Murray Lightburn of The Dears – COVID-19 Quarantine Artist Check In | Under the Radar - Music Magazine
Monday, May 25th, 2020  

Murray Lightburn of The Dears – COVID-19 Quarantine Artist Check In

“I stay very focused on facts and science and positive progress and way less on how bad it is.”

Apr 06, 2020 Web Exclusive
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We are checking in with musicians during the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic to see how they are dealing with everything. What has their home quarantine experience been like so far and how is the crisis impacting both their career and art? Here we check in with Murray A. Lightburn of Montreal, Canada’s The Dears.

We’re living in future history right now, unprecedented times that will define our era. At some point we will be living in a forever-changed post-COVID-19 timeline, but right now we’re deep in it. Many have had their livelihood interrupted by the pandemic and included are most musicians, who make a lot of their money by touring and performing, two things they can’t do right now. Most record stores are closed and vinyl factories are shut down, so album sales are depressed too. Our intention with this series is to highlight the challenges musicians are going through right now to hopefully encourage our readers and their fans to rally around and support each musician (financially if you can, but we know it’s tough out there for many people).

We’re all in this together, a whole planet united in this fight, and we hope these interviews will help illustrate that. We put together the same set of questions about the current crisis and emailed them to several musicians and will be posting their responses as they come in.

The Dears are releasing a new album, Lovers Rock, on May 15 via Dangerbird. Previously they shared its first single, “The Worst of Us,” via a lyric video. It was #1 on our Songs of the Week list. 

The Dears are as ever led by Lightburn on vocals and guitar and his wife Natalia Yanchak on vocals and piano. For Lovers Rock they were joined by longtime drummer Jeff “Looch” Luciani (who's been with them since 2011’s Degeneration Street) and two musicians who performed on Lightburn’s last solo album, Steve Raegele (guitar) and Rémi-Jean LeBlanc (bass). Sam Roberts also has a cameo and there’s saxophone from both Alex Francoeur and The E Street Band’s Jake Clemons (on “Stille Lost”).

In a press release Lightburn says that Lovers Rock has much in common with No Cities Left, their 2003-released sophomore album that probably remains their most beloved record.

“There’s a direct line between the sort of doominess of No Cities Left and this album,” says Lightburn. “You could go straight from Lovers Rock to No Cities Left and it’s like they're interlocked. But it's a different kind of doom. Around 2001, it felt like, ‘We have no control. We don't know what's going to happen next.’ Now it’s a doom that's within our grasp. It’s in the air. It’s between us. But we do nothing about it.”

Read on as Lightburn reflects on his COVID-19 experience so far.

Where are spending the quarantine and who are you spending it with? If you’re spending it with other people, have you found that the quarantine has brought you closer together or caused tension? 

Natalia and I are in our home in Montreal with our two kids. We are already a pretty close knit family so not much has really changed. Everyone here is still in fairly good spirits and focused on staying healthy and positive. 

Is everyone in your family safe and healthy so far?

Indeed we have stayed healthy thus far. 

What’s your daily routine been like? Have you spent much time outdoors? And since musicians spend so much time on the road, have you found it hard adjusting to so much time at home?

I did a lot of touring last year. I am overjoyed to be home now and frankly couldn’t imagine being stuck in Europe away from my family during this time. I love playing shows but I really love being home. I’m more comfortable as a “studio rat” anyway. No adjustment needed. 

What financial impact has COVID-19 had on you and your band? Have you had to cancel or postpone any tours or festival appearances or postpone an album release because of COVID-19 and how will that affect you in the long term? 

There hasn’t been any immediate change. I supposed things might bottleneck at some point but I’m somewhat prepared for that. Natalia and I are born problem solvers so together we are a superpower in that respect. We have pushed a number of tour dates to later in the year. We don’t get invited to festivals so that doesn’t really affect us. We keep a close relationship with our audience and know that we will reunite at some point. Our new album Lovers Rock is still coming out on May 15, 2020 although our label Dangerbird is navigating how retail will be treated. For now you can order online and of course get the digital here. 

If you also have a day job outside of music, how has that been impacted by COVID-19? 

I do some “work-for-hire” stuff on the side and music production. It’s “content” based as in people are still needing and creating content, wanting music for projects. Again, that might slow down as most productions have come to a halt. That said, last week I needed Amy Millan to sing on something so I dropped off a mobile rig at her doorstep and actually didn’t even see her. She sent me the track over email. Problem: Solved.  

Do you trust the government and our leaders (such as President Trump) to effectively deal with the pandemic? What most concerns you about the response of elected leaders at home and abroad?  

