let’s distance ourselves as much as we can from that horrible scene of music going on that we thought was awful.
QRO: Which scene do you mean?
DH: The high-hat, disco, dance-punk. All of that, that whole umbrella, that whole bandwagon was just kind of disheartening and we didn’t want to be part of it. And we didn’t want to be part of that context, so we did Without Feathers.
And now we’ve kind of got everything out of our system, and now we feel like we don’t have to answer to anybody. You know, nobody knows what to expect from us at all, anyway, so…
QRO: Do you think, whereas you said the second record, you were trying to be different than the first record, this record, you’re not caring as much about comparisons?
DH: Yeah. There’s resemblances to both of them, and other new things. That’s what interesting about this one, I feel like it’s a completely honest account of what we’ve been through in the last three years, in the sense that we weren’t self-conscious about it. It is kinda what it is, and we’re all pretty happy with it.
QRO: How did you know when to stop recording?
DH: Well, we had to go on tour. We kinda had to like, ‘We have a week left – we have to finish as much as we can.’
QRO: Did [new drummer] Julien Blais [pronounced “like ‘bleh’”] do the drums in these recording sessions?
QRO: Were these your first recording sessions with him?
QRO: You just put up the new “Snake-Charming The Masses” on your website. Is that song particularly representative of the new material?
DH: It is representative – and it isn’t. There’s no other songs like that on the record. There’s an ‘impending doom’ type, ‘elephant marching’ sound. It sounds like elephants stampeding. It sounds like a safari. So in that sense, yeah, that song is a great intro to the safari that is our new record. In that sense, it does relate, but I don’t think it sounds like any other song on the record.
What’s strange about this record is, I think, our most eclectic one. All of the songs are really, really different from one another. We have a ska tune; we have “Snake-Charming”, which is some sort of shuffle-percussive. We had the guy who used to play percussion and drums in Antibalas; he played a lot of stuff on our record. It’s got a lot of touring.
QRO: The new album was originally set for release in late May. Now it’s been bumped back. What happened?
DH: It’s literally just because we’re not finished it yet. Let’s say we finish, I think we’ll probably be finished by April 1st – it can’t come out a month later. Most records need at least three months to come out, four months, or else nobody’s going to write about it.
QRO: How do you feel about playing the new material live?
DH: It’s great, great. I wish we could only play new stuff live. It’s really exciting to play new stuff. People seem to dig it.
QRO: Were you nervous, the first time you played the stuff?
DH: No, not at all. That’s like part of our whole new M.O.
QRO: Is there anything particular you’ve had to do, translating your new material to a live performance?
DH: We kind of wrote them live. What was different about this record is that we can play all these songs before we recorded them. Whereas our other albums we were kinda not so good when we recorded.
QRO: Is it special, playing in New York, considering you did your first recording in the city way back when?
DH: Yeah. It is totally special to be in New York. It’s kind of our hometown, I guess. It’s always really fun – it’s our home base, in terms that we started here, and not Montreal. Even though we were Montrealers, we came here – like other people came to Montreal.
QRO: You’re going to be playing South by Southwest after this. Do you do anything different at ‘industry showcases’ like that?
DH: Play less songs.
QRO: Do you choose particular songs for this audience?…
DH: ‘It’s gonna be our single…’
Well, we’re already signed, so we’re not like, trying to impress Seymour Stein or anything. It’s not like some big guy with a lot of money is going to come down and hear one of our tunes and go, ‘You guys are a gold mine’, and he’s gonna write us a check for a million dollars and we’re gonna live happily ever after. It’s more subtle. So we’re just kind of going there to promote our new record, and basically let people know that we’re putting out a record soon.
QRO: What are your plans after SXSW?
DH: Um… no. Well, actually, I’m going to be finishing the record.
QRO: Do you have tour plans, once the new record is out?
DH: We’ll probably, yeah. We’re probably not going to stay home.
QRO: Are you going to be playing any of the summer festivals this year?
