The Dears are an indie rock band from Montréal. They formed in 1995, but didn’t release an album until 2000 (End of a Hollywood Bedtime Story). In total, they have released five proper albums, three EPs, a couple of live albums and a dozen or so singles. Their 2007 album Gang of Losers was shortlisted for the 2007 Polaris Music Prize, and last year’s Degeneration Street made the 2011 long list. Degeneration Street was also #7 in my list of my favorite 15 Canadian albums of 2011.
Frontman Murray Lightburn and keyboardist Natalia Yanchak married each other in 2005. They’re the only members who have appeared on every album. There have been a number of lineup changes over the years, but the current lineup is sort of the “the band is back together” crew. Drummer Jeff Luciani joined the band in 2010, but everyone else has come and gone at least once. Even Lightburn tried to leave the band once, but his quitting didn’t take.
In their infancy, The Dears were courted by major labels, but they ended up on the indie Arts & Crafts. I don’t know details of why the big labels were rebuffed, but just about every “little” band who has signed a “big” contract ends up regretting it. Even without major label backing, they got a lot of exposure, and they got a lot of huge gigs. Opening for The Tragically Hip. Opening for Morrissey (to whom Lightburn is often compared). Back-to-back-to-back world tours. Although the opportunities were there, they never rocketed to huge fame. Not that they wanted it.
For some reason, everything went pear-shaped with the 2008 album Missiles. The record itself got favorable reviews, but the band was in shambles, and they ended up going separate ways. They mended fences, though, and “the old band” reunited. Guitarists Rob Benvie and Patrick Krief re-joined the band, as did bassist Roberto Arquilla.
The first time the band ever played in Mexico City, they were shocked to discover that they had rabid fans there, even though they didn’t have distribution in Mexico. They were expecting some dingy hole in the wall with a handful of kids. What they got was packed houses of fans who knew all of the words to all of the songs. They remembered this when they embarked on a pre-release launch for Degeneration Street. They decided to tour the new material before the album was even recorded, and instead of doing this in Montréal or Toronto, they returned to Mexico City, where they had loyal and loving fans.
Around this time, Murray Lightburn was directing a documentary about The Dears, and their shows in Mexico City are prominently featured in the film. You can and should watch that documentary — “Never Destroy Us: The Dears at Pasagüero” on CBC Music here.
I’ll let you play today’s song and then I’ll get into the documentary. This is that song.
“Blood” by The Dears
I like that it starts with acoustic guitars, but at 0:34, it turns into a Sugar song, with blazing guitars and at 1:02-1:07, Lightburn has to scream the vocals.
I also really like the moment at around 2:25, with the drum fill. It’s the only time in the song that they do that, and I love it.
What’s left of your eye?
A tear from sympathizin’
Fallin’ from above
Soakin’ us in blood
I’m not going to lie. I have no idea what that’s about, but it’s some strong imagery.
Before I watched the documentary, I knew a little bit about the band, but I didn’t know much about the members’ personal lives. Now I do, and I like the band even more than I did before.
Obviously Lightburn and Yanchak are the faces of the franchise, but the documentary sure did make Rob Benvie seem like an interesting guy. They don’t mention this in the documentary, but it turns out that he’s also a writer with two published novels. It also turns out that Yanchak is a writer. She’s into science fiction and short stories. She also writes a blog that’s a little bit about the band, a little bit about science fiction, and a lot about astronomy. Lighburn and Benvie have tumblr pages, if you’re into that kind of thing.
Anyway, be sure to watch the Dears documentary (45 minutes).
Buy a copy of Degeneration Street directly from the band in their online store.