The Dears Missiles

The Dears Missiles
At some point near the completion of the latest disc from Montreal-based epic rockers the Dears, front-man Murray Lightburn and wife/keyboardist Natalia Yanchak were faced with a truly nightmarish reality: the complete implosion and disbanding of their group. Miraculously, emotional new set Missiles managed to survive the turmoil intact, rife with the expected pleading highs, wrenching lows and mid-track directional twists fans expect, though each device is employed with a far greater sense of conservatism and precision this time around. There’s a decided optimistic freshness to long, evolving opener "Disclaimer,” as a reverberating, light-hearted sax lead winds its way through the tune. Things find their form in the rhythmic push and harmonic vocal-synth pairing of "Money Babies,” its metronomic guitar riff and swelling keys building to meet their melodious climax, with Murray and Natalie soaring in unison. The Dears return to the compositional grandeur of No Cities Left in eight-minute centrepiece "Lights Out,” marked by its ethereal, "Paranoid Android”-styled breakdown and scorching guitar solo, while the solemn horns and resolute youth choir backing chant of pensive closer "Saviour” wraps up this pristine testament to the band’s creative legacy. How the retooled group will manage now without the undeniable personality of their former members is, honestly, anyone’s guess though.

First off, what happened within the group between that last record and this one to spark such a drastic change?
Lightburn: Well, that’s a tough question to answer. It’s still, in my opinion, a bit of a who-done-it? just because I don’t know what motivates people sometimes. I just know what I’m motivated by and I also know what hurts me and what makes me comfortable and confident. And, I know what the Dears are and what we’re supposed to be. So, you shake all that into a blender with some elements that maybe don’t belong and you get a situation like [the one] we have.

Was it something that was developing for a long time or was it from one day to the next?
Well, it’s funny. Last night I was talking to a friend of mine about it and we kind of both agreed that it was a situation that was perhaps doomed from the start. Like, there were people that were in a group together that maybe never should have been in a group together. And I know people look at it from a perspective or perception, of, like, "oh, you’ve had all this success with this group of people, etc.” But we’ve had a lot of changes, you know? I think this is probably the most significant change just because the last line-up was the one that was probably the most recognized, or celebrated, or noted, but we’ve had lots of changes in the past. I mean, even when we were on the cover of Exclaim!, [Rob] Benvie was in the band and he hasn’t been with us for a long time, but he played on Missiles. So it’s a big gigantic circle and there are some people that I think will probably never have anything to do with the Dears again and then there are some people who I think will continue to have maybe an arm’s length relationship, or even closer, with the band.

Was the entire record recorded with the last line-up?
No, it was a bit of a "let’s see what happens” kind of line-up. There was no line-up. I mean, there was no band in the studio. It was really an enormous collaborative effort [with] a lot of ideas flowing but still with a mission.

I ask that because there’s still, at least to me, a definite Dears sound on this record.
Of course, because at the heart of it there’s still an inherent spirit and you’ll see it coming back to life again. I mean, it’s not all there yet because [tonight] is our fourth show and I expect some heavily scrutinizing type of reviews and, you know, there are going to be technical screw-ups, and not only are we struggling to try to learn a new album but we’re also struggling as a new band just playing together. So it’s a double whammy there. But I don’t care, we’re going to go out there anyway because, at the end of it, these shows are going to be incredibly scrappy and the Dears have always been a scrappy band, and this is us at our scrappiest, [so] I think that the people that just care about the music are going to continue to embrace it. There’s a spirit in the group and it’s still channelling itself through the music and the players. It’s weird because I thought it would be really different but when I get on stage it doesn’t feel that different; it still feels like the spirit is still there. It just needs to be nurtured.

Were any of the current players involved in the recording of the album?

Will this current line-up continue on in the future?
I really don’t know. It’s definitely to-be-continued.

You mention on the site that you consider Missiles to be your best record to date. What was it about recording this record that gave you that impression?
Well, every time you make a record you always say, "this is our best record,” right? I think it’s because it’s your latest and you don’t finish making a new album and say, "Yeah, this one’s good but I think our second record is still our best record.” You’re always trying to out-do the last record. But for me, the only reason that I think it’s our best record is that it comes from a more learned and schooled place yet, at the same time, it’s got a really raw, primal vibe to it that is also at the heart of the Dears’ sound. You can’t come into the Dears world and not expect to get some scrapes and cuts, you know what I’m saying? It’s very brutal, which is why, perhaps, we’re not really popular on one hand and probably why some people are fervent supporters of the group.

