Lovers Rock

Lovers Rock

Obviously, like anyone else releasing music in the spring of 2020, The Dears wrote and recorded their eighth album well before the COVID-19 crisis thrust the world into hibernation and a perpetual state of unease. Still, the Montreal indie-rockestra’s frontman Murray Lightburn can’t help but marvel at the uncanny timing of Lovers Rock, a record that adopts the name of the ’70s reggae subgenre and applies it to an imaginary utopian planet where Earth’s frantic romantics can escape as our world hurtles toward its doomsday course. “Right now, a lot of people in the world are feeling what a lot of our fans have been feeling for years, but it's from different circumstances,” Lightburn tells Apple Music. “We're all in the same boat now, but a lot of people have been feeling this way all the time. We know it, and that’s who we’re singing for.” In both thematic content and compositional complexity, Lightburn sees clear parallels between Lovers Rock and The Dears’ 2003 masterwork No Cities Left, another record that presciently tapped into the tenor of its tumultuous time (i.e., the dawn of the Iraq war and the outbreak of SARS). But as he reveals in this track-by-track survey, Lovers Rock savvily synthesizes elements—soaring symphonic rock anthems, lush soul balladry, leftfield experimentation—from across The Dears’ discography. Arriving two decades after the band’s debut album, Lovers Rock effectively functions as a 20th-anniversary retrospective comprising all new songs. Heart of an Animal “I wrote this probably between [2008’s] Missiles and [2011’s] Degeneration Street, and it floated up into the demo pile for each [subsequent] record, but never really got over the first hurdle of that process. So when we sat down to make this record, I was like, ‘Well, the decks are pretty clear—we don't even know what this record is, so why don't we just start with this song and see how it spins out?’ In a weird way, the record is built around this song. I mean, it's not like I had a crystal ball, but it does fit thematically with what I was thinking about when I was writing the rest of the record—the discourse that we see in the world. This new way of communicating online is a little bit on the brutal side. In general, people seem to be more quick to express opinions just because they can, no matter how hurtful they are. We haven't really seen this before—it's like a message board gone wild. It used to be such an insular community on message boards, maybe a couple hundred people were involved with it. But now you have a global message board, and people are getting hurt left, right, and center.” I Know What You’re Thinking and It’s Awful “Last year, there was a big news story about these kids that were wanted for second-degree murder, and I was really riveted by it, mostly because I was thinking about it from a parenting point of view, and imagining your parenting going so far off the rails that your kids are out there doing stuff like that. And I was also thinking about something my old man used to say to us: 'I know you like a book, son.' Like, 'I know you—you're up to something, and I'm gonna put a stop to that!' One time, my dad said, 'I know you like a book' to my older brother, who turned around and said, 'Am I a bestseller?' And my dad's mood changed; he laughed his head off. So that became this running joke in the house. But then, whenever you were in trouble, my dad would say, 'I know you like a book...and you're not a bestseller!' That’s what growing up with my old man was like in a nutshell. And that's where that song is coming from, all that stuff.” Instant Nightmare! “I guess this is about recognizing that whatever situation you're in, or whatever's being sold to you, is a scam. It's an abstract statement, but I feel like people are going to hear it and they're going to think about what's happening in the world right now. Like, you watch people online calling COVID-19 'a Chinese virus' and ‘who's in conspiracy with the WHO.’ But you could also apply it to political corruption and so many other things.” Is This What You Really Want? “For me, this is a direct address to people I meet on the road, and what they say to me. Somebody messaged us just the other day to say, ‘You guys stopped me from my killing myself at one point in my life.’ And this song is to remind people, when you're feeling that way, to just sort of question it a little and scrutinize that idea a little bit, and you'll hopefully come out on the other side. I think, across this record, we're trying to let people know that we're still listening to them, and we're still singing for them. We’ve found a muse in that relationship. It’s a very specialized job that we have, and this album in general is us embracing that role. You’re not going to get ‘call me on my cell phone,’ ’going to the club’ kind of songs from us. We’re not going to the club!” The Worst in Us “There was some concern that the breakdown in this song sounded a little bit too much like Madness. I was kind of going for more of a Tears for Fears-meets-Talk Talk kind of vibe there, but it's definitely from that era of British pop. The structure of this one takes a little bit of a page from No Cities Left—it's a compositional thing where you're thinking of the music in terms of movements, as opposed to a regular rock song. But managing the files for this record was not pleasant—it was a madhouse. I wouldn't wish the process on my worst engineer enemy.” Stille Lost “I had to go to [Montreal studio] Hotel2Tango one day to pick up gear, and [E Street Band saxophonist] Jake Clemons was in session. One of his players wasn't there, so he asked if I could sit in for a while until his bass player showed up. So I just walked into this session and started playing bass—pretty badly—with Jake and his band! When The Dears work on a record, normally my go-to sax player is Liam O'Neil [formerly of The Stills, currently with Kings of Leon], but he doesn't live in Montreal anymore. And then I remembered that I had done this thing with Jake, so I got in touch with him. Probably the last thing we recorded for this record was his part on this song. He came over to my house, we had spaghetti, we hung out. He brought two saxophones with him, one of which belonged to his uncle [Clarence Clemons], and he used that on the record. I felt honored he brought that one with him.” No Place on Earth “Again, I think there's a lot of parallels conceptually and compositionally between this record and No Cities Left. But then somebody else pointed out that there's also a lot in common with [2006’s] Gang of Losers, and I think this song is a little mash-up between those two worlds. It gets kind of aggressive, but then the big strings come in, and it kind of softens things up a little bit. This song is a crucial part of the entire concept of the record, in that we imagine Lovers Rock as a place. So if there's no cities left, then we're trying to go somewhere else. If there's nowhere else to go, maybe this is the place we need to find. It's just an idea. We could have gone further and made it more theatrical and science-fictiony, but I think it's more on an existential level rather than a physical manifestation of any kind.” Play Dead “There's kind of like a 'Baby, It's Cold Outside' vibe on this one. It's designed to be a welcoming song—I think it's the ultimate comfort song. Not everybody's into that, but I feel like it had a place on this record.” Too Many Wrongs “You could easily put this song on our first album [2000’s End of a Hollywood Bedtime Story], and I think that was almost intentional—it’s us conveying that we haven’t lost touch with our true selves, that despite all the evolution that we've gone through in the last two decades, we could crank out a song that would still easily fit, sonically and conceptually, on our first record. I even busted out some of the guitars that I used on that first record—not the exact guitars, but the same models. When we made our first record, I borrowed this Hagstrom guitar from 1971, and you can hear that tone throughout Lovers Rock, but on this song, it's really prominent. It reminds me of 'This Is a Broadcast.' I was feeling nostalgic.” We’ll Go Into Hiding “This is the point where you're deciding to make that escape and cut yourself off from everything, and just focus on what's important. In this world, you get very distracted. We struggle to say focused: We're constantly scrolling through these screens and there's constant distractions, and we have crazy people running the free world and the news cycle is just an onslaught of panic and fear. It's super easy to lose your focus on the important things. And it's interesting that in these unprecedented times, you would hope it would draw people towards that focus. When we're promoting our music, we're not just promoting our music because we want people to buy our records; we're promoting that idea.”

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