AUSTIN, Texas — In the middle of a humid Friday afternoon, the Stills — featured performers at Spin's South by Southwest party — sing about chilling out, as in enduring "Dr. Zhivago"-like conditions.
"We'll wait them out until the tundra freezes," goes one such lyric. It's dreamy and epic, but a far cry from their not-so-cold debut, 2003's Logic Will Break Your Heart — which is kind of the point.
"The new album is pretty wintery," co-frontman Dave Hamelin said. "The songs are about winter and all in major keys. What are we trying to achieve here? Happiness in the cold? It's not going to happen."
Without Feathers, the band's sophomore effort due May 9, is the Stills' proof that they are a product of their environment — in their case, Montreal.
"Minus 40 Celsius degrees affects you," co-frontman Tim Fletcher said. "The sun goes down at 4:30 [p.m.]."
"3:30," keyboardist Liam O'Neil corrected.
"It's almost Siberian, it's no joke," bassist Oliver Crowe said. "It's like Moscow. It's worse than Moscow."
"You know how the English are always like, 'It's so rainy, that's why we're so miserable'?" Hamelin said, taking on a fake Brit accent. "Come to Montreal! You're somebody who thinks you've been through bad weather, and you have no clue. Shut up."
Complaints aside, the Stills started writing Without Feathers in November, so it was one long, dark winter during the entire making of the album. Hamelin even wrote one song, "In the Beginning," while he was in a hotel lobby in Reykjavík, Iceland.
But the Stills found comfort from the cold in the new direction songs such as "Halo the Harpoon" and "Oh Shoplifter" were taking, as Hamelin and crew exchanged the noir pop of Logic for something a little bigger (see " 'Control Freaks' The Stills Try Not To Spoil Their Own Songs").
"It doesn't seem that drastic to us," Hamelin said, "but when people haven't seen us in a year and a half, it's a change. But the great bands we love all changed, and it was an important part of them being great. So we have songs driven by a Hammond B3 organ instead of a guitar. It's good."
To help fans get acquainted with the new sound, the Stills are easing them in with the band's first single, "Destroyer," which they picked because it's the "more fast and crazy" song of the album. "It's wacky and there's lots of horns on it and it's all about murder and stuff, so it's going to be on the top of the charts for sure," Hamelin said. "We're just trying to compete with hip-hop and violent things."
"You know the song 'Toxic' by Britney Spears?" Fletcher asked. "You need to have a good energy for your first single. It's got to be dancey."
Maybe Spears isn't the best business role model for a rock band, but the Stills also have wacky and dancey examples from Franz Ferdinand and the Arctic Monkeys to make their point. "Most people want something crazy, with the crazy hype," Hamelin said. "So we have a kooky single. It's faster, the tempo's up. 'The Stills with the crazy new single, they're such crazy kids.' "
Still, Hamelin's holding out for releasing what he considers to be a better song, "She's Walking Out," as a single — he says he doesn't want it to be Without Feathers' first or even second single, because the song is "too slow." Plus, it's another song about winter. But even though those songs permeate Without Feathers, the Stills don't want fans to think the record will give them frostbite.
"I don't think it sounds cold. I think it sounds more like a remedy, like Nyquil," Corbeil said. "It's Nyquillian. Some sort of solace. It's hopeful music in the end."
The Stills' tour dates, according to the band's publicist:
- 4/2 - Cambridge, MA @ T.T. the Bear's Place
- 4/3 - Philadelphia, PA @ The Church
- 4/4 - New York, NY @ Mercury Lounge
- 4/5 - New York, NY @ Mercury Lounge
- 4/8 - Baltimore. MD @ Sonar
- 4/9 - Cleveland, OH @ Grog Shop
- 4/10 - Detroit, MI @ Saint Andrews Hall
- 4/11 - Columbus, OH @ The Basement
- 4/13 - Chicago, IL @ Double Door
- 4/14 - Minneapolis, MN @ Varsity
- 4/15 - Omaha, NE @ Sokol Auditorium
- 4/17 - Salt Lake City, UT @ Club Sound
- 4/19 - San Diego, CA @ Casbah
- 4/20 - West Hollywood, CA @ Troubadour
- 4/21 - San Francisco, CA @ Popscene
- 4/24 - Portland, OR @ Doug Fir Lounge
- 4/25 - Seattle, WA @ Crocodile