The Stills' David Hamelin

The Stills' David Hamelin
With the recent release of their third full-length record coming just in time to help launch another tour with Southern rock favourites and friends Kings of Leon, Montreal’s the Stills have managed to push an already stellar year beyond their own expectations. And now that they’ve made the move to Arts & Crafts, they’ll be working with people that are like family to them too. Working with friends and family: what more could you ask for? Oh wait, they just opened for Paul McCartney. I guess an encounter with a Beatle might make your yearly top ten list. Singer/guitarist David Hamelin was all smiles while answering a few questions about their successes the day after the band’s Toronto CD release show for Oceans Will Rise.

I was talking to people at your show last night, and they were saying that they like you because you have a definite and unique sound, so they recognize you right away. Yet you’re accessible enough that anyone can like you. Where do you think that comes from?
I think that we just try to write songs that are the best that we can do. We try and make music that people can like. I guess we don’t really try to, but it’s turned out that way. We try to arrange our songs really differently from album to album, and we like mixing it up and exploring new territory musically. But I think what always sounds like us is that the songs are always definitely our own sort of thing. I think that they’re good. Sorry, but I think we write good songs and people like that.

So it’s not intentional that you make songs that are listenable to anyone?
No, no, not at all. I mean, you can’t really. It’d be so hard to plan that out. I write a lot of songs that I’m sure a lot of people wouldn’t like, clearly. It just ends up that way. You can’t plan what you write; you just blurt it out. It’s not really that premeditated.

So how did Oceans Will Rise come together?
This was really a lot better of a vibe than the other two [records]. This is our third record and we kind of felt comfortable in the sense that I think we didn’t think anybody expected anything from us because we’d just thrown them for a loop with the last one, so they were like, "I don’t know what they’re going to do.” So that was really liberating for us. It was definitely like, "Let’s just do what we want and let’s have a good time,” so it was a really fun record to make. It’s been fun playing the songs live too.

Haven’t you guys been playing the new songs live for a while now?
Yeah, we have been playing them for a while. And we wrote them before we went to the studio. We really wanted to put them together as a band and not sort of Frankenstein them together in the studio. Which we’ve kind of done in the past. Not totally, but still. This is definitely the most comfortable – no, not comfortable record to make because we’re all pretty uncomfortable people.

Uncomfortable in what way?
We’re all pretty crazy and we’re at each other’s throats a lot.

When I talked to Tim before, he said you guys were pretty neurotic.
Yeah, we’re pretty neurotic and we’re hard to be around. It’s hard to be around ourselves. But relatively speaking this one was a walk in the park compared to the previous records.

So what was so hard about the other two?
We were just too crazy. Just too crazy and young. We’ve just learned. We’ve all been through many therapists and stuff like that and have learned to cool it and be civil with each other.

You fight a lot?
We have. But we’ve just known each other for so long. We’re really crazy; I don’t think anybody has any idea what we’re like. But it’s really funny to be around. People laugh a lot. It’s funny for us too. We fight and we laugh.

Is that the kind of thing you draw from when you’re writing?
No, not at all. I never think about like, [bassist] Oliver [Corbeil], when I’m writing a song. I think about songs that I like, I think about what I want to say.

The band’s dynamics have changed with you coming out from behind the drums and up front. Has that changed your sound?
I really don’t think so. Even when I was on the drums I think it was the same thing. I was never a really good drummer, so even when I was playing drums I was really focused in on guitar parts and putting other things together. I’d just get up from the drums and go figure things out. So it’d be obvious for people now to be like, "Oh yes, he plays guitar now so the guitar has changed,” but not really because I was really involved in the guitar riffs and writing before just as much as I am now. The only thing that’s changed is that we have a better drummer now and I have to play guitar live.

So who was dealing with the drum parts before if you were so focused on everything else?
Well our first record had the same drumbeat throughout. I only did one beat and we just ran with it. That was it! It was easy, it was simple. We had that one beat. We’ve got more beats now. Way more beats.

