Still In Love
It has been more than a year since The Stills were introduced to America with a splash of interviews, rave reviews, and glossy magazine covers. And, like so many postpunk, astral pop, and mope-rock bands of the same ilk, any sign of a lengthy musical career is hanging on their next release. Today's nü-rock darlings can become tomorrow's "whatever happened to?" all too quickly, and be chewed up and digested quicker than a fast food value meal before they even get a chance to develop their sophomore sound. The Strokes' second effort, Room on Fire, received lackluster to mixed reviews, while the Second Coming of Interpol via Antics garnered praise by music critics across the board.
That being said, you'll just have to wait until next summer to hear anything new from The Stills. Today, it's a cold Montreal afternoon and drummer/singer/songwriter Dave Hamelin is at his practice space, where he has just realized that he has driven all the way there and forgotten his headphones. His spirits are still high, though.
"I did a lot of the interviews at first, but then I decided I didn't want to do them anymore. Not that they're shitty, but once you do too much of them you sort of get bored of your own answers," says Hamelin on his cell phone. "I don't know; maybe I'll surprise myself today."
The Stills -- Hamelin, singer/guitarist Tim Fletcher, lead guitarist Greg Paquet, and bassist Oliver Crowe -- are the result of four guys who've been in various bands with each other for the better part of their lives. Their first demo was recorded with a four-track tape machine they got from a buddy in need of drug money. During the summer of 2002, they moved to New York, taking small jobs as furniture movers during the day while playing shows with bands such as Interpol, Ryan Adams, and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs at night. Being at the right place at the right time even yielded an article in the New York Post on how to rise through the ranks as an indie band with a few easy steps.
When The Stills' first full-length, Logic Will Break Your Heart, was released on Vice Records (brought to you by the same up-and-comers behind Vice magazine and also home to The Streets) last year, they quickly gained attention for their Canadian roots and charming good looks. They drew comparisons to other darker, moody post-punk, early new wave bands such as Joy Division and Echo and the Bunnymen, which is as easy a conclusion to reach as the culinary term "tastes like chicken."
But a listen to Logic Will Break Your Heart reveals whirling pop with lyrics that flirt with love, boredom, and loss, and spacey guitars, hook-driven bass, and splashy, shimmering drum beats. It's all there, from school dance make-out numbers such as "Lola Stars and Stripes," to a fade-in that opens "Allison Krausse" and strikes a nostalgic nod to The Smiths' "Hand In Glove." And on the last track, you'll get an addictive, dance-driven tune, "Yesterday Never Tomorrows."
With Logic Will Break Your Heart came articles in magazines such as The Fader and Nylon. Although Hamelin read everything that was written about them at first, he eventually stopped to keep a clear head. "They were basically all the same," says Hamelin of the stories that often cast The Stills as yet another band of boys in vintage wear and shaggy haircuts.
The Stills were even featured in Teen Vogue, which would be the kiss of death for some indie purists. But Hamelin is quick to explain, "People do a lot worse things and nobody really cares about it. All these bands are playing on The O.C. and that's a pretty cheesy fucking show. And The Shins sold a track to McDonald's and nobody cared." It's also worth noting that The Yeah Yeah Yeahs and The Strokes both have appeared in Teen Vogue.
"There's young kids who like us and their liking us is not meaningless and not trite," he continues. Hamelin contends that the typical person at a Stills show ranges anywhere in age from 15 to 60. The band plays for people that were raised on MTV's 120 Minutes or remember the first wave of U2 when Bono had a fashionable mullet. "I like to think that we're offering something that's both urgent and classic so older people can get into it as well," he says.
Now 24, Hamelin says that The Stills will sound different on the next go around. Though a ways from carting around children in a minivan, yet safely removed from his parents' house, he looks forward to translating The Stills' fledgling maturity to record.
"These songs were written so long ago. I wrote them when I was 19," says Hamelin of Logic hit singles such as "Still in Love Song." "You have a lot more things to say when you're 24 and you've actually lived rather than when you're 19 and you live with your parents and you just create problems for yourself."
With the lyrical growth comes some musical maturity, too. The sounds in their heads now span Bob Dylan and (bring on the cocaine and the headscarves) early Fleetwood Mac. Hamelin thinks it's a conscious thing. "If we offer up the same thing the next time, we figure they'd be bored with it, and now there's so many records to choose from of that vibe," he says.
Whatever the future brings The Stills, at least they have some well-learned lessons behind them. "After a while it can sort of get under your skin if you read into your own mystique too much," counsels Hamelin. "You can maybe lose the plot a bit and get a bit too self-conscious."
Side Note - Oh, Canada: There is so much more to Canadian talent than that perfume-peddling Celine Dion. "It's changing now," Hamelin points out. "There's The Dears, The Arcade Fire, and The Unicorns," not to mention Leonard Cohen, Rufus Wainwright, and Broken Social Scene. "So, Canada is actually doing better than the States right now in many ways. Your dollar's not doing well either, which sucks for me 'cause we get paid in American dollars," he laughs.
As a kind of built-in support system, Canadian radio stations must make sure that 35 percent of the songs played in heavy rotation are Canadian music. Better still are the French-language stations, which must play 65 percent Canadian acts. On a related note, The Stills' first new song since Logic Will Break Your Heart, "Retour A Vega," is en français.
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