Interview – Murray Lightburn of The Dears

I used to listen to The Dears a bunch, but one song in particular. When my hetero life-mate Tiffer and I were making a video together for our high school graduation, I was of the opinion that it should have been an upbeat affair ending in a devastating montage to their track “We Can Have It”. That never materialized, but I remember summer nights with the windows rolled down listening to that song. Not particularly good times, but good memories. I was pretty excited to do the interview, is what I’m trying to say. Originally appeared in Beatroute Magazine.

There was no finger tattoos reading “ELWOOD” or jail time that threatened and disbanded the previous version of The Dears. But the resurgence of the Toronto rockers and their shiny new line-up came about in a decidedly Blues Brothers way. Talking just days after the band’s second appearance on The Late Show with David Letterman and the release of their fifth LP, Degeneration Street, frontman Murray Lightburn notes a marked difference from the new group and the one that years earlier experienced a messy mutiny almost took down the band from the inside.

“The spirit of the band is significantly renewed. The band that was on Letterman a few years ago was feeling quite defeated. The spirit of the band was feeling pretty down.” The problems within the band threatened to end the way the band was, but according to Lightburn, never threatened the band directly. “You always hear about some bands not getting along, but they still go forward, or they break up. For myself and Natalia it wasn’t really a choice to end The Dears. We didn’t feel like we had that right. It wasn’t really entirely up to us.” So, the pair did like Jake and Elwood and put the band back together.

The new lineup for The Dears isn’t coming in completely fresh. With the exception of drummer Jeff Luciani, the group all have some tie to the band’s shared history. “[Robert] Benvie toured No Cities Left, [Patrick] Krief toured No Cities Left, Gang of Losers, played on Gang of Losers, and everybody played on Missiles. There’s a deep connection. Roberto played the very first Dears album.” The new blood doesn’t stick out, Lightburn says, remarking that Luciani has “been amazing, an amazing addition, he fits right in there in spirit and attitude”.

Getting the right people into position wasn’t a simple prospect, however. Each member had some hurdle to clear before they could be added to the roster. Benvie was the most fortuitous addition. “We kind of saw the writing on the wall. The bass player that committed to playing on Missiles quit. So when she quit, we needed a bass player for the North American tour. So we said ‘for kicks, why don’t we ask Benvie, that could be fun’. So we talked to him, and as luck would have it, his job and commitment was ending the very day our tour was beginning in Toronto. So he quit his job and went straight to sound check and got on a bus for a six week tour.” At the end of that tour, Benvie expressed interest in joining the band proper.

Roberto Arquilla was long a de facto member of the band, but never consummated the partnership. “When I sent him a text, it was funny. We said ‘look man we got the crew together, this is it, are you in or out’ and he said ‘at the moment I have to say I’m out’. So we get this other guy in, send him an email saying ‘welcome to The Dears’ and literally 24 hours later Rob comes over and I’m like, ‘what’s going on here’ and he’s like ‘alright, I’m in!’” His addition to the band was a personal victory for Lightburn. “I’d been waiting for him to say that for about a decade”.

With the pieces back in place and on the legs of a brawny, demanding new album, The Dears might not be on a “mission from God”, but are ready for anything “One of the things I learned after making Missiles was that The Dears could withstand pretty much anything.” Lightburn includes time in what they weather.

“I’ve committed myself to being the lighthouse keeper until…until I’m gone.”