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The Stills
interview by Alexander Laurence

Montreal band The Stills are arguably the hottest band in New York City. They are often compared to Interpol and other bands with art punk leanings. Even though Echo & The Bunnymen and Joy Division have clearly inspired them, The Stills offer something fresh and unique. The Stills are Tim Fletcher (vocals/guitar), Dave Hamelin (drums), Greg Paquet (guitar), and Oliver Crow (bass guitar). They have known each other ever since they were kids.

After attending various art schools, they decided to start writing music while they crashed on some friends' couches in Williamsburg for a few months. They liked Brooklyn so much that they stayed and started recording. By summer 2002, the band had a set of new songs and were signed to Vice Records soon after. They have supported bands such as The Music, The Rapture, The Streets, Yeah Yeah Yeah's and even Interpol. They wowed audiences at CMJ and opened for Echo and The Bunnymen and Ryan Adams.

The band's full-length debut Logic Will Break Your Heart was released in October 2003. It was a critical success. They will be touring the States again in late January and February 2004. I spoke to lead singer Tim Fletcher during the holidays.

AL: You are on tour still right now. How is it going?

Tim: It's going good. We just finished some dates with Ryan Adams. Now we are going to play the Midwest, back to Atlanta, and back to New York, on our own. All the shows have been great. Playing with Ryan Adams was awesome. He is a fun and enthusiastic person and performer, so it has been fun to watch him and hang out with him every night.

AL: It was different than touring with Echo and The Bunnymen?

Tim: Yeah. All the tours are different from Interpol to Echo and The Bunnymen. It was refreshing to go to Canada with Ryan Adams. He has this alt-country thing going on. He has a different approach to writing songs. He is a talented guy.

AL: People compare you to Interpol very often.

Tim: We are friends with them. Interpol and The Stills both have one album out, and we are both new bands on the scene. There is a similar esthetic, which makes people appreciative of our music. With Echo and The Bunnymen, there was an older crowd, but they were interested in hearing new music. We get compared to them too. So their audience seemed to like us. With Ryan Adams the audiences wanted to hear a more specific type of music, and they wanted to see just Ryan Adams. So it was more challenging to win them over in that respect.

AL: How long have you known the other members of the band?

Tim: We are from Montreal. I have known Dave for ten years. Dave and Oliver have known each other since they were four years old. We have been friends with Greg for about two years. We all moved to Williamsburg where a bunch of ex-Montreal friends were living. They managed us and we worked on our music there. They had moved to the corner of Grand and Union about seven years ago in 1996. We were all shacked up there working on our music for the past two summers.

AL: Did you know that you were living next door to bands like The Yeah Yeah Yeahs and Interpol?

Tim: Not at first. Then you realize that you see some vegetarian stores and white hipsters so you must be living in a privileged neighborhood. Obviously it was a hip place. Then I started to hear more about it. The second you start bitching about it, you are targeting yourself, because you are there with them. I didn't know what was going on at first. Then I realized that there were other bands and artists.

AL: Did you grow up with musical families?

Tim: My grandfather always sang a little bit. My grandparents were British and they liked music and theater. Oliver's parents always encouraged him to do music. They were always listening to music like Dire Straits, U2, Led Zeppelin, and The Beatles. No one in The Stills comes from a musical family. All our families played records and were into music.

AL: Does your family come out to shows and follow the band?

Tim: Yeah. I played in a few other bands before with members of The Stills. My parents were wondering what the hell I was doing. My parents wanted me to stay in school. They had a very pragmatic approach to it. Now that things are going very well, they are definitely into the music. I guess they are proud, but that's not the point.

AL: How did it go doing the Carson Daly show?

Tim: It is weird to be in that context. You get to see the inter-workings of a television show. I guess it was okay to have done it. A bunch of our friends were there. They would pull a bunch of people for the audience and put them in front of the stage where we played. It's sort of contrived. But people were really enthusiastic. People were helpful. I think that we sounded really good. We were treated really well.

AL: I saw the Carson Daly in New York a few weeks ago. They work very fast even though it's taped.

Tim: Saturday Night Live used that stage to rehearse. They practice their sketches there at Rockerfeller Center. I think that they have a time frame that they have to work within.

AL: Are there other bands that you like?

Tim: We like Fleetwood Mac recently. I have been listening to Tortoise. I like Blonde Redhead. I like all sort of bands. Now that we are in a band, and we are touring, we have access to all sorts of music. There are all sorts of records that I can listen to and find inspiration. I have been listening to Clinic, Ryan Adams, Cat Power this year.

