The Stills Can’t Stay Still at Sheridan

In light of Canadian rockers, The Stills, who were joined by fellow indie rockers, the Constantines, playing Sheridan College last night, we thought we would outline why they came to play for Sheridan’s Student Union in the first place. And yes, it was a solid show — real solid. Anyway, here’s the low down:

The Stills played Sheridan College's Frosh Week on Sept. 11. Click to read print version

The Stills played Sheridan College's Frosh Week on Sept. 11. Click to read print version

A Still Life with The Stills

by Ryan Bolton

It’s your typical June morning. I’m walking along Yonge Street downtown Toronto. The street vendors have their goods lined along the gum-stained, pigeon poop smeared sidewalks. You’ve got the knock-off Gucci glasses and Blue Jays baseball hats. The painted prints of Tupac, Johnny Depp and Frank Sinatra. I watch a couple squeegee kids run up to some cars idling at the stoplight and quickly scrub the windshields. Really, it’s your typical June morning on Yonge Street, I should rephrase. And then I make it to the Delta Chelsea Hotel standing proud in a sea of skyscrapers.

Walking through the elegant 80s-styled lobby, then around the front desk with tourists meandering, I see a man flag me down. It’s Dave, a genial young man with some scruff on his cheeks. He works with Canada’s independent music label, Arts & Crafts. It’s the label, founded by the county’s flagship art-rockers Broken Social Scene, that carries many recognizable names. Feist. Los Campesinos! Stars. Young Galaxy. And two big names that are playing Sheridan’s Frosh Week concert: the Constantines and The Stills. And I’m in this large, bellhop-riddled hotel to sit down with Tim Fletcher, front man of the latter band.

Dave leads me around the elevators and into the hotel’s cafeteria, which at this time (it’s 2 p.m. in the afternoon) is completely vacant save for an old married couple with Eastern European accents chatting away in the corner. Fletcher, who until this point was lapping up the sun outside, comes inside choking on a muffin.

After clearing the muffin with a gulp of water, Fletcher grabs a seat with me in the cafeteria. His slim frame carries a tight T-shirt, which sports a couple small holes and a tight-fitted, worn black jacket. His brown hair is pulled back like usual and his face is showing the beginnings of a five o’clock shadow. After apologizing about the muffin ordeal, he explains that he is a little hung over and that he smoked a few too many cigarettes the night before. It was a big night though; they just wrapped a big tour and were back in town with their friends. But as we sit and talk, Fletcher doesn’t show the symptoms of a good night out. He’s composed, forthcoming and relaxed. We’re talking about art and music. And he’s fine with that.

The Montreal NATIVE BAND, which is composed of close friends, Dave Hamelin who shares vocals and guitar, Liam O’Neil on keys, Olivier Corbeil on the bass, and Julien Blais on drums, have been having a solid, yet strange couple of years. Having put out three full-length albums and playing under the Stills title for nearly 10 years, The Stills walked away with two Junos this spring for Best Alternative Album (Oceans Will Rise) and the belated award for Best New Group. Although slightly amused, the band sees the award as recognition.

“It’s recognition and there’s some love coming from somewhere in that,” says Fletcher. “There’s nothing bad about it, it’s just kind of funny.” On top of this, the band made the long list for this year’s esteemed Polaris Music Prize. But it was last year for Quebec’s 400th birthday bash that Sir Paul McCartney himself handpicked the band to play in front of 300,000 people. And then came the switch of labels. After starting with Vice Records, which they released their first two albums under, the band jumped to Arts & Crafts. Composed of a tight-knit group of their friends, Fletcher says the transition was organic.

