Music

NEW-NEW ROMANTICS

As they release their first album, Montreal’s the Stills are already a hot band

JONATHAN DURBIN October 27 2003
Music

NEW-NEW ROMANTICS

As they release their first album, Montreal’s the Stills are already a hot band

JONATHAN DURBIN October 27 2003

NEW-NEW ROMANTICS

Music

As they release their first album, Montreal’s the Stills are already a hot band

JONATHAN DURBIN

INHALING RUNNY bites of eggs Benedict at one of Toronto’s greasiest greasy spoons, it’s obvious that Dave Hamelin and Tim Fletcher are young rockers—from their sunken cheeks to the goop in their hair. Over breakfast the drummer and vocalist of Montreal foursome the Stills look the part of fashion victims, Fletcher with electrocuted bedhead, Hamelin’s Diesel trousers secured on his bony hips with a wide white belt.

They deliver their answers laconically, like rock ’n’ roll veterans who knew Sid and Nancy personally, though their band has released only one fourtrack EP and in late September was the opening act for Interpol, another band barely out of the gate.

“The Stills met through metal, man,” drawls 23-year-old Hamelin with wearied celebrity aplomb, and the effect is funny—or it would be were the band not so young and already accomplished. They seem as they are—freshly minted rock stars—and if not having an act is their act, then their act is good because the audience is buying into it. Before the waitress brings coffee, the duo accrues a gaggle of teenage fans who malinger outside. At 11 a.m. On a school day.

It seems remarkable that a fledgling band could achieve fame without an album to their credit, but these days that’s the way underground rock works. Like their contemporaries in the Rapture, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs or the Walkmen—some of the “the” bands who, since the turn of the century, have ridden a wave of media hype off their first EPs to become the ballyhooed faces of new music—the Stills are becoming internationally known for their moony pop.

Signed to Vice Recordings and distributed by Warner Music in Canada, the band’s Oct. 21 debut, Logic Will Break Your Heart, is a 12-song collection of lovelorn moaning over sparsely rendered melodies and chugging percussion. The record captures the musical Zeitgeist. The previous evening at the unfortunately named Toronto venue Kool Haus, the band played to a packed crowd, some of whom already knew Fletcher’s lyrics. “A few years ago, music was totally stifling,” says 24-year-old Fletcher. “You had bands like Fastball, Smashmouth, Kid Rock—there wasn’t really an alternative and the mainstream was stale. So there was a reaction.”

Today’s underground rock bands who achieve mainstream recognition owe much to the Strokes, the New York City five-piece whose debut EP appeared in early 2001. Coinciding with cultural exhaustion over self-aggrandizing rap-rockers (Limp Bizkit), self-effacing art rock whingers (Radiohead) and shaven-headed car commercial composers (Moby), the Strokes’ sound resonated with critics. And they led the way for a slew of other acts—including the Stills—with similarly jangly, new wave sensibilities, bands that, unlike the teen heartthrobs of the late ’90s, already existed before a record label decided it was so. And like the Strokes before them, the Stills recorded their debut in New York City. “New York is a great town, but it wears you down,” says Fletcher. “We’re the Stills from Montreal, and that’s home.” Their album’s sound is distinctly Montreal. Like other bands from the city, including Godspeed You Black Emperor! and the Dears, the Stills’ music has an elegant, mournful tone. The lyrics follow suit. “I’m just so bored of wasting my time/Love and death are always on my mind,” Fletcher sings in Love & Death—the two themes Logic Will Break Your Heart is

built on. And in Gender Bombs, he repeats the lyric “the girl will school you,” whispering urgently as if his heart’s breaking right there on your home stereo. It’s hopelessly new-new romantic stuff. But Hamelin and Fletcher say their style is a result of honing their skills together for 10 years (they joined up with guitarist Greg Paquet and bassist Oliver Crowe to form the Stills in 2001).

The Stills have nailed the music, image and attitude. But that’s not everything. As breakfast winds down, Hamelin asks, “Hey man, do you know any place around here to get your pants tapered?” The guys still have a thing or two to learn. PI