AL: Do people ever heckle you from the audience or do fights break out?

Tim: No. I can't say that they do. They don't really heckle us. They will be at the front and they will yell in between songs. Sometimes people will be yelling at Dave: "You are crazy, man!" There are jocks who are there to see Ryan Adams. They yell stuff. It is never bad. They are usually respectful. If someone is being a jerk you just shrug it off and joke with it. You can just point the guy out and that takes care of that. All the attention is pointed towards that guy. He is embarrassed.

AL: Are you going to tour in 2004?

Tim: Yeah. There will be a headlining tour in the States. We are going to go to England. We will be on tour all year.

AL: Who writes the words and the music in The Stills?

Tim: It's divided between Dave and me. We both have eight track machines. We will write our songs and ideas on those machines. Sometimes we will get together and investigate possible ideas. Dave writes about three-quarters of the songs. He writes faster than I do. We try to bring the songs to the other members and we will recreate them in a live context. We try to come up with musical variations on these songs. Dave and I both write lyrics. We go over them and touch them up.

AL: Do you feel weird singing Dave's lyrics?

Tim: No, not at all. He writes great lyrics and I can relate to them. They are beautiful lyrics and great melodies. I can sing and emote my own songs but I can also sings words that ring true to me. We have discussions about this. How do I feel about singing his songs? I feel great because they are good songs.

AL: Is this album live takes or did you work with a producer?

Tim: We definitely worked with a producer. Gus Van Go is our manager and producer. We recorded all the drums one week live on Pro Tools. All the other instruments we recorded on Pro Tools as well. We recorded a mix of amplifiers and guitars straight through the board with a thing called The Pod. It simulates amplifier sounds. It would be difficult to produce otherwise. It wasn't very live. It was a very meticulous track-by-track thing. We recorded it in June and July of 2003, during the past summer. We did it in Williamsburg.

AL: There is a mood in the music of The Stills that is a feeling of romantic longing and melancholy. Is that something that you try to do?

Tim: I think so. I think that is one aspect of our music. I think that it is tempered with some hopefulness. Melancholy is a good thing. It is partly our mission to prove that.

AL: Your song "Of Montreal": is that about the band?

Tim: It was subconsciously about them.

AL: Is there a person named Allison Krausse?

Tim: There is a bluegrass singer but that is not who we are talking about. The last name is a fictitious name. It's really attributed to someone who we knew.

AL: Do you read a lot of books?

Tim: I think that we all read a lot. I read a book called The Holographic Universe by Michael Talbot. It describes the general nature of the universe in very layman's terms. It's a very scientific discussion of matter in the universe. Greg just read All Families Are Psychotic by Douglas Coupland. Our keyboard player is reading Dune. Oliver and I are reading books by Tom Robbins. Skinny Legs and All is a phenomenal book. We read a lot of crappy magazines.

AL: Do you have any favorite films?

Tim: I really like the films of Fellini. I really like La Dolce Vita and 8 1/2. I like the fact that they are fantastical and dreamlike. Those films are about searching for fulfillment and happiness. I like a lot of German directors.

AL: Have you done any videos?

Tim: We did a video for "Lola Stars and Stripes." In January, we will be doing one for "Still in Love Song" in Montreal. We shot the first one in Spanish Harlem. The video is one shot and one take. It's wartime. There is a climax and war breaks out and everyone starts scattering, running on the streets, and getting blown away. It's not cheesy. It's done with a war documentary style camera shooting. It looks like a film reel of news footage. Not TV news. I am very happy with it.

AL: What songs are you playing live now? Do you have any new songs?

Tim: Not yet. There are still some songs on the album that we haven't played live yet, like "Animals + Insects" and "Yesterday Never Tomorrows." I think that we will play those songs live before we start playing new material live. I think that next year we will be incorporating new material into the set.

AL: What is your favorite part of music?

Tim: There is something to be said about a live show and everything is going well. But when you are with your four-track and a song is coming together in your bedroom. That feeling of writing songs is why I am doing music and playing music. That is why I do this at all.

AL: You were supposed to do some shows in Los Angeles with Interpol in February 2003. You cancelled. What happened?

Tim: There was a giant snowstorm in New York City and we were there. They closed down JFK and most of the airports on the east coast. We were supposed to play in Las Vegas and Los Angeles, but we couldn't do it because we were snowed in.

Website: www.thestills.net

photos by Danna Kinsky


--Alexander Laurence


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