Distilling the Stills

An interview with Dave Hamelin

by Chris Fallon


PopMatters: So you’re in Las Vegas right now?

Dave Hamelin: We’re just about to get into Las Vegas. We’re like in Nevada or something like that.

PM: Gonna be doing any gambling?

DH: We’re leaving right after but I have a gambling problem so I wouldn’t anyway.

PM: It’s depressing anyway.

DH: It is kind of depressing.

PM: So how’s the tour been going?

DH: The tour’s been good. I think we’re appealing to uh, we’re playing to a definitely older demographic than we ever have before because a lot of people are going to see Echo & the Bunnymen. I mean generally most of them are Echo & the Bunnymen’s age. Everybody there that’s a bit younger are there to see us.

PM: Have you seen your diehard fans there?

DH: Some, yeah. Some in New York, L.A., Detroit, Chicago, stuff like that. But in smaller places like San Diego we’re not as popular. I think the music scene there is a bit different and it takes longer for stuff to get down there. We’re sort of pretty new to everybody.

PM: So since you’re new in those places—what’s been the response to your sets?

DH: Really, really good. Last night the response was actually awesome, way better than we expected. Before we went on we were like “we don’t know about San Diego” but we went on and it was great.

PM: So how’s it been touring with Echo & the Bunnymen?

DH: Ian McCulloch’s a really funny guy. He tells lots of jokes. He’s really animated. He’s a definite highlight. Aside from that it’s just like any other tour. We’re not best friends with them because we’re not from England. When we went on tour with Interpol it was a completely different situation because they were friends of ours so there was a certain degree of familiarity between both bands and so it was a bit more of a party during the whole tour.

PM: It was more cohesive?

DH: Yeah, now it’s like they do their own thing and we do our own thing. I mean we meet up sometimes but…not that that’s a bad thing, it’s just different.

PM: Have they been giving you any pointers since they are veterans of the scene? Don’t follow these girls around, etc.?

DH: No, they don’t say that stuff. They say “yeah right go for it.” Or you can’t understand them.

PM: So is it funny for you guys, I mean your music has been compared to Echo & the Bunnymen’s on many occasions so now that you’ve had the chance to hear them a lot and play with them do you feel there is some truth to that?

DH: Not really. I think a lot of people are lazy when they write reviews so when they want to see who they’re gonna reference in the article they’ll look at all the other articles and so it just creates a chain reaction where every article is just gonna bring up Echo & the Bunnymen. But now we’re playing with them and we really don’t sound…I guess there are some similarities but not really. Ian doesn’t think so and he is Echo & the Bunnymen so…

PM: Yeah, I was talking to Sam Fogarino of Interpol and he was saying how he had gotten fed up with everyone talking about Joy Division and I’m sure it’s the same with you guys with Echo & the Bunnymen.

DH: Yeah, they got “Joy Division in suits” for like a year and a half.

PM: And it’s a shame because the music is actually quite different.

DH: Yeah, I mean I don’t even like Joy Division but I like Interpol.

PM: So how’s it been being on the road? Has it been exhausting or is it a new enough experience that it’s thrilling?

DH: It’s thrilling and boring.

PM: Lots of sitting around?

DH: Yeah. 23 hours of bullshit and one hour of fun. Touring’s a weird experience. There’s lots of dichotomies going on. Lots of highs, lots of lows. Cause you’re always in some sort of shit town like staying in some motel eating crappy food. It’s kind of alienating. But on another side of the coin it’s not alienating cause you’re playing music and that’s fun and so you’re sort of being brought together and you’re coming together with your friends and playing songs that you love and whatnot.

PM: And you’re connecting with new fans which is always good.

DH: Yeah, yeah, as well. So that’s definitely a great experience. It’s a bit of both. I guess it depends on what kind of mood you’re in. Some days you want to go home, some days you don’t. And then when you’re at home some days you want to be on the road and some days you don’t. But it’s been fun playing, like, the songs from the record…

PM: That nobody’s heard yet.

DH: Yeah, and it’s fun now because our record is actually out. I mean we’ve been playing for a year and a half and playing these songs but it’s a completely different situation when you have a record out and the people can access these songs or know them already, than when you don’t have a record out. It’s way more fulfilling this way and you feel like you’re actually achieving something in a more concrete way.

PM: So you see the people singing along and getting really into it?

DH: Yeah, exactly. So there’s like a direct response, you know what I mean? You have concrete proof that you’re actually doing something.

