How the Dears Are Coping with Isolation: 'Minecraft,' Teaching Kids to Engineer, Throwing Potatoes in the River

"I simply offer to people this: Make something, take care of someone; watch comedies and not 'Contagion' for fuck's sake"
How the Dears Are Coping with Isolation: 'Minecraft,' Teaching Kids to Engineer, Throwing Potatoes in the River
Photo: Richmond Lam
Murray Lightburn and Natalia Yanchak aren't just the co-leaders of Montreal rock stalwarts the Dears — they're also a married couple. As they and their bandmates prepare to release the Dears' eighth album, Lovers Rock, on May 15 via Dangerbird Records, we talked with the rockin' lovers about how they and their kids have been spending their time in self-quarantine.

What's your self-isolation setup? 

Natalia: We're at our house in Montreal with our two kids (14 and seven). I work from my home office in the mornings, then spend the rest of the day with the kids — of course checking emails throughout the day. Overall it's pretty chill and actually I'm very grateful to be able to spend this time together.

Murray: My self-isolation setup is not much different from my "normal" setup. We have a studio here just behind our house and I'm working on a bunch of things as I normally do. The kids are at home and my seven-year-old son usually spends the morning with me in the studio. I've managed to get the boy to hit "record" and "play" for me while I track something. I also think (hope) we have enough toilet paper for a bit too.

Are you working on any music while on lockdown?

Murray: I never really stop working in new stuff. I'm chipping away at some "works for hire" stuff at the moment. But I'm also starting to write my next solo album. The Dears have a new album Lovers Rock coming out May 15 so we've been overseeing production for additional content — videos and stuff. In essence, it is still pretty busy around here.

Natalia: I've spent a lot of time coordinating with the band, crew, agents and promoters to get our tour dates rescheduled. The daily question is: when will it be OK to go to that country? Then bringing this back to our team at Dangerbird and our management partners at Envision, and then making sure all the parts still work together. So, that's a creative project, right? 

What are you watching and listening to?

Murray: Natalia and I recently caught up with Atlanta, which was really great, and we watched Uncut Gems. We're also keeping up to date with new episodes of Devs and Brooklyn Nine-Nine. But mostly it's the same thing: either we're both too tired or too busy to "binge" anything. I have been watching Parks and Recreation during my morning exercise though. I haven't watched any live streams but hope to check some out.

Natalia: We've been also playing video games: lots of Minecraft with my son (we built a giant house and filled it with cats), Fallout 4 (I'm behind the times, I know, still a great game!), and recently we got Overcooked 2 which is super fun to play together. At one point I was yelling "Why did I throw the potato in the river?" while laughing so hard I was crying. So keeping up with the good times.

How do you feel about the response to coronavirus? 

Murray: I feel the government response has been reasonable so far. And the public too. I am avoiding news stories and social media with regards to the current situation. I am personally staying positive and embracing silver linings, and always encourage my friends to try do the same. While there will be after effects, this is not a permanent situation. Calling it "the end of the world" or "the apocalypse" — I completely reject that. We will get through this and we will hold each other again.

Natalia: I saw people on social media starting to refer to pre-isolation as the "Before Times" which was, to me, peak internet and time to put the phone down. But seriously, I am regularly grateful to have practical political leadership in place. Canada's response has been calm, compassionate and realistic; Quebec's response has been swift and no-nonsense. 

Have you picked up any new hobbies or routines in isolation?

Murray: I wish I could spend more time in the darkroom but I find time is moving fast. I'm taking advantage of the fact that our tour dates have been pushed further down the road to get a few things done around the house and in the studio. Taking care of my family is as always my top priority. So I simply offer to people this: Make something, take care of someone; watch comedies and not Contagion for fuck's sake.

Natalia: Yes, our new motto is "Comedies, not Contagion."