You were hanging out on St. Catherine Street?" Hamelin replies when Street mentions our encounter with a Chilean prostitute in Montreal. "That's what all Americans come here to do. They're all shit-faced on St. Catherine Street, in and out of strip clubs."
Despite Montreal's reputation for being a popular tourist spot for Americans, The Stills' Dave Hamelin is certain that it is more than a city of prostitution and under-aged kids looking to drink. "It's a great city to be an artist. It's cheap. It affords you more time to hone your craft. It's not like New York where you're constantly hustling." The city that thrives on "street culture" is home to The Stills, four guys who grew up listening to Smiths records and surviving on Montreal's brand of "unique bagels."
In the current music climate that no longer fosters the desire to be the new "It" band, but rather the new "The" band, hopes are high for The Stills. Although the band is only Vice Records' second major signing (British rapper The Streets was their first), Hamelin insists that his band doesn't feel the heat of pressure. "We think we're good enough [to succeed]. If we thought we were shit, and we were a crappy band that had crappy songs and had no potential whatsoever, we'd definitely feel a lot of pressure. But we actually feel no pressure at all," he says.
Logic Will Break Your Heart, The Stills' first full album, is a swirling dive into a post-punk dreamscape. The Stills dabble in creative edginess while retaining a pop straightforwardness. Hamelin went the evasive route when asked to describe The Stills' sound, remarking, "You're gonna tell them what we sound like. I wouldn't know what to say. I'd feel too guilty of pigeonholing myself." In that case, think Echo and the Bunnymen. Think The Strokes with less Velvet, more Smiths. Think Interpol with less hair gel. Accordingly, The Stills can't simply be dismissed as Bunnymen rip-offs since Hamelin only heard the Bunnymen music after critics spawned the comparison. "I showed my girlfriend [the EP] and she said it sounded like Echo and the Bunnymen, and she downloaded 'Killing Moon' for me. Ian McCulloch [of Echo] called someone and said (Hamelin doing a McCulloch impression), 'I really love The Stills, man. They should play with us.' Then I got to hear their songs on that tour. I feel cheesy to say I don't want to describe my band like we're so singular because obviously that's a crock of shit. I'll go the Spinal Tap route here and say that's your job."
In addition to touring with Echo and the Bunnymen, The Stills have also toured with Interpol and Ryan Adams, the latter of which Hamelin vouches for as the "sweetest guy in the fucking universe." The connection between these two is less obvious, but Hamelin says fans were extremely receptive on the tour. Regardless of the band's deep friendship with Interpol, the Stills seek to shed this automatic relation. "On some levels it's totally understandable, but Tim does not sound like Paul [of Interpol]. Their songs are more oblique. Our songs are poppier than theirs. If I wasn't friends with them, I'd probably hate them."
While most bands are plagued by the expectations of a sophomore release, The Stills will not face a barren search for new material. Hamelin is in a constant state of songwriting, claiming, "I could pick up a guitar almost any time and come up with something. It's a matter of me having a recording device next to me. I already have thirteen songs for the next record, so we won't feel the pressure when it's recording time and we have no songs." When asked about the strange dual position of main songwriter and drummer, he responds, "I'm not really good at drums. I'm medium at everything. I'm a mediocre guitar player, a mediocre singer -- I'm mediocre at everything except writing tunes. I think I'm pretty shitty at writing songs, too. I'm in a Phil Collins position. We couldn't find a drummer because drummers are really hard to find. Eventually, we'd like to find a drummer." Hopefully, a Limp Bizkit-esque search will not ensue.
In a time when seemingly every band wants to be the star of the rock world and the star of their own band, Hamelin isn't jaded by the fact that he isn't the frontman of the band for which he wrote "most of the songs on the album." Instead, he comes off as modest, light-hearted and untarnished by the cynicism or praise of critics. He speaks in a laid-back voice and possesses a charming sense of humor. Dave Hamelin will break your heart.
See The Stills on Jan. 30 at the North Star Bar. 27th and Poplar, 11 p.m., $10. For more info, visit www.thestills.net