"The music press won’t ever allow a black 'frontman' to truly thrive unscathed in the rock’n’roll arena" - In Conversation with The Dears
With the critical success of their latest album Times Infinity Volune 2, and their imminent run of UK tour dates (their second this year), I took the opportunity to speak with The Dears frontman Murray Lightburn to discuss the music business, touring, photography, and a possible political career.
Hi Murray! Where do we find you today?
I am currently in my studio mixing down a project called 'The World Provider', trying to decide which one of these piano tracks that Gonzales contributed to use…they’re all amazing so it’s literally the hardest part.
So, you about to return to the UK for the second time this year, what are you looking forward to doing in the UK (apart from performing of course!)?
I am really hoping to carve out some time to go on photo walks…I would like to invite locals to join me. I shoot mostly black and white film. For a trip like this, I may bring my Rolleiflex and perhaps my Canon QL17 as a sidearm. I also looking forward to seeing some friends that I haven’t seen in awhile. I think I am nervous for my first solo gig in London too — sort of looking forward to that, sort of not lol!
I really enjoyed the long awaited Times Infinity Volume 2, especially 'All The Hail Marys' and 'I’m Sorry That I Wished You Dead'. This record seems to meld your newer approach on Volume 1 but harked back to the more anthemic styles of your earlier albums. Did you find it a difficult record to approach? What were the challenges?
Making this record was actually not difficult at all. We have been making albums for 20 years! We’ve really refined our approach and work very methodically. We’ll spend at least a year or two simply writing then another period of time arranging. When we arrive at the studio phase, 80 percent of the heavy lifting is done. After that, it’s just execution. If I were to come up with challenges, particular to Times Infinity, it would be solving the track listing puzzle over the two volumes. Almost everything was recorded in the same period. When we finished most of the tracking, we put all the titles on an erase board and started mapping out each volume. That took some time.
You have just performed your second album No Cities Left in its entirety with the Cosmopolitan City Orchestra, how did feel embarking on the project and revisiting your earlier material?
It was a lot of work, but it was way easier than I thought. Everyone who played did their homework and was prepared. We solved a lot of problems early in the preparation stage. When I first listened to it, I simply listed everything that I could hear and could remember from when I mixed. It is such an arranged, intricate, and ornate album — so many small details. Our goal was to remain faithful to that for maximum effect on the audience. Many memories were flooding back during the process. On the second day of rehearsal, I actually got goosebumps while we played 'The Second Part', a song I play almost every show. When we performed 'Don’t Lose The Faith' at the concert, I became so overwhelmed that I forgot a few lyrics! Anyway, we are preparing to bring this show around the globe — if they’ll have us…
Out of Volume 1 and 2, what are your favourite tracks to play live?
Surprisingly, 'Of Fisticuffs' has really grown on me and I look forward to that one. I love playing 'Onward and Downward' as well.
As a band, The Dears seem to flirt with the mainstream but you do have a fervent “cult” following, do you see this as a blessing or a curse?
The Dears could never be “mainstream.” Maybe if I rapped a bit we’d stand a chance, lol. The music press won’t ever allow a black “frontman” to truly thrive unscathed in the rock’n’roll arena. That said, I’m eternally grateful that The Dears have managed to slip through a few cracks just enough to touch a few people who seem to really need to hear what we sing about. Our music has always been an unstoppable force and we are very lucky to have been chosen by the gods to deliver it.
If you describe your experience with The Dears over the years in one word, what would it be?
Have your kids ever listen to any of your albums?
They have ZERO interest in The Dears.
What’s the strangest experience you’ve had while touring?
I think the first time we went to Mexico is up there. it was around the Gang Of Losers period where we were barely on speaking terms with each other. We were told, “you have a gig in Mexico City.” I didn’t even want to go. We were at a very low point. I’m glad I went, because it changed my whole perception of what I was doing and why I was doing it.
What’s on your turntable at the moment?
Tomita - Snowflakes Are Dancing. Or Diana and Marvin.
What recent artists do you think aren’t getting the recognition they deserve (critically or commercially)?
Too numerous to list.
If you weren’t able to write or play music, what would you do for a living?
I like building stuff, figuring out how stuff works, how things are designed and solving problems. City Planner? Architect? Prime Minister? Who knows….
For more information about The Dears visit their website, follow them on Twitter, or like their Facebook page. You can buy or stream Times Infinity Volume 1 & Volume 2 from the usual.