It was the 2017 Francouvertes’ third night, a night with strong folk-rock programming. We were all excited to find out we would hear from a band who had the audacity to call itself the Vulvets. Had I seen them when I was a teenager, the Vulvets would instantly have become my role models. There’s something oddly off in their live show: An irresistibly haphazard aspect, tons of fun, with spontaneous and free musicians who unabashedly enjoy themselves and pass each other the mic. “The juvenile casual sensibility of sixties’ psycho beach parties that go wrong at dawn,” is how they present themselves.
“That was our fourth or fifth show ever,” says Isabelle LaTerreur Ouimet, the band’s bass player, and programmer for Coup de cœur francophone. “We were a bit anxious about how things would go, because we all work in the music industry, so playing for our peers was a little off-putting, and we’re not exactly the ‘contest’ types. What’s more, we don’t exactly play easy-listening music that a lot of people enjoy. Reverb and fuzz are not exactly ‘in’ sounds nowadays; we play loud, according to the distorted and muddled garage-band aesthetic. That’s what we like.”
The Vulvets’ charisma and strong stage presence didn’t go unnoticed, earning the band a few prizes, and paid gigs that will see them playing all Québec this summer. Osheaga, FRIMAT, Festival de l’Outaouais émergent, Québec City’s Festival OFF. If you attend ferstivals in Québec, there’s a good chance you’ll run into the Vulvets this summer.
The Vulvets Spirit
The Vulvets adventure started during cider-fuelled evenings. “Dorothée Parent-Roy [guitars, vocals] and I often hung out at l’Esco [a famous Montréal watering hole and music venue, L’Escogriffe],” syas Ouimet. “We both played in bands – myself with Buddy McNeil and the Magic Mirrors, and she with Ultraptérodactyle and Dearbunnies. We’d occasionally talk about how tough it can sometimes be to be a girl in a guys’ band. At some point, we realized we both felt like starting a feminine project with a different dynamic. We rapidly established ties with my friend Marie-Ève Bouchard [drums, vocals], and someone introduced us to Marie-Claire Cronier [guitars, vocals], a singer-songwriter that had just left Sudbury to come to Montréal. We all shared musical influences. The chemistry was instantaneous at our first jam.”
The band’s name reflects the sense of humour that the musicians share. “We used to sing in English,” says Ouimet. “Then one day, Marie-Claire came to us with a song in French. I can’t stand bilingual albums, so we just switched to French altogether, and the Velvets became the Vulvets! When it’s just us and we talk about feminine activities, we call them ‘vulva sports.’ We all work in a super-masculine industry, so we’re all well versed in dirty jokes in tour vans! Early on, we called our music ‘c__t surf’: Surf rock with a feminine, dirty-minded approach!”
“It’s by getting used to seeing women where we least expect it that we’ll get over the fact that they’re females”— Isabelle LaTerreur Ouimet of The Vulvets
The Vulvets were among the first to sign the Femmes En Musique (F.E.M.) manifesto which denounced the industry’s sexism. “We thought it was important to point out the imbalance in the artistic presence of women compared to men, but we kept our distance when some started pointing at specific people. We won’t get what we want with a negative approach. We believe that it’s through awareness and education that we’ll be able to change things.”
Does it bother the Vulvets to be called a “girl band” when no one talks about a “guy band”? “No, we get the rarity effect, even though it doesn’t change anything musically,” says Ouimet. “We’re feminists and endorse the new approach for equality and parity. It’s a bit like female news anchors: there are many nowadays, but there were very few before. When we get used to seeing women where we least expect it, we’ll get over the fact that they’re female. The only thing that really gets to us is that, because we have a tomboy-ish side, people wonder if we’re lesbians, and that’s annoying. Why is it I can’t be feminine and love distortion, reverb and sweat – which is to say, real rock ‘n’ roll?”
We’ll still have to wait a little before we can blast the Vulvets through our speakers: their first album should come out in the spring of 2018, and the band will release two new songs before summer ends. In the meantime, we can always get an ear-bleed listening to the Vulvet’s fuzzy c__t-surf sound during one of the many festivals they’ll play this summer.