In a long and detailed interview, QRO sat down with The Stills’ singer/guitarist, Tim Fletcher. In Part One of the interview, Fletcher discussed the new record, Oceans Will Rise (QRO review), light shows, “Being Here”, getting tripped on stage, their ‘uniform’, their new tour Airbus, a ‘legitimate Canadian tour’, Paul McCartney vs. ‘The Wolf’, playing to massive crowds in Quebec City, not playing underwater, and much more…
QRO: How’s it been, now that Oceans Will Rise is finally out?
Tim Fletcher: It’s been stupendous. We waited for a long time for it to come out, after finishing it, and I think that we’re just ecstatic about it being out, and we’re just so ready to tour and see the world again, and everyone that we met along the way.
I think playing these songs live to people who know them, obviously, not to be super cliché, but I think these songs are our strongest live songs, so every night, we’re more excited than we’ve ever been.
I know that all sounds very cliché, but…
QRO: How did making Oceans compare with making your first two records?
TF: It’s kind of a similar process. Making a record is a bit of an emotional ordeal. It’s a bit tumultuous. As any sort of ‘birthing’ process would be, it’s a lot of brain-wracking, knob-twiddling, soul-searching, heart-wrenching – all things of this nature, in order to get to your final goal, which is music that exceeds your expectation.
We were really able to cocoon into a world successfully, which is the hallmark of making a good record, I think – you’re able to create a world that you can fully inhabit, and immerse yourself into, live free, piss, shit, eat – not eat your piss & shit…
QRO: What was it like with new drummer Julien Blais?
TF: He’s a fantastic drummer. He’s from Rimouski, which is about six hours up the St. Lawrence River from Montreal, towards the Atlantic, which is basically where the water turns brackish. There’s sharks there, there’s all kinds of belugas, icebergs…
He’s this crazy northern Quebec guy, with this rage, just smash things inside him – yet he’s very controlled about it. He’d be a perfect anger-management course professor. I think he plays amazingly on the record.
He’s been in the band for the past three years – he just never recorded on a record. Having him in the studio was amazing.
QRO: He toured with you guys when you toured the second record, right?
QRO: At Music Hall in Williamsburg (QRO venue review), [singer/guitarist] Dave Hamelin said “Being Here” is about Brooklyn. Is that true, or are you going to say that at every stop you make?
TF: It’s about Brooklyn, sure… It’s about a lot of things.
It’s about being in the south, with our friends, Kings of Leon (QRO album review), during a sort of ‘family reunion’, where a lot of moonshine – homemade, corn-squeezin’ moonshine was drank, gumbo, Haitian voodoo, in a giant, vacant parking lot, with all their family, in rural Oklahoma. About all the feelings we were feeling then.
I mean, Dave wrote the song. It’s about having all the conditions of your life presented to you for you to be happy, and for you to be pleased with your conditions, and yet, you’re not. We’re just ‘being here’ – it’s more philosophical, I guess. But what are people angry about, what are people having trouble with? Being born – ‘being here’…
QRO: You guys had an incredible light show. Where does that come from?
TF: The whole thing with The Stills is that we really wanted to do something ourselves, have a ‘do-it-yourself’ lighting thing that brought drama and color to the stage, and lit things up. So we basically built it ourself, and really cheaply. And we were able to man it ourselves.
It’s not about anything else than adding to the world we’re trying to create, and adding to the experiencing of that world. We wanted to envelop people in this blanket of time and space that is not your every day. That comes from our minds and our hearts, that’s what we love, what we feel…
Sometimes, a dream is a set of events that can be easily understood, they can even be drawn out to someone, but they can’t be felt the same way as the dreamer.
So all we’re trying to do is our very best at trying to convey our feelings of what this new album is, what the new world is… what the past three albums are… what The Stills are…
We’re still working on it. It’s a work in progress. We don’t have a heck of a lot of money, but when we have more money, we’re going to add things, and build it all ourselves, and work it out. There’ll be a set designer, some acting…
QRO: How much do you plan out all the ‘moves’ you guys do on stage, like [bassist] Oliver Corbell switching places with Dave, or all the ‘raising guitars in the air’/‘pointing them down at the crowd’?
TF: We like to have fun with that stuff. Basically, underneath everything, we’re just a punk band, thrashing away, trying our best. And I think making progress – what is ‘progress’, I don’t know. We like to indulge in more structured parts, bringing energy together, into one focused point, and use it.
Like soldiers – it’s just effective when people come together and do something together with the same mind. You can break through walls at that point.
There are certain points in the show where we realize that the music could go with certain actions, and we do that.
QRO: Have you ever had anyone fall over, or get their cords twisted?
TF: Oh, my god, yeah. Almost every show, somehow, Oliver gets his cord twisted around my leg somehow, and when he leaves – he’s the impetuous one, who’s always running around, and he doesn’t always watch where he’s going, and sometimes, he’ll get clothes-lined around the ankle…
I have fallen over. I have tripped and had to, to not smash my guitar on the ground, I’ve had to maneuver in weird ways that have left me with cuts and bruises. It doesn’t happen every night.
