On the Move
When the Stills released their 2003 debut album, Logic Will Break Your Heart, critics were quick to lump them in with Anglo-inspired New York City bands like Interpol and the Strokes. The kneejerk brush-off: Yeah, more Joy Division/Echo and the Bunnymen wannabes. It didn't matter that the Stills are from Canada and (they claim) hadn't even heard Echo and the Bunnymen before recording Logic. Well, that may be the case, but the Stills' sound was as stark and cold as a London dungeon. And, alphabetically speaking, Stills isn't too far off from Strokes. The comparison, it seems, was inevitable. However, three years, numerous tours, and a lineup change later, the Stills are back with a second full-length, Without Feathers, which embraces a warmer, more organic sound than its predecessor. A week before the Stills headed off on their latest tour, drummer-turned-guitarist Dave Hamelin spoke to New Times from his home in Montreal, Quebec.
New Times: So what have you guys been up to lately?
Dave Hamelin: We've been home for a couple days. We were on tour for two months, and we're going on tour in another week. Now we're at home and having barbecues, trying to take it easy. Though, it's not really barbecue weather here. We can't wait to come to Florida. Can you go swimming now? What's the temperature of the water is it like 80 degrees?
It's been awhile since I went swimming at the beach, but sure, it's 80, maybe less.
So there are like manatees and stuff? Wow, I can't wait. I swam in Miami two Decembers ago, and that was kinda cold. We were down for a show at Revolver. It was the only time we've been there.
Would you say that touring has changed or broadened your perspective?
Traveling evens people out; but when you're touring, you're traveling so much it doesn't even you out, it heightens your awareness of every little detail. You start to only yearn for the simple things in life a nice bathroom, a nice bed, quiet. When I was always away from home, I kept trying to find [something to remind me of] home.
Where'd you record the video commentary for the Spin/Tripwire promo? Was that at home?
No, that was at a friend's house in New York.
You guys go to New York a lot?
Our record label's there [Vice Recordings] and our manager. So we go there more often than any other place. It's way closer than L.A.
I heard an interview on the BBC where you talked about Quebec being somewhat isolated from the outside world.
It's the best place to live and the worst place to live. It's a really pretty city with really nice architecture, lots of clubs, bars, venues, and everybody's a musician. It's cheap to live here, and it's a really good vibe. But it makes you never want to leave. Also, it's like a Bermuda Triangle of students. Tons of students from all over the world come here and don't leave. They remain these perpetual students. There are lots of bullshit conversations going on about "corporate overtake" and stuff like that you know, a lot of coffee-house chats. They've opened up tons of venues in the last couple of years. That's where all those bands like Arcade Fire and Wolf Parade got their start. But we started before that, so we didn't have that option. We were like, "We can't do anything here, so we have to leave."
Is that why the band spent two months in New York City in 2002?
Both of our managers moved to New York ten years ago. And before they were our managers, they were just our friends. So we went there, and that's how it happened. Most people go away for college. We figured let's go [to NYC].
You were moving people's furniture. Is that how you earned extra money?
Yep. We were movers. It was so shitty. We're really not the moving types; I don't think any of us have the mover's build. We were playing shows and moving. And after a move, sometimes you're so wrecked the next day you just can't lift anything. It was kind of grueling. Fortunately, we didn't have to do it that long, and we had way less gear back then. Now we have way more gear and we have to lug it around ourselves. It's like moving an apartment. We do get some help, but if I didn't do anything every night, I'd feel kind of weird. We've been on tours where I didn't touch a thing, and it was kind of weird. You have no responsibility. You're just like this prima donna, free-floating asshole who gets to do what he wants a total hedonist by profession.
Did [former guitarist] Greg Paquet leave because of musical differences?
It was a mutual split, like when you're seeing someone, you stop calling them, they stop calling you. It was okay, though.
Having switched to guitar, did you do more songwriting this time around?
No, I did about the same. I wrote all but three songs. But now I'm doing more vocals on the record and no drums at all.
Did the lineup change influence the different direction you took with the new album?
We've all played in bands our whole lives. We were just in that headspace where we were really into the double keyboard, Hammond organ thing, and it was making us happy to hear those sounds. We wanted a record where, even though the songs would be pretty serious, we still wanted it to be a good vibe, a warm experience.
It's less British.
Right. Or different British. Less Blur or Radiohead.
There's one Kinks song we have on our playlist before we go on "Strangers," off the Lola vs. the Powerman album.
At least the Interpol comparisons might let up.
Yeah, maybe they will. I don't think we sound like Interpol. We never did. It's just that people are lazy. It's lazy journalism. News spreads so fast because of the Internet. It's like somebody says, "Oh, they sound like Interpol," and all of a sudden, you Google "the Stills" and everybody says the same thing that we sound like Interpol or Echo and the Bunnymen. We'd never even heard Echo and the Bunnymen. I thought the record we made [Logic] was way more Nineties-sounding than Eighties. People just wanted to say Eighties because it was hip. We're definitely into some Seventies rock stuff. But we're into Sixties stuff ... we're into everything. It's a matter of where you want to go at the time.
Get the Music Newsletter