A lot of people are saying that this record sounds like a mix of the first two. Do you think of it that way?
No. Maybe. It could be. I don’t think about that. We didn’t sit there and go, "You know what guys, we need to make something right between both records.” We just wrote a bunch of songs and arranged them. Our two other records are still pretty fresh, so obviously it’s going to sound like them somewhat. Other bands make records that are mixes of their other albums. It’s just that our first two were so different, or perceived as really different, that yeah, I guess it can be seen as a mix. There are some songs that I can say could’ve been on this record or that record, but I think all of them have something that’s specific to this record. Of course there are similar elements; we’re the same band.

Have you been reading any reviews?
I read one a really long time ago before the record came out. It was a good one, so I stopped there. You can’t really do that to yourself. On our first record, I read a lot of them because I was young and insecure. And the thing is, you kind of hate the good ones as much as the bad ones. It’s never quite what you want. The good ones say a bunch of things that you didn’t want to be and the bad ones are pretty much the same thing. What are you going to do? It doesn’t really matter.

A lot of people think of you as a New York band. Since you’ve moved to Arts & Crafts, do you think that’ll change?
I wonder. I don’t know. I’m not sure. There’s a lot of stuff on the internet about us starting in New York, which we did, but we’re from Montreal. Half of us have French-Canadian last names. It’s journalism. It’s the age of the internet. It’s not hard to make a mistake. We don’t really care. We’re from Botswana. Whatever, it doesn’t really matter. If you like the record, it doesn’t matter where we’re from.

Why Arts & Crafts?
We’ve been friends with Broken Social Scene for a long time and they’ve always been really supportive of us. Kevin [Drew], who part-owns this label, I think has always been a fan and has always been really behind us. It just seems like, why wouldn’t we go with this label started by musicians? We love Vice too; this is just a great new thing.

How was opening for Paul McCartney?
Pretty crazy. It’s a really great feeling when you’ve been in a band for a long time, that you get a call saying that Paul McCartney is going to listen to your stuff over the weekend and tell you if he likes it, and if he likes it you’re going to play [with him]. Now that’s a great vibe. We’ve done fairly well in England and I know his camp has been to our shows, so I guess they were in Quebec and asked who they should get, and someone said the Stills.

I’ve got to ask: what’s he like?
He’s kind of exactly what you’d think he’d be. He’s a guy that was in the Beatles, who’s pretty much the most famous musician of all time, he has an unlimited supply of everything, he’s made fantastic albums that he’s really proud of, and he sort of exudes that. He doesn’t really have a care in the world. Well, I’m sure he does have some concerns, but he seems like a pretty comfortable guy. And I’m sure he has every reason to be. A really nice guy, obviously. How can you be bitter? What’s there to be bitter about?

Divorce?
Oh right, divorce. Sgt. Pepper! Who cares about divorce? It’s only like a footnote. It doesn’t even register.

And now you’re going to head out on tour with Kings of Leon. How did you first meet up with them?
Touring England, actually. I remember one time we were staying at the same hotel and the bass player, who was probably 15 at the time, was like, "Hey man, I love your band.” We’d always read in these UK magazines that we were one of their favourite bands and they’d asked us to go on tour with them a bunch of times, but we were always busy. And then finally we went on tour with them, and we had such a good time. The best time with them. They’re really really sweet. They’re pretty much exactly the opposite of what we thought they were going to be. I think the media paints them as these drugged out rock stars, but they’re so not that. They’re more like "mac’n’cheese” than "coke’n’whores.” We’re really excited to go out with them again. Every time we hang out with them we bond over campfires. We visited their farm on the way to Texas for a couple of days, rode around on four-wheelers, shotguns at piles of wood and played poker. They’re really funny guys. They’re funny together. They’re kind of like us. We’re not brothers, but we act like brothers.