QRO: Why do you guys all wear black on stage? You’re not the stereotypical ‘all black’ band – is it for the girls? You seem to have a lot of female fans…
TF: I don’t know if the women in the audience are there because we wear black.
A few months ago, we were like, ‘Let’s just adopt a uniform.’ We never did that. We’re a band that goes through a lot of phases, and I don’t know what it’s going to be a couple months from now, but right now, our sort of ‘adopted uniform’ of the moment, is just to wear black. And from here, we’ll expand…
QRO: Does it have anything to do with the ‘skull on black background’ album cover [for Oceans Will Rise]?
TF: All our album covers are essentially something on a black background. That’s always been there.
QRO: Homage to Spinal Tap’s Break Like the Wind…
TF: Actually, it’s the black album by Metallica. It’s more 1991 Metallica – actually, what we’re hoping to go for more is 1988 Metallica, on the …And Justice For All tour. When they were at their height of rage.
QRO: You’ve just started your tour…
TF: We’ve been doing a lot of one, two, three, four, five-offs.
Our real touring actually starts in October, when we’re going on tour with Kings of Leon. From a month ago until then, it’s a lot of sporadic, intermittent, coming-and-going.
Which is frustrating, because I really want to be somewhere were nobody knows me. We never leave far enough away from home to not know anybody these days. There’s always people on the guest-list, friends, and family. It’s the kind of thing where I want to be where nobody knows me, personally, on a tour.
QRO: Do you guys still have that big Winnebago?
TF: That’s a rental thing – we’re just rolling around in a van, these days.
We’re looking at buying this ‘Airbus’ – they’re like a small trailer, but made out of thick aluminum. They’re aerodynamic – they look like a 1950’s UFO.
The one we’re going to get is purple and gold. And it was imported from Bulgaria. I think it was some Eastern European vehicle dealership. Julien is really into the history of cars, and he knows people over there, because he’s toured with other bands, so we’re going to get this crazy Airbus, gypsy, Eastern European Airbus thing – which is street-legal here – and use that to tour.
It’s basically a motor home RV. And you can attach a trailer to it. So we’re going to decorate the inside, have a studio, make it like Carnivale – our operation is going to be run like that: David Lynch-meets-Kings of Leon-meets…
QRO: And you’re going to have some guy behind the curtain who nobody sees as management…
TF: That’s how we are managed, actually. We don’t ever see our manager. They make decisions, we here voices…
QRO: Which are you looking forward to more: these sporadic headlining dates, or opening for Kings of Leon at those huge places out west?
I like a good, healthy mix, though, at this point, like I was saying, I’d love to just go four or five months and just not come home. I’ve already given my landlord six months post-dated checks, so as long as I can have money in my account on the first of every month, I’m fine. I just wanna be gone.
Though I like being at home for writing. Being home is the best place to settle down and write music. But I wish I was on tour for a long period.
QRO: Will you have the Airbus by the Kings of Leon tour?
TF: Hopefully, we’ll have it up and running when we get it, which will probably be in early December. We have to spend some time on it. It’ll be the winter too. We have to outfit it, and prep it, and make sure nothing falls apart.
QRO: You’re doing America first, then Canada in November. Wouldn’t it have been better, weather-wise, to do it the other way around?
TF: The seasons are shifting. It rained, and was cold, throughout all of the summer in Canada, and now it’s really hot, so I’m thinking it should be an Indian summer.
If not, and weather is very unpredictable these days, if its really snowy, I think the attitude we’ll adopt is, ‘It’ll be a legitimate Canadian tour’ – snow, hard conditions… That’s how a Canadian tour should be.
We’ll be on tour with Sam Roberts, who is really big in Canada.
QRO: You played with him at Prospect Park Bandshell (QRO venue review) last summer…
TF: Yeah. Sam Roberts is an amazing songwriter, and Sam Roberts Band is amazing. I live with the bass player, and we share our rehearsal space with Sam in Montreal.
The November tour is with him, and he’s really huge in Canada. He’s kind of the ‘Canadian Springsteen’. People really love him. He’s a hero – he represents a lot what everybody feels in Canada.
We’re touring with him, and either way, we’re going to adopt this, ‘this is a legitimate Canadian tour’ approach, in the sense that we’re going to treat it like ‘Rolling Thunder Review’ meets… What was that cross-Canada tour they all did?
QRO: Oh, with The Grateful Dead? ‘Festival Express’…
TF: ‘Rolling Thunder Review’, ‘Festival Express’ together! We’re going to be painting ourselves up. We’re going to do it, for real.
QRO: What is the difference between playing in the States and playing in Canada?
TF: You know what? There’s not a lot of difference. There’s not a heck of a lot of difference…
I look – we all look, to try and find the differences. And we’re lucky that we get the opportunity to be able to try and compare. But I find that there’s not really much difference.