I can actually say “not my president” because I live in Canada. I feel like our government is doing the best they can under extraordinary circumstances. Frankly it really boils down to what people do in the face of this. Looking out for each other, being less selfish, and making those actions more widespread than the disease. 

How do you think the crisis will affect this November’s U.S. presidential election? Will it make it easier or harder to defeat Trump? 

I’ve been following American politics pretty closely and could easily talk all day about it. I have many thoughts regarding Trump’s or Other Guy’s chances but I don’t feel like what I have to say means anything at all. 

Which sources of news have you been turning to most during COVID-19 and which social media platform have you found most useful? 

I can’t watch the news anymore. And I can’t read what anyone has to say on social media either. I go to the Quebec Health and Public Health Canada websites for information on what is going on and what we are supposed to do. They are updated twice a day. Occasionally for a broad view I’ll go to the WHO site as well. But I’m not dwelling on it. I stay very focused on facts and science and positive progress and way less on how bad it is. 

What do you think will be the lasting effects on society of all this isolated time at home? 

I reckon in the end we’ll be ok. Imagine for a second living through the Blitz or something that menacing. The world eventually continued on. I don’t mean to downplay what’s happening now, simply putting it into perspective. The human race survives harder than cockroaches. And we will hold each other again, maybe even lick each other’s fingers etc.  

If you have school-aged kids, how have you been dealing with homeschooling and how are your kids adjusting to life at home and away from friends?

The school board here is just now providing some tools to help with that. I’m teaching my son to “tape op” in my studio. He’s seven and he knows how to shuttle between markers in the session. The older kid is always in touch with friends on the internet anyway. I suppose it will all get a bit tired as time wears on. But we’ll figure it all out together.

Are your parents, grandparents, and others in your life who are at risk taking social distancing seriously? If not, what lengths have you gone to in order to convince them to stay inside?

My father is in a home currently with Alzheimer’s. My mother who normally goes to see him everyday is not able to visit him. They are both in their ’80s. These homes are a big target for outbreaks. I call my mother every other day to check on her but she’s like a tank and not going anywhere soon. She was a healthcare worker for 35 years (with a specialty in operating room hygiene, no less) and has a pretty sober view of the current situation.

What is the best way fans can support you financially right now? Buying vinyl and CDs, downloading and streaming your music, buying merch, supporting your Patreon page or other crowd sourcing platform (if you use one), or some other means? Is there a particularly cool piece of merch you’d like to highlight?

Indeed, buying our stuff is a direct way to support us. Begging your local radio station to play us or “add” us is also meaningful because it pays meaningful royalties down the line. “Sharing” us with all your friends and publicly cheerleading us is helpful too, in a less immediate way.

Which albums, songs, films, TV shows, books, podcasts, live streams, video games, board games, etc, have been helping you get through the quarantine?  

Off the top of my head:

- Devs

- Brooklyn 99

- Atlanta

- Uncut Gems

- Ozark

- Parks and Recreation

- Party Down

- Congratulations (Chris D’Elia)

- Call of Duty (various versions PS3 and PS4)

- Twisted Metal

- Game of Life

- Battleship

- The Peripheral (William Gibson) 

- Wired

- Under the Radar

Have you been doing any live-streamed concerts during COVID-19 or do you plan to? A lot of artists have been doing them, do you think it’s a challenge to make them original and interesting?

Here’s what I’m not doing: Sitting in front of my phone camera in my pajamas with an acoustic guitar. If we are going to do anything we want it be all showbiz. 

Is there something you’ve been putting off for a long time, but are now doing with this time at home?

I need to get into my darkroom!

Has the quarantine been a fertile creative time (are you writing or recording new music, for example) or have you found it hard to focus on creative endeavors?

I finished The Dears album in December and that beat me up pretty bad. So I took a couple of months to recover. I had ideas in my head and I’m now diving into some new music. I’m finding the days and weeks going by fast. Natalia and I switch roles for half the day to look after the kids. There’s so much to do and as usual never enough time to do it. 

Beyond the obvious items (such as toilet paper), what things have you made sure to get from the grocery store when stocking up? And, also, do you have any toilet paper?

We get groceries delivered and order groceries for pick up as well. We are basically doubling up so we go out less. For the moment we still have toilet paper. I’ll never understand that whole thing.   

www.thedears.org

www.instagram.com/thedears/

www.facebook.com/TheDears

www.twitter.com/thedears

www.thedears.bandcamp.com/

www.murraylightburn.com

www.twitter.com/masstolight

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