The Dears

The Dears

BandAlternative

Biography

Without even seeing a performance by The Dears it was easy to recognize the group in
Montreal’s haunts in the late nineties. Dressed in black suits and white shirts, they would
descend on bars like the minor legends they were. At that time, The Dears were like an
unconfirmed rumour of ardour; they were full of possibility, and propelled by passion,
alienation, and alcohol. Their precious name and the crooning vocals of charismatic front
man Murray Lightburn, defined their clean, symphonic pop style. Yet the band’s onstage
intensity and quiet defiance defied easy categorization. Already, at that early stage, their
sophisticated content and attitude set them at odds with the music scene of the day.

End of a Hollywood Bedtime Story, their 2000 debut album, immediately established The
Dears as a unique and powerful presence. With a stylized and cinematic scope, the record
fused narratives, orchestral arrangements and pop in a way that was praised for ambitious
grandiosity. The Dears, now Lightburn with keyboardist Natalia Yanchak and joined by
drummer George Donoso III and bassist Martin Pelland, exhausted themselves on a
seemingly endless schedule of grueling tours. Kids from Sudbury to Vancouver bought
tickets and T-shirts and came out from winter’s shadow to experience the band live. They
toured more. Band members quit and replacements were found. They endured their
initiation into the divided and limited realities of national critical success and kept to
themselves.

By 2001 The Dears ceased to be a rumour; they were real and dark -- almost too real and
too dark for a Canadian music scene that banked on fluffy love songs and slick indie hits.
The 2001 EP, Orchestral Pop Noir Romantique, seamlessly melded Lightburn’s neoromantic
songwriting to an imaginary film noir soundtrack. And in the EP’s ironically
titled “Autotomy,” a bleak lover’s dirge that describes Montreal’s decrepit physical,
economic and political landscape, The Dears fashioned the greatest love song to the city
ever written.

The second EP, Summer of Protest, released in 2002, expanded the apocryphal vision
seeded on Orchestral Pop Noir Romantique. Lightburn’s white shirt and black suit were
long gone, replaced for a military helmet and loudspeaker. Music writer Stuart Berman’s
synopsis of SOP as “a harrowing mini-concept album that rolled operatic hysteria,
ominous post-punk rumbling and cosmic Christmas music into a soundtrack to the end of
the world” could not be more accurate. Little can be added to Berman’s description,
except that while the 2001 Quebec G8 summit protests and the events of 9/11 had barely
registered thematically in indie-rock, The Dears, it appeared, were not content with
catchy love songs.

The Dears’ performances evolved into part nihilistic Charlie Brown special and part
Brechtian theatre. The drama of their live shows forced audiences to examine the dark
forces at work in their nations and hearts. Bizarre, hopeless, entropic and devastating
were the only words one could use to describe hearing and seeing The Dears onstage in
2002. You didn’t watch or listen so much as get assaulted by music. You had to be in the
right headspace: you had to be either completely inebriated or sickeningly sober. It was
uncomfortable and simultaneously beautiful in its plain and painful truth. In 2002, with
Lightburn barking revolutionary orders into a megaphone, it was easy to believe that The
Dears were the most artful, revolutionary pop band in Canada. It was becoming a
challenge to see the future path of their commercial success.

With the 2003 release of No Cities Left, The Dears gained the success that End of a
Hollywood Bedtime Story had promised. The album was rife with The Dears’ dystopic
world view, but was also curiously luxuriant, poppy and brimming with hope: “Our love,
don’t mess with our love,” the male and female warn, playfully, in the album’s single,
“Lost in the Plot.” The doom and gloom that pervaded their earlier work was traded for
optimism evident in songs like the ironically lighthearted “Don’t Lose the Faith” and
“Never Destroy Us.” No Cities Left brought Lightburn’s finely crafted songwriting to the
forefront and was exulted for both its commercial and artistic appeal.

The Dears were nominated for Best New Group at the 2004 Canadian Juno Awards,
acclaim followed by New Musical Express’ naming The Dears as “Probably the Best
New Band in the World.” Soon after, NME cited NCL as the 10th best album and the
band found itself on several Best New Band features in music magazines from Rolling
Stone to Stuff to Spin. After invitations to open for Morrissey in Toronto and Los
Angeles, The Dears played Glastonbury (UK) in 2005, and British fans and critics
welcomed the band’s mercurial implosion into their music scene with open arms.

When they came home, to Montreal, in the summer of 2005, Natalia Yanchak and
Murray Lightburn were married, a gesture that