Interview: Allison Browning
FROM experimenting on a chunky four-track tape recorder, not
so long ago, to releasing their debut album, Logic
Will Break Your Heart, The Stills have come a long way in
a short time.
And yet this has almost become a permanent cliche attached to
the Montreal band's fast-growing reputation.
Breaking the rules
The band track the beginning of their album back to 2000, when
they were simply writing and creating up until they had a collection
of 100 songs to begin selecting from.
"I probably wrote 60 of those, and maybe 50 of those were
the wost things you've ever heard in your life," recalls
band member, Dave Hamlin.
In these early stages of trial and error, drummer, Hamlin, became
inspired by Tom Waits' philosophy on the freedom that learning
a new instrument brings, and decided to learn the guitar.
"The best way to write great songs is on an instrument you
don't know, because you have obvious boundaries, but those boundaries
keep it simple and they don't permit you to deviate too much from
what's really important about a song," he explained.
"So you can't just wank around if you don't know what you're
doing. But it permits you to break the rules because you don't
know what they are."
Once on track, and comfortable with the direction of things,
The Stills decided to visit New York, in the Summer of 2002, where
they had ex-pat Montreal friends to soften the blow of their transitory
Yet as alien as life was in New York, it was here that things
began to snow ball, after doing the mandatory spell of grimy rock
"There was a resurgence in rock and so we just happened
to go there at the right time," notes Hamlin, somewhat whimsically.
No hard feelings and NY black outs
By the time their first EP, Rememberese, was ready, they
band had blown off any number of major labels to deal with Vice
Records, which included the familiar face of Gus Van Go, also
Success and support came easily from here on. In 2003, the band
began the exhausting three-month recording process.
"There were periods, during that, where you sort of have
to put aside how you feel," continued Hamlin.
"You know, ego things, sometimes for the better of the song,
and the album as a whole, and when things do get tense, because
you're in the basement for two months straight, sometimes a little
talk is in order."
There was one final hitch for the band before the album was finished,
They had confidently finished recording in the studio and the
album was due to be mastered, when the huge black out occurred
in New York, causing a little more frustration than was anticipated!
In listing their music influences, Hamlin and vocalist, Tim Fletcher,
predictably cite the likes of The Cure, The Smiths and Radiohead,
among others, but, more curious, are the very early influences
they all seem to have in common, which are perhaps not evident
in their music.
"When I first saw Metallica, when I was 11, on TV, I really
wanted to be in that band, and I didn't make it in Metallica
Fletcher chimes in: "I listened to Led Zeplin and Metallica,
and I started playing guitar and I really wanted to do that, and
I was like 'I'll always be into metal!'
"And now here I am in the gayest band in the planet!"
Whether it's metal or not, does not seem to matter so much these
days, as The Stills are pre-occupied with dealing with the touring,
the album release and the general attention.
"I don't know what is ever going on in my life any more,"
observes Hamlin, keenly. "It's like I'm on a train and somebody
else is driving.
"I choose what meals I get on the train, not even. I'm just
on the train."
The album, which is released in the UK on February 23, 2004,
has already sold more than 25,000 copies, and is still finding
its way around the globe.
But while The Stills are certainly the darlings of the music
scene at present, they remain very aware of the reality of the
"We still have to prove ourselves, we still have a long
way to go before we break through," notes Hamlin, realistically.
"We'll only know if we've transcended that scene once our
second album comes out, and when that scene sort of goes away,
we'll see if we go away with it or not. But I don't think we will..."