A glimpse into the infinite variety of Canadian cult act The Dears

It would seem albums by cult Canadian indie-rock act The Dears are like buses '“ you wait six years for one and then two turn up almost at once.

Saturday, 7th October 2017, 2:51 pm
Updated Tuesday, 12th December 2017, 10:30 am
The Dears  Natalia Yanchak and Murray Lightburn. Picture by Richmond Lam

Led by husband and wife team Murray Lightburn and Natalia Yanchak, they are touring in support of the beautifully dark new album Times Infinity Volume 2, the follow up to Volume 1, released earlier this year.

And aside from a clutch of UK shows earlier this year, this autumn is their first tour here since 2011.

‘Yeah, it had been a long time,’ Natalia tells The Guide from her home in Montreal. ‘It’s just circumstances beyond our control – when an album comes out the resources that are available, boring things like marketing and how we’re going to support a big trip like that. It costs a lot carting six people about, it has to work and make sense for everybody involved.

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‘But we love coming to the UK, it’s always been a great audience for us – it’s our honour really.’

And it seems the new albums have been a long time coming for the band as well.

‘We went into the studio about five years ago not knowing that it was going to be two volumes, but we did have a lot of music.

‘As we were recording it revealed itself to us that this was the way it had to be. With the way people consume music we didn’t want to put out an epically long two-hour album. People don’t listen to music like that any more, romantic as that would be. It’s almost foolish if you’re putting out more than five songs at a time these days because of streaming and everything else.’

Once they had this big pile of songs, working out what to do with them was the hardest part for the band.

‘That was probably the most difficult decision we had to make in the production process. When we went into the studio we brought all these songs – we recorded all of the bed tracks for all of the songs and then we stopped.

‘We had to decide which tracks were going on Volume 1 and which were going on Volume 2, with these half-formed songs.

‘For me, I get emotionally attached to certain songs, and I wanted them to come out as soon as possible, so we all got together and decided which was going to go where, and it was a bit of a battle, where some songs had to wait, because we didn’t want to put all of the best songs on Volume 1, and then Volume 2 would be like B-sides and no-one would care,’ she laughs.

And the two volumes also have their own distinct feel and themes.

‘We like to say that this second volume is a little bit darker – there’s more resolved on it. On volume 1 there was a bit more hope and optimism. On this one, the decisions have been made – there’s more finality to it.’

Some may find the cover of Volume 2 provocative as well. It’s a close-up picture of Natalia and Murray kissing, but the couple thought it reflected the content of the album.

‘It’s actually a very old picture from about 15 years ago. We were just looking through old pictures and there was just something... it’s is quite intimate, and a bit challenging too. Is the world ready for an inter-racial kiss on the cover of an album? I don’t know. But that’s another theme – relationships are a big theme of this album, not just intimate relationships, personal relationships too.’

With titles like Of Fisticuffs and particularly I’m Sorry That I Wished You Dead on the album, there’s an undercurrent of ever-present danger as well.

But as Natalia says of the latter song: ‘I don’t think it’s meant as a message of violence, it’s just dealing with people... you get angry, life can make you frustrated and feel powerless. These songs are a way of expressing that. You can feel these horrible thoughts, but that doesn’t mean you have to do anything about them, you have to find a way to deal with it, in a way that brings peace to you and peace to your relationships.’

However, Natalia insists that after 19 years together in the band and 12 years of marriage the relationship between her and Murray is solid.

‘It’s surprisingly very harmonious because our roles, within the band at least, have been very defined. Murray does most of the songwriting and the production, the technical stuff, and I do a lot of the business side – the administration, the marketing. We do come together because at some point those have to function to sell art, which is gross, but that’s what we’re doing.

‘We challenge each other all the time, but there’s something nice about being on the same page about everything, not just the domestic side, but also the professional side.’

As Natalia says, the selling of something as pure as art is ‘gross’ to them, but they’re in too deep to stop now.

‘The creation of music – that’s not going to stop, we found a spring, we tapped it, and that’s going to keep flowing, so we might as well bottle it and sell it.

‘But on the other side of it, the part of touring, that’s where the romance comes in, the connection with the audience, knowing that there are people all over the world who have connected with our music, and that’s what draws us back.’

The Wedgewood Rooms, Southsea

Monday, October 9