Montreal band still rising

The Stills return to Kingston to play their second Frosh Week concert

The Stills released Oceans Will Rise this August on their new label, Arts and Crafts Records.
The Stills released Oceans Will Rise this August on their new label, Arts and Crafts Records.

It sounds like the tagline for a cheesy teen RomCom, but a summer can change your life. When The Stills—in their first incarnation as a quartet—formed, they were drummer-turned-guitarist Dave Hamelin and singer Tim Fletcher’s side project. A producer friend told them they weren’t half bad and so the Montreal-born and -based art students took off to New York City for the summer to record a four-track demo, Rememberese. The next thing they knew, The Stills had unknowingly emerged from the new wave-inspired burst in the NYC scene that they were barely a part of.

A contract with the American label Vice, a catchy full-length album Logic Will Break Your Heart, and North American tours with Interpol—The Stills’ first band friends—and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs followed, all from a whim and a chance. After five years and a few rearrangements in terms of instruments and members, the five-piece band just released their third album Oceans Will Rise.

This time, however, celebrations for the release went down north of the boarder at Toronto’s cosy Horseshoe Tavern and the album came out on Canada’s beloved indie label, Arts and Crafts Records. The Montreal band’s success may have come via NYC, but when their contract with Vice ended The Stills decided to come home.

Hamelin told the Journal The Stills had their eye on the Canadian label, especially since friend Kevin Drew of Broken Social Scene, Arts and Crafts signature band, was a fan of theirs.

“Well, we don’t have to cross the boarder to visit people. No security checks. Our dollar is worth more—I think. Canada is going a bit better. We’re not the underdogs—it’s good,” Hamelin joked. It has also been good for The Stills to enjoy their Quebec-band status lately. This past July the 400-year anniversary of Quebec City celebrations gave the rockers the chance to play for 250,000 people—their largest audience ever—in their home province. Though the bilingual band sings in English and is perhaps better known in English-speaking Quebec and Canada, this nod from Quebec has been a long time coming, Hamelin said.

“I think we deserve it. French people could like us too. They just hadn’t heard of us.”

The celebration concert also meant The Stills opened for the exciting but confusingly non-francophone and British choice of headliner Sir Paul McCartney.

“Paul McCartney, he’s a nice guy. It’s pretty cool after years of being in a band that there’s a Beatle that likes you—it’s by no means a bad thing,” Hamelin said.

As childhood friends, The Stills can probably appreciate exactly how far they’ve come from their first garage bands to opening for a Beatle. Although at this point the band is more of a family.

“At the heart of it, we know each other so well. Serious conflicts don’t arise because we’ve been through them all so many times. We could scream at each other and it’s not really a big deal. We’re a pretty animate family.” 

The screaming doesn’t really appear on this August’s Oceans Will Rise. Fletcher’s vocals sound like the singer is bleary-eyed and faraway and it’s the panic-plucked guitar melodies and clunky synths and keyboards that deliver the tension and suspense on the album.

Oceans Will Rise may not deliver the heartbroken melodic punch of their debut—“Being Here” is the closest whimsical cry to Logic’s stellar first hits “Still In Love” and “Gender Bombs”—but it’s a little more grown up in terms of content. Apocalypse replaces being dumped; tracks about dinosaurs, panic and climate change spot the album and the band has become well versed in metaphors about things ending and they aren’t always talking about relationships.

“Our palette is just getting wider and that’s what we’re all about,” Hamelin said.

“We’re really into different kinds of things. It’s really sort of fun to expand on new ideas as you go along.

“As your career progresses you never want to make the same record every time.”

The Stills play the Frosh concert at Fort Henry tonight with Sam Roberts. Tickets are $20 (transportation included) for Queen’s students, $25 for the general public.

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