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The Stills - Finding some hope amid the despair


Feature: Jack Foley

THE hiss of tape may seem nostalgic in the land of digital recordings and MP3, but for Montreal’s The Stills it’s more than an scratch from the distant past.

That hiss recalls the band’s very beginnings, because without a simple, chunky-looking four track tape recorder The Stills simply wouldn’t be.

"It’s like our Rosetta stone, you can trace everything about The Stills back to that four track," explains Tim Fletcher, The Stills 25-year-old singer-guitarist.

"A friend of ours, who’d ran into financial troubles in London, called-up and said ‘take some of my belongings, just send me some money’, so we took that."

Splitting the cost with close friend and Stills drummer, Dave Hamelin, a frantic exchange of ideas began hurtling between them.

"We shared the recorder, so I’d listen to whatever Tim did before me and then he’d listen to what I done," recalls Hamelin.

"It would be, ‘I liked his song, I’m going to try to make a better one’. We created our own little universe."

From such early experiments, this private world began to take shape, fleshed-out with a delicate melancholy born from a shared restlessness.

"The only moments when we felt we could truly let go were when we were recording," explains Fletcher, who, with Hamelin, writes The Stills’ material.

"When you’re playing, you’re not thinking of anything else, not even what you’re playing, you’re just doing. So we created everything for those moments. Ultimately, we wanted to feel like that all the time.”

It was clear then their recorded experiments required a wider audience, so recruiting lead guitarist, Greg Paquet, and bassist, Oliver Crowe (both, along with Hamelin, 23), from various aborted local band,s the four had served in, and in search of wider exposure, they temporarily swapped French-speaking Montreal to spend the Summer of 2002 gigging in New York.

They immediately garnered attention. Interpol became firm friends, they supported The Yeah Yeah Yeahs, among others, and Vice Magazine’s record label signed the band.

More touring followed, and after their debut release, the Rememberese EP in April 2003, last Summer they again settled in New York to record album Logic Will Break Your Heart, with ex-pat Canadian producer Gus Van Go.

Echoing the four track swapping days, the pace was again frantic.

"We almost lost our minds," admits Fletcher. "We had just two months to record the album.

"We recorded all day, then would just sit up all night in this loft, in Brooklyn, freaking out over the next day’s work. It was like working in a factory – all day every day."

However, the urgency transfigured the album. Fused with paranoia and desolation, but tinged with humour and hope, Logic Will Break Your Heart is billed as 'a record of sweeping romanticism struggling against a homogenised world'.

"To me, the album is about that defeatism," explains Hamelin. "The world is heartbreaking. When you’re young and you have ideals you strive to push through boundaries, then as you get older and are forced to get a job, you realise how the system works and logic breaks your heart.

"A lot of the songs change their emotional attack," continues Hamelin, of the album’s evolving dynamics. "Tim sings all the songs on the record, except one, and I wrote 75% of them, so he adds his emotions to my songs.

"I’m always trying to be ironic, but when he sings it’s more sincere which adds a weird twist.”

Clearly, The Stills have drawn from some dark places, but among the scything guitars and brutal percussion, soul-warming tunes ensure their debut long player doesn’t wallow in despair.

The album closes with the lullaby-like Yesterday Never Tomorrow, and, by doing so, points towards a ray of hope.

"There’s a hope there, too," concludes Fletcher, of the swirling emotions. "I guess if you don’t have that hope, then there’s nothing."

The Stills will be hoping to build on their growing popularity with a number of UK dates, in February, which are as follows...

February 2004
10 London Brixton Academy (with Ryan Adams)

11 Nottingham Liars Club
13 Wolverhampton Little Civic
14 Glasgow Stereo
15 Manchester Night & Day
16 Buckhamshire Uni (with British Sea Power)
17 Leeds Joseph Wells
18 London 100 Club

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