Published Feb 21, 2019"To be honest with you, I've gotten to that point where I don't give a shit a lot about what somebody thinks," says Murray Lightburn of the Dears, speaking with Exclaim! from his Montreal home weeks ahead of the release of his new album Hear Me Out, out February 22. While he's quick to point out that the record's not wholly autobiographical and has a relatability to it that transcends personal experience, the collection of tracks focuses on what matters most to him: the dearest relationships in his life.
"There's a handful of people who I give a damn what they think, literally less than five people, you know? And I guess in a way this album is an ode to those people — I've had a lot of relationships that didn't make it. Not romantic ones, just in general: business, friendships. I mean, I'm almost 50 years old, for god's sake; I've had a lot of people come and go in my life. Especially when, you know, I was having more successful times. There [were] a lot of people around," he laughs.
"In the Dears, I write in a pretty abstract way, but it's always taken literally. A lot of times people don't know when I'm cracking a joke, and I crack a lot of them [in the Dears]. But it's very super, you know, Bob Newhart-dry — very straight-faced and no laugh track. This album, there's not a lot of — it's not approached that way. It's very serious, I would say."
Themes of honesty, redemption and fundamental communication define the earnestly titled Hear Me Out (his second solo outing since 2013's Mass:Light), built atop songs that remain just as powerful played on acoustic guitar as with the dynamic arrangements that Lightburn utilized in their recording. He uses dramatic pop structures flush with strings on tracks such as "To The Top," a declaration of commitment to doing the best for his family.
"A lot of the album is about that: how I could contribute to this better," he explains. "I remember when we [wife and Dears bandmate Natalia Yanchak] had our first kid, Neptune, we didn't know what the hell we were doing, but something we figured out really early on was just kind of having a moment where we knew each other's moves for the day, so we could co-parent this creature. Just finding that sort of way to communicate to each other.
"I think without that [sort of basic communication], it's really easy for a relationship to go off the rails. And we invest so much in these intimate relationships, that… do we have enough real estate for the relationships that are outside that circle? So how many relationships can I maintain like this? This relationship with this person who I don't share a mortgage with," he laughs, "and have all these investments with is becoming too much work for me."
Hear Me Out was recorded to tape live off the floor by accomplished producer Howard Bilerman, a former member of Arcade Fire. The album employs a delicacy and precision in line with Lightburn's duty to allow the "transportation" of the listener to be as "seamless as possible." He shied away from hiring a second guitar player so that his own touch was "ingrained with the band," who are enriched by woodwinds, a string quartet, and backing vocals from members of Lightburn's musical community including Catherine McCandless of Young Galaxy and Broken Social Scene's Ariel Engle.
Lightburn dips into old school soul territory during one of the album's most beautiful moments, an Engle-backed crooner entitled "I Give Up." The song, he says, "[is] about surrendering completely to a relationship, and there's nothing wrong with that. I know some people — it's like, 'I wanna maintain my independence' and you know, that's fine too, but there's something to having a partner in your life. There's really something to it. I fully embrace and endorse it. The idea of having somebody in your life help you get through life? I mean, where do I sign up? I don't recommend that anybody settle, either, or stay in toxic relationships."
Lightburn, who "projects positivity when [he can]," enthuses over Instagram celebrities' 4 a.m. club (featuring the likes of Mark Wahlberg and the Rock) and makes self-deprecating jokes throughout our conversation, but he admits his life as a touring artist can be hard.
"You're spending a lot of time by yourself. I'll sit at the bar and eat my meal at the bar by myself. It's not as bluesy as sitting at a table across from an empty chair." Trying to "embolden his brand" through performing is a "weird journey," he admits, but Lightburn relishes the freedom of going out under his own name, where the stately tracks on Hear Me Out will be displayed in their most essential form: just him and a guitar, with potential cameos from additional players along the road.
For Lightburn, the "only stats [he] honestly gives a shit about are [his] stats at home.
"The only thing that I want to hear, is if I'm dropping my daughter off at school and before she closes the door, she says, 'Bye, I love you,' that's all I need," he laughs. "That's all I really need to hear."
Hear Me Out comes out February 22 on Dangerbird Records.