“That sounds awful. That sounds awfully pretentious and self-important.”
The Dears’ frontman, Murray Lightburn, is talking about his sixth studio album, September 25’s Times Infinity Volume One, and he’s just taken back everything he just said about it. Specifically, he was talking about what makes the Dears’ music, well, the music of the Dears. What he said was neither pretentious nor self-important; rather, his comments got to the heart of what’s kept the Montreal band’s catalog relevant nearly two decades after the group’s start.
“The thing about the Dears’ music is we always aim to be true,” Lightburn said. “What we strive to do is…try to make something a bit more timeless. We definitely steer ourselves away from current technological trends, sonically and also stylistically. If you listen to the first Dears record and to our records now, twenty years later, you’ll get the same DNA.”
Indeed, that makeup remains intact on Volume One, an album that brought the band back together following a series of personal events post–Degeneration Street, the Dears’ 2011 album.
“We didn’t force anything,” keyboard/vocalist Natalia Yanchak says of the group’s decision to start work on the new album, for which writing began almost three years ago. “When the songs started coming and when songs started being written, it just sort of occurred as something that was meant to be.”
The result is a collection of songs that feel like the Dears’ most sincere yet. Lightburn’s narratives straddle the hopeful and the hopeless, while musically, the aggression is often dialed back in favor of gorgeous pop melodies.
A fiercely dominant tone does, however, kick the album off in the form of “We Lost Everything,” which Yanchak notes was not her first choice when it came to selecting an opener. “Murray was really pushing for that. I thought it was too aggressive and abrasive and might turn people away,” she says. “I wasn’t convinced, [but] at the end of the day it’s the perfect opener because it challenges the listener. Are they going to pay attention or turn it off?”
The Yanchak-led closing track, the moody, horn-inflected “Onward and Downward,” likewise saw a difference of marital opinion (Lightburn and Yanchak are husband and wife). “Murray had wanted me to sing that song,” Yanchak says. “Initially I was like, ‘No way.’ That’s my reaction to all his ideas. But at the end of the day it’s amazing and surpasses all expectations.”
The ten-track Volume One clocks in at a brisk 38 minutes, a decision made consciously to allow room for Volume Two, which is already finished and ready for release in 2016. “It’s like having money in your pocket,” Lightburn says of the completed album. “You’re in front of a candy store and it’s just burning a hole in your pocket.
“Basically we just had a huge pile of songs,” he adds of the decision to do two albums. “We had the stuff, but wanted to space it out to give people a chance to consume it. I guess it’s also just a play on being around twenty years and doing something special and epic and grand. Instead of doing something like, ‘We’re gonna play No Cities Left on this tour,’ I think doing something like this is in line with who we are as a band.”
Before a string of Canadian dates, the Dears are playing an intimate one-off stop at Rough Trade NYC in Williamsburg on October 28, which Murray notes is “tough because it’s game two of the freakin’ World Series. I totally understand, though, and the show is a little later [in the night]. The Mets being in the World Series is a pretty big deal.”
Also a pretty big deal is the thought and consideration the band puts into its live sets. “It’s like you’re writing a novel [with the setlist],” Yanchak says. “If you don’t choose [the correct] order it’s like the story isn’t going to make any sense. It’s something we probably take way too seriously.”
“We try and make a setlist that forces the audience to be engaged the whole time,” Murray adds. “Quite frankly, the biggest cockblock we’ve ever had is there are some people who don’t even get in the door. They assume they won’t like the Dears based on certain facts. I guarantee anyone who walks in the door will not leave disappointed, but there’s nothing you can do about people who refuse to go through the door. You can’t lead a horse to water.”