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Photo by Richmond Lam, from the Dears' Facebook page.

The Dears bring noir-ish orchestral pop to the NAC

By Chrissy Steinbock on May 25, 2016

There are some things that simply cannot be explained, like why Montreal’s art-rock outfit The Dears remain a best-kept secret. They have the songs you want to hold close, the history and they put on an intense live show. Thanks to NAC Presents though, we have the chance to get in on the secret when The Dears play in NAC’s Studio on Friday, May 27.

Once defined by their influences, which include Serge Gainsbourg, the Smiths and Blur, these days the Dears sound most like themselves: shadowy, dramatic and lushly layered then wrapped in Euro-cool stylishness.

The Dears were at the forefront of a wave of indie rock bands coming out of Montreal and Toronto in the late nineties and early aughts. They were doing their thing before Metric, Stars, or fellow Montrealers Arcade Fire, who share their symphonic rock leanings. We have been around for a really long time,” Natalia says. “We were a band before digital music was a thing, before mp3’s existed and before iTunes existed and that might not seem like a big deal but it actually is pretty massive because the industry had changed so much and the way people listen to music has changed so much. It just makes us more grateful for what we do have.”

Though there’s undoubtedly been some changes, one thing that remains constant for The Dears is a commitment to keeping it real. We’re still a very true band in that we play everything on the record,” Yanchak says. “We don’t Autotune stuff and we don’t do a lot of editing. If we can’t play something or find someone to play it then it’s not going to make it on the record. We like to honour that tradition of being able to actually play before having your marketing plan in place.”

Their latest album Times Infinity Volume One covers some heavy emotional ground, with themes of “unconditional love, longing and a debilitating fear of loneliness.” Musically the album is rich and theatrical. Standout tracks include the ABBA-meets-Rocky-Horror kitschy spook of “Face of Horrors” and the single “I Used to Pray for the Heavens to Fall”, with its anthemnic rock and antsy funk groove. Though there’s a noir-ish sense of doom hanging over the whole affair, it’s still a decidedly pop album. The mash up of dark, melodrama and pop hooks make for funny situations where you catch yourself singing “in the end we will die alone” or a refrain of “it’s not safe” as you’re doing the dishes.

True to the group’s meticulous nature their latest album Times Infinity Volume One was two years in the making before it was laid down in the studio. To be fair though the effort yielded two albums of material. Times Infinity Volume Two is due out later this year. Asked about Volume Two, Yanchak says “It’s like the darker cousin of Volume One. There’s still some nice jams on it but it is definitely more brooding and reflective than Volume One. Volume One is like the fun album and then on Volume Two shit gets real.”

The five-piece will become six for Friday’s show with the addition of longtime collaborator Rob Benvie of Thrush Hermit fame. Expect the best from Times Infinity Volume One and some Dears classics. Here’s hoping “Lost in the Plot” makes the set list.

We caught up with The Dears’ Natalia Yanchak (keys, vocals) to talk about their latest album, getting called pretentious, and a band they think you should hear. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Apt613: Your bio describes your sound as “orchestral-pop-noir-romantique,” you all seem very serious in your band photo and your music has this theatrical aspect to it. Where does that particular atmosphere of stylish darkness and dramatics come from?

Natalia Yanchak: There’s something very narrative about the albums we make lyrically and musically. It’s a kind of storytelling. Even though we’re not trying to tell a specific story we’re trying to evoke stories in the listener, evoke imagery and ideas of what we could be trying to say. It’s open for interpretation. I think that very sort of theatrical, filmic way of storytelling is a big inspiration for us. When we were just getting started we were super influenced by Serge Gainsbourg. Sometimes people are like he was just this funny, zany sixties French pop music guy but it’s actually very intense and serious music (even though) it’s fanciful and it’s fun. There are tons of artists that have influenced us and there is usually a certain darkness to all the people from the Smiths and Morrisey to David Bowie to a bunch of Britpop like Blur. It’s not that we’re aspiring to be anyone else. We’re just trying to refine the world around us into our own identity.

I saw that you were voted one of Montreal’s most pretentious acts in the recent Cult Montreal readers’ poll. What does it take to earn that title?

I can totally see how we as a band can musically be perceived as pretentious because so many reasons: we’re very meticulous and we’re perfectionist, although our music is not perfect. I can see how it could perceived that way but it’s definitely not something we set out to do. We’re just regular humans. We’re not walking around in velvet loungewear with our snifter of brandy and reading a leather bound poem all day. That just uh, that’s not what we do. But we like to perpetuate that myth, you know, that we’re just taking baths all the time, that’s all we do, we’re just drinking and taking baths and romanticizing (laughs).

Where did your album title Times Infinity come from?

It’s a little bit of a nod to our daughter Neptune (Natalia and front man Murray Lightburn are partners). We always tell each other that we love each other times infinity so that idea of I love you times infinity is how that came about.

I saw that you’re dedicating the show to the memory of Nadine Gelineau and donating partial proceeds from your merchandise sales to the Big Sky Animal Ranch Animal Sanctuary in her name. May I ask about that dedication?

Nadine was a very close friend of ours. She managed us for quite along time, almost five years when we were starting to become popular in England and overseas. She was a super inspirational and important person to us and so many other people. She encouraged people to take that chance. She always went with her gut and made the move and that’s something that’s super rare. She was just a beautiful person. She was also a big influence in the Ottawa music scene and we know she has family there so we wanted to continue this celebration of her life by remembering her in her some small way.

What are you listening to these days? Any acts you feel deserve a shout out?

We do have some friends who are from the Ottawa area. It’s a band called The World Provider and they’re putting out a new record. They’re actually playing in Ottawa the same night as us so we’re going to say there’s an unofficial after party to go to their show after our show. They’re super, super indie, like grungy guitar pop and Malcolm, who’s the lead singer, is an incredible performer and a great songwriter.

Do you have any general comments on playing the NAC or the NAC Presents series?

It’s really exciting. I think a band like ours definitely benefits from playing a proper venue where things work (laughs), ‘cause playing in a bar is fun and stuff but it’s sometimes not the best place. It’s also always honorable when something’s curated and you’re included. That means a lot to us. I think it’s just going to be a great show.

The Dears play the NAC Studio on Friday, May 27 as part of NAC Presents. Showtime is 8pm, and tickets are available online.