“Transitioning to Arts & Crafts was one of the most natural things we have ever done and it was sad to leave Vice, because we love them there, but we went from that family to the Arts & Crafts family. It’s like a support group. It’s a hopeful place for emerging artists and older artists.” And after pumping out last year’s well-received Oceans Will Rise, stuffed with soaring, big-sounding anthems under Arts & Crafts, many were talking about the album’s skull cover. The black as night background with a large, illuminated gold human skull evokes a somewhat macabre feel. It was New York-based visual artist Gordon Hull, a close friend of the band who designed their two previous record covers – Logic Will Break Your Heart (2003) and Without Feathers (2006) who went on eBay and purchased a human skull. Hull proceeded to gold leaf the skull and give it to his ex-girlfriend in a bid to win her back. And it worked. Since the album is worldly with songs like “Being Here” and “Snakecharming the Masses” as the band wrote most of the tracks on an international tour with Kings of Leon, they thought a skull was something everyone could relate to, because we all have one.

“It’s a cool symbol of life and love and it’s kind of a worldly album… and everyone has a skull,” says Fletcher with a wry laugh, before turning to look out the cafeteria window.

The Stills Aren’t sitting still. They are already working on their next album, which they will be self-producing. Heading back to Montreal for the summer, in between a couple festivals, they will be mixing the new material, which they hope to have out for next February.

The Stills have made a name for themselves as a constantly evolving sound. Each record has different musical arrangements, different tempos, different musical conventions. Simply said: different sounds. And although the band’s name doesn’t fit the bill with a still, static sound, it does fit a still picture. Each record, Fletcher explains, captures a new sound. Like a film still, each record tells a story in itself. It encapsulates a moment in time.

“It’s like when you have a summer fling with a girl and then you will smell something and you’ll be like, ‘Oh my god, I remember everything about her,’” says Fletcher. “Hopefully we can make records and it’s like a still shot of that time in your life.” The thought is that over time you can go back and listen to different Stills’ albums and take something away from each. And as each record is unlike its predecessor, Fletcher believes that the band is really beginning to come into its own just now. Hence why they are going to record their next album themselves. “I think it’s a really artistically liberating thing to [self-record]. It’s a daunting task, but anything worthwhile should be a challenge.” And as Oceans Will Rise was focused on musical arrangements and large dynamics, their next record is aiming to be personal. Sonically, lyrically and otherwise. As the band members shift into their late 20s and early 30s, they are becoming more relaxed and reflective in both their thoughts and work.

“I think with our next record, we’re trying to make it as personal as possible and whatever stands in the way of that, we remove it,” Fletcher begins, with his eyes widening. “We are producing this record to sound really personal. We’re trying to convey that sonically, and we don’t know how we’re going to do it, but we’re going to try.”

AS GRADUATES FROM college art programs, the band is looking forward to playing Sheridan alongside rock friends and label-mates, the Constantines. Graduating from film school at Concordia, Fletcher never picked up his diploma. He thought it was sweeter to give his parents two Junos instead. But as artists of varying mediums – Hamelin studied philosophy and creative writing and O’Neil studied jazz – the band sees art as an inspiration. And playing to Canada’s largest art school will indeed be comfortable for the so-called art rockers.

As the cafeteria starts to slowly fill with tourists grabbing a mid-afternoon snack, plates and forks can be heard clinking behind us. The crunch of apples is heard. So is the fountain pop machine chugging out its liquid syrup. And as we continue to talk about attending art schools and being artistically inclined, Fletcher stops for a second. It might be the hangover or that throat-obstructing muffin coming back, but it looks like he’s just thinking. Then he offers a gem for all students and artists alike: “What you love is what you’re going to gravitate towards in life and art.” It’s simple. It’s true. It’s obviously what he and his bandmates have followed. And we both sit there and reflect.

And then I’m back on Yonge Street walking by the squeegee kids and street vendors. I’m looking at the gum-stained sidewalk again and the swarms of people window-shopping. And right in the centre of it all, I stop and stand still. I watch everyone move around me, and I take a quick snapshot.

It’s nice to just stand still once and a while. But The Stills definitely aren’t.

  1. Very interesting post!

  1. September 16th, 2009
  2. April 18th, 2010

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