DH: No, we’re not, actually. We kinda missed that. Next year.
QRO: Do you prefer to play indoor shows like this, or outdoor shows like at festivals or last summer at Prospect Park Band Shell (QRO venue review) in Brooklyn?
DH: I think I like playing indoors better, just ‘cause the sound is weird outside. It sort of just fades away. It’s a weird vibe outside.
QRO: In Brooklyn last summer, who was that guy dressed up like Burger King on stage?
DH: ‘The Great Balgazy’. He’s part of an art collective called ‘Surface to Air’. He’s actually an artist called Gordon Hull. He did the “Snake-Charming” video; he did all the album covers. He’s one of the founders of ‘Surface to Air’ art collective.
QRO: What drew you to Arts & Crafts, your new label?
DH: Well, four years ago at SXSW, we played with Broken Social Scene, became friends. So when we knew that things were going to be changing, label-wise for us, we thought, ‘Well, why don’t we call them and see what they’re up to?’ And they’re really nice…
QRO: Arts & Crafts is based in Toronto, and is dominated by Ontario acts [Broken Social Scene & co., The Constantines, The Most Serene Republic, etc.]. Do you & The Dears feel you have to ‘represent’ Quebec?
DH: We do represent Quebec.
QRO: Do you feel that whole ‘Montreal vs. Toronto’, ‘Quebec-Ontario’ rivalry?
DH: Well yeah, we do represent Quebec, and we don’t like Ontario!…
QRO: Do you get into hockey brawls or something like that?…
DH: One of the guys who works at Arts & Crafts hasn’t called us in a long time, and I think it’s because our hockey team has been doing well. And he’s that into it, that he’s mad at us, personally.
QRO: What is the difference between playing in the States and playing in Canada?
DH: We’re really different than Americans. Americans have a lot of issues – they really, really do. You guys are really ‘issued’. It’s really apparent. You’re so afraid of everything, so afraid, all the time, fear, fear, fear. So afraid… It’s sometimes hard to connect with people. Except for, I find Southerners easier to talk to. Some Southerners, the really awesome Southerners.
We sort of noticed that, over the last two years. You tour with a bunch of American bands, and then you go back to touring with Canadian bands, and you’re like, ‘Oh, yeah – they don’t have anything to prove.’ Americans are always trying to prove something to you. I mean, it’s part of what makes them great – they’re really ambitious, they want to make money, and be better, and smarter – even though it didn’t work out on that end. They definitely have more money…
It’s a weird, weird country. And it’s so big, too.
QRO: How was your tour with the Kings of Leon in the U.K. last spring?
DH: Great. You see, they’re nice Southerners. Actually, on our way down to Austin, we’re going to hang out with them at their farmhouse, in Nashville. The singer and the drummer, Nate, have a farmhouse where they live, with a lake and shit. We’re going to go fishing, and have campfires…
QRO: As Canadian musicians, do you guys get state support?
DH: Actually, only since we’ve signed to Arts & Crafts. We didn’t get it before, because we weren’t eligible before, when we were on an American label [Vice].
QRO: Are you guys all English-speaking Quebeckers, or are any/all of you Francophone Québécois?
DH: All of us are a bit of both.
QRO: What was it like, moving from playing drums to singing and playing guitar?
DH: It was hard at first. It was hard for a while. I’m into it now.
QRO: If you were writing the songs, why were you behind the drum kit in the first place?
DH: I don’t know. I really don’t know how it happened. I just played drums and wrote songs – like Phil Collins.
I play [drums] on one song on the record.
QRO: But you don’t do that live…
DH: No – maybe soon, though. Maybe we’ll do double drumming, like Social Scene.
QRO: Like Phil Collins…
DH: And Chester Thompson, in Genesis. Trail of Dead have two drummers, Broken Social Scene has two drummers.
QRO: On the second record, was it weird, also taking over singing duties from guitarist Tim Fletcher?
DH: I didn’t really ‘take over’ – it was more of just a thing we did for that record.
