Two summers ago – that is, the summer of 2002 – I remember visiting my Aunt Fiona in Manhattan, watching MTV’s Total Request Live with my cousin Cecil, and seeing some piss face singing about how he was ‘just a kid’ and that ‘life was a nightmare.’ After nearly vomiting, I gasped in horror as Carson Daly proceeded to inform us that this milksop was Pierre Bouvier from Simple Plan, a native Montreal band. Didn’t this kind of crap only come out of Orange County? I sank into the couch, embarrassed that these guys were my hometown’s rock-n-roll ambassadors to the outside world.
Little did I know that across the Hudson River, somewhere in Brooklyn, The Stills were starting to change all of that. Although all of The Stills were born and raised in Montreal, they decided to spend the summer of 2002 in the Big Apple, to try their shtick there.
‘Why go to New York?’, some may ask, ‘what is wrong with Montreal?’
“It’s obvious that things would never have happened so fast had we stayed in Montreal,” says Stills’ guitarist (and former Concordia sociology major) Greg Paquet. “Some people are holding that against us, but what are you gonna do?”
He’s probably right. In the course of that summer, they gathered a small, yet remarkable following of fans, one of whom happened to be Paul Banks, lead singer of Interpol. In fact, Banks was so impressed he asked The Stills to open up for his band. Let’s just say things started to happen from there. In less than a year The Stills were being touted as one of the hottest bands to watch by Rolling Stone and NME – and they hadn’t even released a single recording.
You’re probably thinking, ‘yeah, yeah, yeah.’ No, no, no. Forget the fact that their name is a plural noun, and that they have angular haircuts, and that they wear radical clothing. Their music is honest, and it shows in their impressive debut LP, Logic Will Break Your Heart (VICE) which was released last week. The album, which deals mostly with nostalgia and heartbreak, will undoubtedly woo kitschy critics with its reverberating guitars and Cure-esque singing. But what matters most is that it sounds very sincere. Unlike Pierre from Simple Plan, The Still’s lead-singer (also a former Concordia student) Tim Fletcher can say something like “I’m still in love” over and over again without it sounding put on.
And thanks to The Stills’ honesty, the world can finally hear what Montreal really sounds like. Hopefully their success will help other unsigned local acts to be heard. “Montreal is a great breeding ground for artists and hopefully, we can play a part in some of the city’s bands being recognized,” Paquet says. He also noted this city is the home of Leonard Cohen, Rufus Wainwright, as well as more recent acts like Godspeed You!, Black Emperor and The Dears.
“That’s very considerable taking into account the size of Montreal’s English population,” he says, and “that’s not counting all the French stuff, much of which is very interesting and distinct. However, there’s not a lot of money in the city. That’s one of the key reasons why Montreal can be so artistically viable, but it also affects the city’s artists’ international potential.”
Isn’t this, the problem with the whole music industry: money versus artistic integrity? Isn’t this why MTV is searing our eyes and ears with Simple Plans, frying the brains of poor teenagers like my dearest cousin Cecil?
The point is we don’t want all of our good bands leaving the city just because they don’t have the same opportunity here as they do in, say, New York. So, go out to local shows; go see the Arcade Fire; go see The Unicorns; go see Shamus. Most importantly, go see The Stills the next time they stop by. After all, they are Montreal’s new rock-n-roll ambassadors to the outside world.