Everyone can be a Shirley! This isn’t a personal opinion; it comes straight from the mouth of trio Les Shirley, who’ve been together for nearly five years. Raphaëlle Chouinard (voice, guitar), Sarah Dion (bass), and Lisandre Bourdages (drums) are a band we’d all love to be in. The condition to be admitted? “Be a good friend.” Following Forever is Now (2021), their current LP More is More (released in October2022) shows a deep desire to give more. Good thing is, we always want more.
“We wrote ‘Nothing Compares’ on our first day in the studio. The song is three minutes long and it took us nine minutes to record it,” says Chouinard. At the time, Les Shirley had just returned from a major European tour during which Agathe Dupéré (pataugeoire) had replaced Sarah Dion on bass. Dion had to let her “baby” go without her, because she was also required to go on tour with NOBRO in Western Canada to support Billy Talent. Bourdages also had to find a replacement in NOBRO, of which she’s also a member.
“Everybody had just returned from two to three very intense weeks. A lot of stuff happened, and we had to cross a few T’s and dot a few I’s. We talked about it all, and the song was created in a river of tears,” Dion recalls, laughing wholeheartedly alongside her two accomplices. “It felt good!”
As the band’s lyricist, Chouinard feels like she’s experiencing a paradigm shift that’s taking her back to her first song lyrics with the band Syzzors.
“Back then, it was ultra-personal,” she says. “I wrote about relationships, and certain types of addiction. So, when we started playing with Les Shirley, I felt like writing about futile stuff. And then the pandemic brought about a lot of introspection for everyone. I needed that deepness to re-surface, so I wrote about solitude and emotional rollercoasters.”
Les Shirley first thought of Marie-Pierre Arthur to co-produce More is More with them. Then they ghosted her, as they remember while giggling, to try their luck with an American producer. Then they did an about-face, and begged Arthur – “the ultimate Shirley” – to get on board. “We love her to death. We’re fans,” says Dion. “We knew that she was good, but her music expertise is really hard to explain, she’s just incredible.”
As for Chouinard, she admires Arthur’s skills as a teacher. “Our demos were very finished, and her fresh ears helped us change the structures since she wasn’t attached to those songs yet,” she says. “The vocal sessions were quite esoteric. Ryan Battistuzzi [their sound engineer] would tweak my accent, while Marie-Pierre asked me to change the intent. She’d give me instructions like, ‘you have to dig,’ or ‘this song passage has to be a cone.’ But even though it looked off-the-wall, she made me understand stuff. I would come out of those sessions completely dishevelled.”
“Seriously, it looked like she’d been in a tsunami,” Dion adds. In the end, working with an authority on music such as Arthur “was the best decision we could make,” Bourdages says unequivocally. “And whether or not that makes our album a women power project, we picked her because she’s the best, not because she’s a woman.”
This feminine power is hard to ignore, and frankly, it’s simply power. Montréal’s Fairmount Theatre shook during their release party. There were wooden flames framing the trio, accompanied by four other musicians for the occasion, including Arthur. “When one of us tries to do one of Marie-Pierre’s parts during a show, we take the full measure of how much we’ve been coached by someone who’s talented, because it’s always difficult,” laughs Bourdages. “It’s direct, it’s straightforward, and it’s always on point.”
You’ll definitely feel better if you sing along to the entire album, no matter what your troubles are. The voices of the three Shirleys – which blend together several times to generate a power harmony both on the recording and onstage – is a breath of life, a necessary energy.
“Maybe it’s the energy of despair, Chouinard suggests, “a way to scream out that the pandemic was quite rocky, but we got through it.” “We’ve played a lot of shows since the first album and it gave us the confidence to allow ourselves to sing together in harmony,” adds Dion. “We know nothing is easy,” Bourdages jumps in, “and maybe it’s by screaming it all together that we’ll finally jump to the other side of the tough part.” See you on the other side!