PM: The first time I heard you guys wasn’t from the EP but once the album came out. I was immediately able to get into it. I didn’t need any time for it to grow on me and I feel like that’s a really good quality if you want to cross into a more mainstream audience. Is this something you guys think about when you’re writing your music?

DH: I don’t think we think of any audience when we’re writing our music at all. We basically write just for ourselves, we don’t write for anybody else. But it so happens that some of our songs are sort of pop oriented and so that might appeal to a larger audience but it’s not a conscious decision. Our instincts tell us to do that and that’s what we do, but it’s not forced or contrived.

PM: A lot of people have been saying you sound like this band or you sound like that band, or you fit into this or that style but you seem very intent on not being categorized or pigeonholed like that. So for the record, who, if anybody in particular, do you have as an influence?

DH: For our record?

PM: Yeah, or just in general.

DH: The Pixies were a huge influence and Radiohead’s been a huge influence. When we were making the record we were listening to a lot of Air albums and Beck albums and Fleetwood Mac albums, just on a sonic level. We were going for, like, a ‘70s sort of like, lots of ‘70s drum sounds. Everybody thinks we sound ‘80s but we were going ‘70s. It’s pretty strange but yeah, in terms of influence, stuff like that. Radiohead, the Pixies, the Clash.

PM: I read somewhere that Wilco was a band you guys were listening to.

DH: Yeah, that was a huge influence. Well, I don’t know much of an influence it was since it came out after a lot of our songs were already written, but that was a record [Yankee Hotel Foxtrot] that inspired us all. We were really, really big fans of that record. And there’s this record that came out in Canada that we’re all really into by this band called Broken Social Scene. I don’t know if you’ve heard it.

PM: I’ve heard of them but I haven’t heard the record.

DH: It’s absolutely fantastic. We heard it right before we did our record and we wanted to match up to that or have something like they had on their record on our record. I mean, it probably didn’t come across. It’s apples in oranges but it’s the thought that counts.

PM: So how does playing in the U.S. differ from playing in Canada?

DH: We’ve done way more shows in the U.S. just because there are more people there. There’s less people in Canada so playing in the U.S. is better (laughs). I guess that’s the only explanation I could offer up. That’s really the only difference between Canada and the U.S. Everyone thinks there are ideological differences which…no, actually there are.

PM: Early on you guys got pegged as a New York band even though, obviously, you’re Canadian. Do you like being associated with that? Do you think there is a logical association with your music and the music that’s coming out of the New York scene right now?

DH: Sure, there’s an association. I mean, we’ve played with Interpol and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and all these New York bands so inevitably people will think we’re a New York band—even though everyone thinks we’re copying British people we’re still a New York band. I mind and I don’t mind. I don’t mind in the sense that I know we’re not really part of a scene but we’re associated with a scene now and so it’s easier for newspapers to sell articles that way, than to say these guys are from Montreal but New York’s cool now. You know what I mean? It’s like it’s more appealing to editors to say New York band, I think…Yeah, like right now I don’t think it’s really a big deal but I think eventually people will stop associating us with New York once the scene dies and we live on…in glory (he says in mock superiority).

PM: (laughs) Good answer. Now, are there any new bands out there that you like? Bands that maybe nobody’s heard of?

DH: There’s this band from Montreal right now called the Dears. They’re really, really awesome. They have like four records and nobody in the U.S. knows about them, and they’re really good and you should listen to them.

PM: Well maybe with you guys getting more popular they’ll get more well-known.

DH: Maybe. Who knows. A lot of times that stuff helps. I don’t know if we’re gonna go on tour with them or not cause we’ve mainly been opening for people at this juncture. We’re gonna do a couple more headlining, uh, opening spots this year for Ryan Adams and I think when the new year comes in we’ll be headlining our own stuff.

PM: So it may be too early to ask since you just came out with your record but have you guys been thinking at all about what’s coming up next?

DH: Well, I write most of the songs for the band and I have like seven or eight new songs for the second record already and so I’m already thinking about what the second record’s gonna sound like and what we’re gonna do different.

PM: Any hints as to how it will be different?

DH: I think it will be more pared down. It’ll probably be less busy than this record. On this record we had an impulse to make something happen every, like, second and a half—some new element had to come in or some change had to happen. I think we’ll try to not do that on the next record. It’s more acoustic-y sounding but also happier than the first record. I don’t know. We’re listening to different types of music now so I don’t know what it’s gonna sound like when it’s done but we’re definitely thinking about it because we don’t want to be on tour for so long that we lose sight and then the pressure gets too unbearable and we don’t know where we’re going and we end up putting out the same record as we did the first time. That would be a shame.