On a whole, there’s a sense that the loose emotions of your other disc are much more restrained this time. Would you agree with that?
Well, it’s very composed [and] I am getting older. Just the other night I had gone out with some friends and I was drinking at Pop Montreal and I got really drunk and I didn’t remember how I got home. And, of course, the next day you’re looking at your phone for clues of what went down and then you call a few people like, "what happened.” But, you know, I’ll come home and my jeans are in a place and the door’s locked and maybe the alarm’s on, and I had a glass of water, and I didn’t trash the place, and I somehow paid for a taxi, etc. You’re, like, on autopilot. After the amount of bullshit I’ve been through in my life, I guess I’m just kind of on autopilot, and I think that this record is kind of also on autopilot. It’s not, like, in a way that I think it’s boring but I think it’s just really composed and perhaps — dare I say, and this is going to sound really lame — a bit more mature.

You’ve also let people know that those epic ten-minute tracks are back on this record. Why were things different with Gang Of Losers?
Gang Of Losers was such a weird process because we had been on the road for about three years touring No Cities Left and then Natalia got pregnant and when we got home… personally I feel that we should have started making that record, like, in the spring of the next year, not when [my daughter] Neptune was nine weeks old. We came home and Natalia was eight months pregnant, so we stopped touring, had the baby and settled into a new life, and within a couple of weeks it was me, George and Martin in the basement working on new tunes. It was just like there was this enormous pressure to deliver another album really quickly and there were all these songs there… it’s not like the songs were forced out or quickly bashed together, it’s just like a little reflection period would have been really helpful to the band and definitely to me. I don’t know where the pressure was coming from exactly but it was like this presence in our lives that we [had to] get back on the horse. I don’t think we wanted to see ourselves slowed down by anything, you know, and it was really a weird period because that was the shortest period of making a record, ever. Every Dears album takes a year, minimum. No Cities Left took almost two years to make and I prefer that process of making a record, only because that reflection period is really important when you’re making these kinds of final decisions on something that conceivably is going to be a document that’s going to be part of rock history [laughs], and when you’re making history, you want to do it right. I mean, I love Gang Of Losers; I think it’s a fantastic record, I just wish that I personally had a little more downtime before going into making it. But I think, perhaps we burned out too quickly because we jumped back in too quickly.

Is that one of the reasons why you’ve been sitting on this new record for six months?
We finished the record and then were kind of deciding whether or not we wanted to put it out with somebody, so we just threw it out to our usual suspects and, for whatever reason, we could just never really bring it together with Arts & Crafts and Bella Union, [etc.]. Something just didn’t seem right about getting back together in those relationships. I mean, God bless ’em, but it just didn’t seem like that was the direction that we should be going because of all the shit that went down during the Gang Of Losers period, which was probably the darkest period of the band. It was tough, you know, and I think for myself and Natalia, after George [Donoso] split and [Patrick] Krief made his decision to move forward with his band, we just looked at each and said, "we need to clean house,” and the only people who survived were our lawyer, our agent and Maple [Music].

Do you think you could continue on if it was just you and Natalia or do you need to have seven members in the band for it to work musically?
Well, I’m never going to make a Dears record by myself. That doesn’t make any sense and that’s not how it’s supposed to be. It’s about a spirit and sometimes you need more than two people to harness that and to channel it all. I mean, Benvie had a major role in this record and Krief played that monster fucking guitar solo [on "Lights Out”] and George did what George does: he’s the spirit of John Bonham, he’s a fantastic drummer. And a lot of people who came in… you know the horns on "Saviour” almost literally saved my life, and I told those guys [Matthew Watkins and the Stars’ Chris Seligman and Evan Cranley] that if I got those three together, I knew something really magical was going to happen.

As far as actually releasing records, why do you think it has never come together naturally for you guys?
I think that the Dears are just a really difficult band to market, so we just take what we can get in terms of finding people that get the band and are just going to do what they can to get it out to as many people as they possibly can. And it’s worked, to a degree, and when it stops working we just go our separate ways [laughs]. But it’s not based out of self-importance; it’s just what the music has called for and what’s needed to deliver it to the audience. We try to foster that all the way.

Do you think that Dangerbird will be a more ideal fit?
We had four different labels on the last record and four agents and it was such a pile of shit to juggle, and with me and Natalia being parents [we] just had to streamline that shit. We went with Dangerbird [this time] because they just had the right attitude towards the band and the music, and it’s not that the other labels didn’t have the right attitude, it’s just like, for where we were at that moment, we just needed a lot of support. We needed to form new allies because so many bridges got burned on Gang Of Losers that we just needed to flip the shit over and turn a new page. (Dangerbird)