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A Conversation with Natalia Yanchak from The Dears

Posted by Greg / January 31, 2011

Last week I sat down for a coffee with Natalia Yanchak at the Afroditi Bakery in Parc-Ex to talk about The Dears' upcoming album, Degeneration Street. I first heard the album when The Dears played it all the way through at their headlining Pop Montreal shows - three nights that reaffirmed their position as leaders in this city's music scene - and upon meeting Natalia, I assumed we would talk about the new material and its impending official release. Within about two minutes, we departed from the standard PR points and dove into a long talk about the the decay of "indie" rock, the state of music consumption, the delicate relationship between journalists and musicians, and the tricks Pitchfork is playing on us all. The result was one of the most lucid and honest conversations I've ever had about the art of music production and the business behind it. At the end we even tackled the bizarre and inexplicable omission of The Dears from Midnight Poutine's Best Montreal Albums of The Decade list.

At the risk of revealing all the interesting twists and turns within, here's a table of contents, if you will, marking the major segments of our conversation. At the very beginning we talk about the band's residency in Mexico City before recording Degeneration Street, and then it's on to...

Music downloading: 2:40
The term "indie," and why it's dead: 8:12
Pitchfork and Twitter: 11:42
Music journalism, PR, and Natalia's Twitter spat with Said the Gramophone: 14:00
Natalia's own blogging and creative writing: 25:49
Album reviews and stereotypes: 31:39
The Midnight Poutine list: 40:52
How the rest of the world doesn't care about indie culture: 58:24

Listen here:

Or download the interview here. Post thoughts below.

Degeneration Street comes out on February 15th
Photo taken from the band's myspace page



Andres / January 31, 2011 at 06:39 pm
As one of the primary instigators of "the list", I feel the need to outline both the mental and concrete process through which it was created. As Greg, it began with the best intentions. A pretty comprehensive list of albums and voters was compiled, which (and this point was the first of contention) included people in the music industry. I think the idea was that we wanted the appreciation to come not only from critics but from within the music community. As Greg said, while participation wasn't low, it wasn't as high as we may have predicted. Surprisingly (or maybe not considering what Natalia said about not participating), we received VERY few votes from artists themselves, whereas labels were more interested. To be fair to those who participated, I didn't see any outrageously self-serving votes. The Dears did receive votes, and NO CITIES LEFT probably would have been 27th or 28th had we extended the list that low. I played with the idea of only allowing one artist's album, but then ran into how to divvy up votes. In the end, we kept it as is. For example, two other Dears albums were voted on, and had all those people only voted for NO CITIES LEFT, it would have ended up fairly high on the list. But the focus was on albums, not on artists, and I would have felt like I was meddling had I incorporated any kind of system that could encompass more bands.

Because in the end, more people voted for Dears albums than they did Patere Rose or Clues albums. But these latter only had one each. And how to indicate this on the list was something I couldn't figure out. So, in a way, the list is just that: a list. It's not comprehensive, it can never be perfect, and in ways invisible to the reader, it's actually a little deceiving. I think what was nice about having a "list" and why people are drawn to them, is that it allows them to discover music they may not have heard before. I don't particularly care who is #1 or #13, and when I tend to "list" my favourite albums, I usually don't order them (the whole order thing is really kind of like a gimmick to get people to come back and keep reading the series), nor do I set a numerical limit. In the end, I think what's nice is that one more person may listen to a lesser known artist because of the list. I do think it's a shame The Dears was not there, considering their impact as a band and they contribution has been one of the greatest, but that's the way the cookie crumbled...

As for what people remember: I think people don't necessarily remember what they consider the best, but oftentimes what they consider they should consider the best. Something like THE UNICORNS becomes something bigger than the album; it becomes this idea of greatness or change, because someone along the line mentioned this obscure and short-lived band and brought it. There is a constant need to find the obscure and glorify it: bring it to prominence due to the fact that so few people experienced it at the end. I agree with Natalia that it's all about people finding "the next" thing. I think for The Dears what's important is that their albums still sell, their shows still sell, and outside of a silly list, they are generally known as a top Montreal band. That hard-to-attain "obscure indie" status may not come until years after The Dears stop making music. Then suddenly, the rediscovery will begin.

How do you measure success?
Greg / February 2, 2011 at 03:31 am
Thanks a ton for your thoughts, Andres. There's not much I can add that you didn't state eloquently above. I did want to mention that my general criticism of lists in the interview didn't apply to this one any more than others. A Montreal decade list definitely needed to happen and you did everyone a great service by organizing one. It's just too bad how lists always have a cutoff and always have their bizarre omissions... and what can anyone do about that? The thing I carried away from this whole affair, and this interview in particular, is to remember that I'm always dealing with real people when I write these blog posts that sometimes seem to go off into the void...
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