The Dears' Murray Lightburn talks about going solo, his regrets, and the skeletons in his closet

by Chayne Japal

October 10, 2013






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Since breaking through with their second full-length No Cities Left 10 years ago, The Dears and their intense frontman Murray Lightburn have become synonymous. Their brand of anthemic grunge-tinged pop noir has brought Murray international acclaim while sending him through the unwelcomed rigors of the music business. With tumultuous days behind them, the band has gone on a self-imposed mini-hiatus as Lightburn and bandmate/wife Natalia Yanchak welcomed their second child, Apollo. In his downtime, Murray has self-produced, self-manufactured, self-promoted, and self-released a solo album, MASS:LIGHT, a proud testament to his manic work ethic and a hint of a world outside of his band.

You were considering a solo album during pre-production of what ended up being the fourth Dears album, Missiles. What made you want to do that?

I was concerned by the way things were going that Missiles was going to come off as contrived and controlled, and, you know, “muggin’ for the camera.” I never got into a band to be a rock star or to make money. I just got really lucky in terms of being able to make a small living from it. It brings a lot to the table when you do reach a lot of people and you gain the power to get your message across but it was never about that, for a million reasons. I remember the first time I was in the newspaper with The Dears, I was really embarrassed by it. I find fame embarrassing. I don’t mind talking to people about the work but things kind of always wind up getting weird and that sucks.

You don’t end up getting used to it?

You try to embrace it and have fun with it but it’s fleeting. Mostly, it’s just embarrassing.

So, why did you decide to make a Dears thing?

There’s a bunch reasons. As I went deeper into the stuff I was writing, I was still imaging a band like The Dears playing it. Plus, it was a really difficult time. Personally, professionally; so messed up. So, I guess it was easier to make it a Dears thing and see how that flew and just do that. Which was tough, but it was fine. We got through that whole period on four flat tires. And the record was still…

A fucking good record.

I love that album so much, it’s probably my favourite.

This one’s an entirely different situation though. The Dears are fine, right?

Yeah! When we did Gang Of Losers, Natalia and I had just had [our daughter] Neptune and we went into the studio. Rather, we built a studio in the house that we’d just bought, with a nine-week-old baby.

You guys are wild.

Yes, that was the dumbest thing I’ve ever done in my life. The exhaustion caught up to us halfway through the album cycle after three years of touring No Cities Left. We should have taken a good six months off but we didn’t. We took around two months off but I was still writing during that time. Literally a week after the baby was born I was going to George’s house to jam.

Well, I guess if the music’s flowing out of you…

Nah. That’s bullshit. I wanted to take more time but there was so much more pressure from everyone around. “Gotta get back out there. People might forget.” When, really, we should have waited, taken more time. I definitely regret that whole period.

You’re not one of those “no regret” guys?

Well, if I could do that part again, I would take more time. I don’t really have regrets, it’s more like…


Should-ves. We should have taken more time. I should have taken more time. I was grappling with fatherhood for the first time. Same for Natalia, grappling with motherhood.

So, when did you decide that these songs wouldn’t be Dears songs?

I was actually sitting on a batch of songs that screamed Dears to me. I could picture how we’d play it, how it would get all nasty, and the jams, and “Krief would do this.” Then I had this other batch and I was not seeing that and that was a weird moment for me. But the way I was hearing this music, I was inspired by truly solo artists like Wendy Carlos and Vangelis and composers; Bach and Brahms. That was inspiring, the thought of working on something somewhat complex, maybe not compositionally, but texturally. I pictured myself doing everything and seeing what it would sound like and I just started one layer at a time, from a kick drum to a full beat, and from a beat to synth bass, and then all the other layers. The song “I Believe, I Believe.” Baroque R&B. That track is a marriage of a lot of the influences I had on the record.

Did you have to be strict with yourself to stop MASS:LIGHT from naturally morphing into another Dears album?

I didn’t have the usual bag of tricks that I usually have. 95 per cent of the sounds on this record are brand new. Not going to the Jazzmaster was huge. I’d plug it in and work out a part and then I’d put it down and say, “how do I translate this in another way?” I wanted to create a separation for all the people that think that I am The Dears. The Dears project revolves around a group of people coming together to make a lot of noise. A lot of ideas, I’ve shaped them, I’ve produced them, I’ve written stuff, but The Dears is its own beast and I’m a part of that beast. There are also a lot of other elements and other people that come into that outfit to create that world, and I respect that a lot. MASS:LIGHT was a way for me to embrace my own identity. I’ve only been in The Dears for almost 20 years. Is there a life for me outside of that? I needed to find that out. I’m really glad I did it.

I’m sorry if this comes off as a cliché question but can you tell me how much your kids meant to this process?

We’re talking about all of this work that I put into this. My daughter, she’s 7, asked me “Why are you always working?” I tried to explain to her, “Because no one else is going to do it and I’m trying to make something.” My kids inspire me to work hard, and I’m hoping that by example I’m inspiring them to work hard. That’s one component between my work and my family. But also, this record is, in an abstract way, about fathers and the impact that they have on their offspring, and how that affects other people using the metaphor of the mass-to-light ratio. The narrative is the journey of a character, an amalgamation of different types of fathers. It’s about skeletons in your closet. It’s about accountability. There are all these things that I’m trying to teach my children from my own mistakes, mistakes from my old man, stories I’ve heard about other guys. All of these songs are little notes that if, God forbid something were to happen to me, this would be my letter to them. When I went to cut the record to vinyl, I walked out of there with what I call a pizza box of two records, side A and side B. They’re cut on two different records. The other side of each is just flat and they bolt them into this box. That’s the very first cut of the album. So I have one for each of the kids. It’s just in the basement, in storage, and one day they can each take a record when they leave home.

That’s why you chose to have them in the visuals for “Motherfuckers.”

That song particularly is a message to my children. It’s a kind of like a Coles Notes to the album. The world could be like this, could be like that, but don’t let it deter you. In spite of all these things that I know, it’s not going to stop me from giving everything that I have. When you do that, it sort of puts you in the line of fire, but you have to keep going.

Murray Lightburn brings MASS:LIGHT to Toronto’s Adelaide Hall on Saturday, October 12. More info and tickets can be found here.

This article originally appeared in the October 2013 Issue of AUX Magazine.

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Tags: Music, Cancon, Interviews, AUX Magazine, AUX Magazine October 2013, Murray Lightburn






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