THE DEARS with STARS at Lee's Palace (529 Bloor West), Saturday (June 23). $10. 416-532-1598. Rating: NNNNN
it's the hottest day of the yearand Murray Lightburn is stuck in a basement studio, fine-tuning the mix on the Dears' new Orchestral Pop Noir Romantique EP.Head in his hands and a driving cello line booming through the speakers, though it's clear there's a lot left to be done if the four-song disc is to be finished by the Dears' CD release party Saturday (June 23) at Lee's Palace, Lightburn would still like two light ales, please. There is plenty to talk about.
In the year since the Dears dropped the art pop epic End Of A Hollywood Bedtime Story, much has happened. The Montreal sextet have quickly gone from obscurity to signing autographs -- "I haven't even got an autograph," Lightburn laughs -- as well as getting bigged-up by dreads on the street, collecting a walletful of business cards during NXNE and generally being proclaimed the best unsigned band in Canada.
"Everything's different now," Lightburn reasons in the corner of a patio. "A lot has happened in the past year, even if I'm still po'. It's been fun, but now the stakes are higher. I think we're having a good time, but I'm not sure yet."
Surely, this is what Lightburn and the Dears wanted, though. With a high-drama orch-pop sound unlike anything else in the country and a steamroller of a live show that leaves crowds dazed, it was natural that word on the Dears would spread.
Lightburn himself believes it was inevitable. The crooner is convinced that the Dears might just be the best band in the country, and he isn't shy about letting you know what they think of the competition.
"We all know that there's a lot of crap going on," he spits. "It's highly upsetting how bad some of the stuff is out there.
"I don't feel arrogant in saying that there's no one else in the country anywhere near the Dears. We get a lot of requests to open for bands, and we turn them down because we know that we'd destroy the people on a stage. It's not something that we set out to do, but it's inevitable. We play hard. There's an injury every show, or some kind of brokenness at the end of it, and people can't match that.
"I don't care what people think about my saying that. My point is that there's a clear choice. You either want all of that garbage, or you want this," he says, pounding the table. "The line is clear and the choice is yours."
The obvious choice for a Dears tourmate is Stars, who also release a new EP Saturday. Lightburn admits that the fellow Montrealers share their stylish pop vision -- "Their singer Torq and I are both tough ponces," Lightburn snorts -- but that could all change in the wake of this new EP.
"This finishes this era of the Dears, or at least what everybody thinks of as the Dears," he nods. "We came up with the term "orchestral pop noir romantique' ourselves, but I definitely wouldn't feel comfortable calling the next record that.
"We want to shatter who the Dears are, so we made this EP as a denouement for the album. I just don't know if people will understand it. There's a lot of mixed messages on it, like the song Heathrow Or Death Row, which sounds like a love song but really isn't."
What isn't on the EP is Today, Tonight, Tomorrow, Forever, the Dears' volatile set-closer, which ends with Lightburn shrieking on the floor after 10 minutes of hair-pulling drama.
The kind of song that turns casual fans into cult members, it's now been excised from the set list for mental health reasons.
"We can't play that song any more, because we just leave the stage wrecked," Lightburn gasps. "It's one of those things that has kept us together as a band. It's such a strong link. It's like ripping the chemistry of the band apart and leaving it standing naked.
"On one tour we ended every show with it, and by the end it was just sick. We'd look at each other and just start laughing when it began, and eventually I wasn't able to speak the next day until we went back onstage to do it again. It's not worth the torture."