I think the differences between audiences really occur city-to-city. For instance, Toronto crowd can be a little stand-off-ish. It’s very much a nine-to-five city, a financial town. And people have seen it all. So sometimes we play shows and people are a little bit… it’s not that they’re ‘stand-off-ish’; they’re just a little more ‘adult’ about it. And then next time you go back and it’ll be a boisterous, raucous crowd.
And Montreal is the same way. New York City, I know sometimes people have sort of preconceived notion of what New York City is supposed to be, but I’ve always found that New York City crowds are super respectful, and even if they don’t move around a lot, there’s a lot of warmth. You feel it. It’s an intelligent and cultured crowd.
And you find those kinds of crowds in odd places, as well. We’ve played shows in St. Louis where we draw that, Chicago is amazing – big cities are great for that. You can get either/or: you can get full, stand-off-ish crowds, or you can get super-outstanding, warm crowds. It depends on the night of the week, too…
TF: The thing is that, this summer, in Quebec City, we’ve been through an unbelievable run of shows. We opened for Paul McCartney [at the Quebec City 400th Anniversary concert], and then we opened for the comeback of a huge, legendary artist in Quebec, Jean Leloup. A complete madman who, our opinion is, and I think the opinion of a lot of people in Quebec is, he is the greatest personality, songwriter, singer, madman, punk, weirdo in the province.
He was out of commission for about six years. He killed himself off – Jean Leloup killed himself off, and he became another person; he became Jean Leclerc. And then ‘The Wolf’ was reborn – ‘Le Loup’ means ‘the wolf’.
So ‘The Wolf’ was reborn, and we got to play to like 10,000 people, opening for him. And he was a complete mess. It was an anti-‘Quebec City 400th Anniversary’ thing. He was like, ‘Fuck the 400th anniversary of Quebec City! The natives were hear before, so I’m celebrating them!’ He was wearing a huge headdress, and everyone was dressed up like First Nations, totem poles, everything. It was a big ‘fuck you’, and he went crazy on stage, he played four hours, he made $10,000 [Canadian] extra, ‘cause he played an hour-and-a-half past curfew.
QRO: Was it weird, doing the 400th Anniversary and the anti-400th Anniversary?
TF: Kind of, yeah.
We did [those two], and then we did Envol & Macadam. And it was like, ‘Okay, now we’re playing a normal show. Bloc Party, Metric – the kind of thing we’re used to. Not Paul McCartney, not a complete madman who we love and respect.’
It was great – Metric are some of our closest friends, and Apostle of Hustle are very, very good friends of ours as well. Us, Metric, and Apostle – they’re amongst the family.
Our run of shows in Quebec City ended up being to over 300,000 people, for the months of July, August, and September – which I think is a ‘good amount’ of people, for three months, three shows in the same city. I think it’s a satisfactory amount of people to perform to.
[Envol & Macadam Fest] kind of ended our ‘tenure’, our ‘residency’ as ‘The Quebec band to play in Quebec City’.
If we go back and do our own show, our own theater or club show, and it’s not sold out, I’ll be really surprised. Just based on the amount of people we’ve actually played to.
QRO: Do you do anything differently, when you play outdoors to huge audiences like that?
TF: Every show is different – it’s a case-by-case thing. If you’re opening at a festival, say if you’re the third band of five, you have to roll in and be guerilla-style. Just throw your stuff on stage, set up your line-check, and put your head down and just go for it. You don’t have time so set up lights or whatever. You have to go up there and perform.
Sometimes you’re opening for a band in a club; it depends. I think you just have to go into with the same attitude, which is one of summoning up all of your feelings, being in character.
The main thing is summoning up convictions and other spirits, which help you remember why the songs you’ve written is all you need to do to prepare for a show, no matter what the situation – festivals, club, opening, headlining, if I pulled out an acoustic guitar and headed to the back of the bar: same thing.
QRO: There was this fake Wikipedia entry about you guys playing for a week in August in “The World’s Largest Submersible, The H.M.S. Dominion” underwater in the Atlantic Ocean. Do you have any idea where that came from?
TF: Three of us were on a submarine, but it was near Rimouski, and it was just a tour of a submarine. We played a couple of songs acoustic, but it was above water, and it was in the harbor. It was a British naval ship.
I read that thing, and they said that we played “the deepest show ever”, I think, “somewhere off the Canary Basin.” What The Stills are doing in a parallel universe is unbeknownst to me – right now. Maybe through meditation and/or the taking of various drugs, I might be able to see to a reality where that happened, but I’m not aware of it right now…
QRO: How was South-by-Southwest (QRO Festival Guide) earlier this year?
TF: South-by was really good, though – I got really fuckin’ sick in New York. We did a Bowery Ballroom show in March, and I was really sick that morning. I was like, ‘There’s no way I’m going to do the show!’ I go to see the punk rock doc around the corner, Dr. Dave, and he hooked me up, and I was able to do the show – but I had to be on antibiotics for the entire tour going down to SXSW for two weeks. So I was bloated, and fucked up, and couldn’t drink…