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INDIELONDON EXCLUSIVE: The Stills on New York blackouts, breaking the rules and Metallica!


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 phase.

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 bars.

"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 from Montreal.

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, however.

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!

Metal Rocks

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…" laughs Hamlin.

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!"

But seriously...

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 industry.

"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..."

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