PM: What I was noticing when I was listening to Logic Will Break Your Heart, well I was wondering about the name of the band and where it came from. I had a theory that it was a reference to each song being a still from a movie—because the songs do have a very cinematic quality to them.

DH: Well, Tim, Tim Fletcher our singer, came up with the name. He was in film school and so it was something just off the top of his head that we really liked and decided to go with. And then we found out that there’s this band called the Thrills, the Kills…the Shrills…the Dills (he begins making up names). And there’s like 50 other bands called the Stills that have e-mailed us going “hey, we’re in the Stills too.”

PM: So no reference to a whiskey still or anything like that?

DH: No, no.

PM: Now there’s this song of yours called “Allison Krausse”. I’ve heard a few different versions of who that’s about, because there is a bluegrass singer named Alison Krauss.

DH: Yeah, I know.

PM: Is that in any way a reference to her?

DH: No, that song is about an ex-girlfriend of mine called Allison but we wanted to make it less specific to her. The song’s now about a German burlesque whore so we wanted to have a German name for her and we though Krauss was a good German name but then we found out there was a bluegrass singer called Krauss so we put an ‘e’ at the end (they also added an ‘l’ to her first name).

PM: So you and this other guy the Streets are the only two bands on the Vice Records label. How did that deal come about and how do you feel about being the guinea pigs for a new label like this?

DH: Well, we met with a lot of other major labels and generally all of them have the same approach to courting bands, and the guys from Vice said they’d break our legs if we didn’t sign with them so we were like, that’s a pretty passionate statement and passion’s important to us. So in the end we decided they were the most enthusiastic right from the get-go. And it was a genuine enthusiasm, it wasn’t a corporate enthusiasm.

PM: Well, it seems that starting with a new label will be great further on down the line. There will be a bond there.

DH: And so many labels are merging and whatnot we were just happier to be on a smaller label with people we know. There’s not many people working at the label so we definitely get most of the attention. All the attention we need. We’re not competing with any other artists, cause the Streets guy doesn’t have a record out yet so it’s really good.

PM: Now, I’d be interested to know, I don’t know if you and Tim or you and who in the band have been playing since you guys were like 12 or 13, is that right?

DH: Yeah, we all have.

PM: All four of you?

DH: Yeah.

PM: So when you first started—what are you listening to when you’re 12 years old? I mean, I was listening to Def Leppard and Bon Jovi.

DH: Metallica, Megadeth, Pantera. Heavy metal. And then we got into punk and ska and reggae and then from there it’s all been a big haze. At this point we’re into any kind of music that’s good. Not genre specific. But weirdly enough, no Echo & the Bunnymen. I never listened to them or Joy Division.

PM: The Cure?

DH: No, no the Cure I listened to, and the Smiths I loved but never Echo & the Bunnymen. Only after we put out our EP. And my girlfriend said “hey, you kinda sound…this ‘Still In Love’ song sounds like an Echo & the Bunnymen song.” And that was the first time I heard that.

PM: What about U2? I sense a similar epic-ness in some of the guitar work.

DH: Yeah, I think that’s what people are trying to compare it to. And the vibrato in both Tim’s and Ian’s [Curtis of Joy Division] voice. It’s weird though, I felt like we were just ripping off Radiohead but nobody’s mentioned that. Everyone says Echo & the Bunnymen, which is strange.

PM: Well, it really doesn’t sound like you’re ripping off anybody. Everybody’s gonna have influences whether they’re conscious of it or not and I think what you said is right—lots of critics do like to focus on that instead of the actual music.

DH: Yeah, I mean on our record we really didn’t go for an ‘80s sound. I think it’s just big guitars that make people think about the ‘80s. But it’s not like drum machine-y ‘80s, like, synthesizer, which is what I associate with the ‘80s.

PM: So you’re playing tonight at the House of Blues, and then you’ve got a couple more dates?

DH: Yeah, we have three more shows after that then we go home and we do our video for our first single and then we go on tour with Ryan Adams for a bit, and we’re playing Carson Daly, Conan O’Brien, stuff like that. But we could suck on both of those, you never know.

PM: I doubt that.

DH: Well, we’ll see. Some people don’t like us but we’ll see how things go. Things have been going really, really well so far though, and we’re really, really proud of the record that we made and we’re excited to play the songs we made on the record cause we worked really, really hard on it and it means a lot to us. We’re glad that it’s meaning a lot to a lot of people from the get-go and that’s a really encouraging thing.

PM: Well that about does it. Good luck on the rest of the tour and I look forward to hearing more stuff from you guys.

DH: Alright man, thanks a lot. Okay, ciao.

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