There’s no ‘decree’ that I’m singing. On the new record, I sing like three or four tunes. The next one, we might have Oliver [Corbell], the bass player, will sing, I don’t know. As a songwriter, I don’t care. I’ll have a bunch of people sing my songs; I don’t give a shit.
QRO: Is the story that the four-track you recorded your first stuff on in New York was given to you by a friend who you helped out in Barcelona who needed drug money?
DH: I’ll say yes, it’s true, and I’ll say that it’s way more intense than that. I can tell you, and you cannot write it.
QRO: Do you know if Allison Krauss has ever heard “Allison Krausse”?
DH: No idea, but maybe she has.
QRO: Why did you add the ‘-e’ to the end?
DH: We had no idea there was a girl called ‘Allison Krauss’. We don’t know; we’re Canadian.
We’re playing this ‘Rachel Ray’ showcase at South by, she had some thing there – and we had no idea who she was. First of all, we don’t watch TV; second of all, we’re Canadian. How the fuck are we supposed to know?
QRO: Is there a ‘Lola’ of “Lola Stars and Stripes”?
DH: There’s a ‘Lola’. Her actual, real name is Lauren Rich, from New York, Long Island. She was our manager’s roommate, and we stayed with him.
QRO: This might be another coincidence, but does “Of Montreal” have anything to do with the band, Of Montreal?
QRO: If “Allison Krausse” didn’t have anything to do with Allison Krauss, then “Of Montreal” wasn’t going to have anything to do with Of Montreal.
After the first album, did you Google all the rest of your titles, to make sure?
DH: We didn’t, but it is weird.
The thing with “Allison Krausse” is that we just wanted to have a name. It was this girl Allison that I was going to go out with, and I wanted to find an interesting last name for her. It was sort of a German-sounding last name. At first it was going to be ‘Horowitz’, and then somebody said, “What about ‘Krausse’?” And I was like, “Oh cool – ‘Krausse’…” And we had no idea that there was a singer called Allison Krauss.
QRO: Before this, did you feel you had to start off shows with “In the Beginning”, given its name & nature [leadoff track on Without Feathers]?
DH: Maybe a little bit. When we wrote that song, we knew that it was going to be the first song on the record, right away. Like, it had to be first, born to be the first song. A while ago we stopped. I can’t remember – it’s hazy. We play it at other points now.
QRO: Are there any new songs that you really looking forward to playing live?
DH: All of them.
QRO: Are there any songs from the first two records that you really like playing live?
DH: First record, I really like playing “Of Montreal” a lot. I think that’s my favorite one to play from the first album. Maybe that and “Gender Bombs”; from the second one, “[Oh] Shoplifter”. There are others that are fun to play, too. We’ve been playing “Destroyer” the last couple of nights, and it’s been really fun. I’ve also not liked playing it, but now I’m getting into it.
QRO: Are there any that you don’t like playing live, or you can’t play live, because of how it’s arranged or something?
DH: Oh, totally.
That’s like the first song I wrote – I think it’s a really bad song. Really sophomore…
QRO: What cities or venues have you really liked playing at?
DH: Bowery Ballroom (QRO venue review). This is it.
QRO: Or any other cities or places?
DH: No other cities.
QRO: The show last summer, for Celebrate Brooklyn – that was on Canada Day. Was that set up by the Canadian government?
DH: Yeah, I think so. There was some diplomat there from the government. He’s like, ‘Hey, I’m glad you’re doing this.’
QRO: What was especially weird was that, three days later on the Fourth of July, lower Manhattan’s River-to-River Festival had a big show with The New Pornographers [another Canadian act].
DH: I think we might be playing a July 1st show this year in New York with The New Pornographers.
QRO: Do you have a favorite tour story?
DH: Lot of tour stories. We’ve gotten pretty fucked up. Going to jail in Mexico, going to jail in Cleveland, bribing cops in Turkey, all sorts of things… It’s been in a hell of a ride.