Toronto’s Dearly Beloved – formed around the core of singer/songwriter/bassist Rob Higgins and co-vocalist Niva Chow – are bringing their “chaos, tempered by love and delivered with great fury” to the UK.
Ahead of their national tour with Tommy Stinson’s Bash & Pop, Higgins tells us about their latest album ‘Admission‘, playing every song like it’s their last, that time they had “the poops” on stage, why touring is the best thing in the world, and working with The Ramones’ producer Daniel Rey.
Now that you’ve had time to live with ‘Admission’, how do you feel about it?
It was a dark time making that record and, as a result, most of the songs are about the various prices of admission… All that matters to me now, really, is that the person who inspired so much of the album truly got the song ‘RIP’ and thanked me for writing it. If only that one song is a service to that one person then making ‘Admission’ was worth it, as far as I’m concerned. I’m glad and grateful that it exists as a thing in the world. There were beautiful contributions made by many people and we were very fortunate to have them all have our backs: Aporia Records, Black and Blue, Daniel Rey, 606, Fireside Sound, Mathias Schneeberger, Talia Shipman, Andy Van Dette. Making ‘Admission’ was as beautiful an experience as it could have been under the circumstances.
How do you feel it fits in your catalogue?
It’s the more polished one. Clearly. We hired a producer for the first time and we tracked it at 606 and Fireside in Los Angeles. 606 has a very well-known Neve console, amazing live room, and killer engineer; and Fireside has a very kick-ass vintage API console that we used for overdubs and vocals. All the tones we were getting were huge and sounded great to our ears and the songs we brought with us were given Daniel’s magic touch – which he does have, by the way, don’t let him working with us fool you. No joke, every single one of Daniel’s song suggestions stuck and made that tune better. It was a pleasure to have someone else in the room, especially someone as experienced, skilled, and like-minded as Daniel.
Have any of the songs evolved from the album versions as you’ve played them more?
Yeah, they’ve all gotten slower. We actually just checked all the tempos this week during rehearsal to see how far away we’ve drifted and it was pretty significant. Currently, ‘RIP’ has another song’s worth of noise rock that it turns into after the recorded version of the song ends… that’s a lot of fun. Generally speaking, though, the songs we’re playing sound the most like the album they ever have right now since we’ve been making an effort to play the actual parts at the actual tempos. Radical.
Did you learn anything from working with Daniel that you’ve been able to apply since?
Absolutely. We’re basically applying all of his writing tricks and tips every time we write a song now. Also that you can travel with certain things in your mouth, you don’t always need to use a pocket….
Is there anything you do differently live since working with him?
I don’t know… we’ve always been a band that plays every show like it’s our last, and we don’t play the slower songs. We’ve understood the need to balance all the dark and fast vibes with some bright ones here and there better since working with Daniel. If it wasn’t for him ‘When You Had The Choice’ wouldn’t have even made the record, and it likely would have been replaced by another doom-laden banger called ‘Resolution’.
As a band, what are you able to achieve working with Niva that you wouldn’t with somebody else?
We were good friends first. The idea of starting a band of four or five people that would or could stay on the same page in this day and age seemed absurd to me so I made this outlet called Dearly Beloved and whoever was around that we trusted and loved was welcome to play with us. We got away from that a bit these past few years having expanded our circle but there’s a renewed focus in that regard.
You tour quite relentlessly. Does the tiredness that comes with constant travelling feed into the shows?
100%. By the time we’re out of the van after a long drive, loaded in, and set up all we want to do is rip. It’s an opportunity to let it all out. I actually love the grind and how galvanised the band gets after a few weeks of playing every night. Being well-rested doesn’t guarantee a great show. In fact, some of our best shows have happened when we literally couldn’t stop shitting or could barely stay awake. Ha, the poops. On stage. Good times!
But the outside world, and how tired you are, the shits, all those things fade away once the adrenaline kicks in. And you care a little less going into it because you’re just trying to survive and that can actually be beneficial.
Has the thrill of playing live changed at all since you started the band?
I don’t think so. It’s the best thing in the world to make music with friends you can travel with, playing it for other people who are happy that it exists. It’s a beautiful thing and at the same time a great escape. Especially in times like these. What a privilege.
Do you still get the same out of shows?
Yes. We’ve had a share of ups and downs, personally and as a group, like so many people, and I do think we appreciate playing shows as much as we did on our first album. It has been said that it’s like going out for a rip on your skateboards with your friends. Still feels that way. When we get to the UK I can’t wait to rip on my bass and shout the funny words with my buds, as we used to say, and have fun.
How do you judge whether a show’s a success?
The connectivity – between band members on stage and with the audience. A show that pays pretty good, with a large crowd that doesn’t give a shit has nothing on a door deal in a room of 50 people that really dig your band. Magic, unicorns, chasing miracles, and all that are actually possible on a good night. An hour or two where everyone involved escapes from the grind of it all. That’s a successful gig to me. Selling a few T-shirts to pay for breakfast doesn’t hurt.
What do you want the audience to experience at a Dearly Beloved gig?
Fun. Love. Bubbles.
Before recording ‘Admission’, you road-tested some of the songs. How important was this?
I’m not sure, really. Our previous two records, which we made, for the most part, in Joshua Tree at Rancho De La Luna, were written on the spot each morning after some time spent throwing hand axes and shooting pellet guns – and I like those records. So the idea of writing songs ahead of time and going so far as to road-test them before recording them was actually kind of weird and new again for us. I’m a fan of and comfortable with both approaches now. Yes to all of it.
And are you already playing some brand new songs in anticipation of the next album?
Yes, we’ve been making use of our time between tours writing and recording new songs at a couple of studios in Southern California that we like and we’ve been playing some of them live since February. We may play one or two on this UK run with Bash and Pop and Dead Cuts. We’re always hanging out and sharing experiences to write about which is probably why we’ve released an album every two years since starting the band. And the sixth one is well under way and slated for 2018.