The Stills' David Hamelin
Published Aug 27, 2008With 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, Montreals the Stills have managed to push an already stellar year beyond their own expectations. And now that theyve made the move to Arts & Crafts, theyll 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 bands 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 youre 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 dont really try to, but its 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 theyre good. Sorry, but I think we write good songs and people like that.
So its not intentional that you make songs that are listenable to anyone?
No, no, not at all. I mean, you cant really. Itd be so hard to plan that out. I write a lot of songs that Im sure a lot of people wouldnt like, clearly. It just ends up that way. You cant plan what you write; you just blurt it out. Its 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 didnt think anybody expected anything from us because wed just thrown them for a loop with the last one, so they were like, "I dont know what theyre going to do. So that was really liberating for us. It was definitely like, "Lets just do what we want and lets have a good time, so it was a really fun record to make. Its been fun playing the songs live too.
Havent 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 weve kind of done in the past. Not totally, but still. This is definitely the most comfortable no, not comfortable record to make because were all pretty uncomfortable people.
Uncomfortable in what way?
Were all pretty crazy and were at each others throats a lot.
When I talked to Tim before, he said you guys were pretty neurotic.
Yeah, were pretty neurotic and were hard to be around. Its 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. Weve just learned. Weve 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 weve just known each other for so long. Were really crazy; I dont think anybody has any idea what were like. But its really funny to be around. People laugh a lot. Its funny for us too. We fight and we laugh.
Is that the kind of thing you draw from when youre writing?
No, not at all. I never think about like, [bassist] Oliver [Corbeil], when Im writing a song. I think about songs that I like, I think about what I want to say.
The bands dynamics have changed with you coming out from behind the drums and up front. Has that changed your sound?
I really dont 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. Id just get up from the drums and go figure things out. So itd 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 thats 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. Weve 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 dont think about that. We didnt 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 its going to sound like them somewhat. Other bands make records that are mixes of their other albums. Its 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 couldve been on this record or that record, but I think all of them have something thats specific to this record. Of course there are similar elements; were 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 cant 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. Its never quite what you want. The good ones say a bunch of things that you didnt want to be and the bad ones are pretty much the same thing. What are you going to do? It doesnt really matter.
A lot of people think of you as a New York band. Since youve moved to Arts & Crafts, do you think thatll change?
I wonder. I dont know. Im not sure. Theres a lot of stuff on the internet about us starting in New York, which we did, but were from Montreal. Half of us have French-Canadian last names. Its journalism. Its the age of the internet. Its not hard to make a mistake. We dont really care. Were from Botswana. Whatever, it doesnt really matter. If you like the record, it doesnt matter where were from.
Why Arts & Crafts?
Weve been friends with Broken Social Scene for a long time and theyve 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 wouldnt 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. Its a really great feeling when youve 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 youre going to play [with him]. Now thats a great vibe. Weve 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.
Ive got to ask: whats he like?
Hes kind of exactly what youd think hed be. Hes a guy that was in the Beatles, whos pretty much the most famous musician of all time, he has an unlimited supply of everything, hes made fantastic albums that hes really proud of, and he sort of exudes that. He doesnt really have a care in the world. Well, Im sure he does have some concerns, but he seems like a pretty comfortable guy. And Im sure he has every reason to be. A really nice guy, obviously. How can you be bitter? Whats there to be bitter about?
Oh right, divorce. Sgt. Pepper! Who cares about divorce? Its only like a footnote. It doesnt even register.
And now youre 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. Wed always read in these UK magazines that we were one of their favourite bands and theyd 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. Theyre really really sweet. Theyre 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 theyre so not that. Theyre more like "macncheese than "cokenwhores. Were 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. Theyre really funny guys. Theyre funny together. Theyre kind of like us. Were not brothers, but we act like brothers.