Rock & Pop: Big Mouth Strikes Again ; the Dears Are a Canadian Band in Thrall to a British Rock Star. JAMES MCNAIR Meets Their Front Man

By Mcnair, James | The Independent (London, England), April 29, 2005 | Go to article overview
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Rock & Pop: Big Mouth Strikes Again ; the Dears Are a Canadian Band in Thrall to a British Rock Star. JAMES MCNAIR Meets Their Front Man


Mcnair, James, The Independent (London, England)


Some interviewees reveal nothing of themselves. Not so Murray Lightburn, linchpin of Canadian sextet The Dears. 'I have an enormous fear of abandonment,' he says, 'this thing of wanting to hold on to what I have and keep it in order. When 9/11 went down it seemed like a grand metaphor for my entire life. Some say I'm a control freak, and to a degree I probably am. If I lose control I become upset and depressed. That threat is always there: the threat of extreme misery.'

More sanguine company than the above might suggest, Lightburn is chain- drinking cans of Stella at the back of his band's tour bus. It's parked alongside The Zodiac theatre in Oxford, where a 'sold- out' sign outside testifies to The Dears' word-of-mouth fuelled rise. Lightburn is wrapped in a fur-hooded parka and has a heavy, phlegm-laden cold. When not swigging at his lager or playfully flattening the drained cans against his forehead, he takes comfort from passing a miniature American football from hand to hand.

The tour-life microcosm is such that we are interrupted, first by the bus's driver, then by the tour manager and sundry band members. When my questions are personal, we wait until the intruder has left before continuing.

At one point Lightburn relates that, while guesting on Jonathan's Ross's radio show, he accidentally revealed that he and The Dears' keyboard player Natalia Yanchak have marriage plans. It's news, he says, that will have his mother turning cartwheels, but a recent NME article that he felt made too much of his band's nods at Britpop and a certain Mancunian act fronted by Steven Morrissey is clearly less cause for celebration:

'People say: 'Oh, they sound like The Smiths or a Britpop throwback," Lightburn says, 'but for me it's 'not really' and 'definitely not'. There is only one Smiths, but there is also only one Dears. If you look at the entirety of what we do, no other band sounds anything like us.

'This Australian newspaper misquoted me, too. They said I claimed The Smiths were better than The Beatles, but what I actually said was that The Smiths meant more to me personally than The Beatles ever could. When we supported Morrissey and I realised that we were in the same room, you have no idea how much I was bawling. It meant so much to me that he acknowledged our existence and gave a small stamp of approval.'

Bold though Lightburn's claims about The Dears' singularity are, they are justified. Indeed, The Dears' second album, 2004's No Cities Left, is a record for which the adjectives 'fresh' and 'eclectic' might have been invented. For while it certainly does have shades of The Smiths and Britpop front-runners Blur, the album's choice cinematic arrangements know no bounds. 'Expect The Worst / 'Cos She's A Tourist' starts out as chamber-pop, mutates into something redolent of Carl Orff's Carmina Burana, then metamorphoses into sepia-tinted jazz with deftly-arranged horns. Elsewhere, too, seamless time signature changes, diverse instrumentation and regular, often radical changes of vocal timbre cement the notion that The Dears are impossible to second-guess.

Lightburn formed the band in Montreal just over 10 years ago. Naturally, there's a story behind the group's slow ascent and less than prolific output. Shortly after the release of their strong, if wearingly dark, debut End Of A Hollywood Bedtime Story, Lightburn found himself deserted by his band mates who'd grown tired of his depression, heavy drinking and cocaine use. 'I was left with this album that I thought was pretty good, but I didn't have a band,' he has said. 'I was ready to off myself.' It was also around this point that a previously supportive Montreal press temporarily turned its back on The Dears. 'That was when I had my little nervous breakdow,' says Lightburn with a hollow laugh.

The way out of this pit of despair, he says, involved re-forming The Dears with more like-minded musicians.

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