To really appreciate how special The Beaches are, you have to hear them before seeing them. They play with bravado, precision and wit. They sound nothing like the vast majority of their peers. They remind you of when rock bands strived to be clever, not just cool. They’re a blend of first- and second-wave glam, both T-Rex and The Strokes. So it can come as a surprise that they’re four young women from Toronto, none of them older than 23.

At this young age, the Toronto quartet have already toured the U.K., performed at the Osheaga and Wayhome festivals, and were personally selected by Death From Above to open their 27-date North American tour in the Fall of 2017. After two self-released EPs, The Beaches unveiled their debut album Late Show in October of 2017. It was produced by Jimmy Shaw and Emily Haines – who shouted out the band in a Globe and Mail interview – of five-time JUNOI Award-winners Metric. They’re currently nominated for a 2018 Breakthrough Group of the Year JUNO Award, and are

JORDAN MILLER’S TIPS FOR SONGWRITERS

  1. Don’t be discouraged when you get stuck. Don’t force yourself to make an idea work. If you have a good idea for a chorus, or for a verse, but for some reason you’re not able to finish it, you can always just keep it in your back pocket and use it later. The same goes with all the songs that you write. I have 50, 60 songs that I’ve written over the past couple of years, and many of them are either too poppy, or too sad, or too happy to go on a finished record, but you should never abandon an idea altogether. If you get stuck one day, you can go back and listen, and maybe there’ll be pieces in a certain song that you really like.”
  2. Be open to collaborate. I have a problem finishing things, so it’s really great to have a band. When I get lazy, and I want to give up on an idea, they’re always there to offer me help. Then someone might have an idea that will inspire you, and you can figure it out together. And I know it’s sometimes difficult to work with other people. The thought of sharing your experiences, especially if you’re a person who writes about things that happen to you, it can be difficult to share those intimate details of your life with other people. But I think some of the best songs I’ve ever written [came from] working and having conversations with someone, sharing a story with them, and using their insights to create something together.”
  3. Always change the way you look at writing a song. For seven years, I would never write about my own personal experiences. I would just write from stories I came up with in my head. When I changed the way I approached songwriting, and started adding my own personal experiences as the basis for my songs, my writing really matured. I would encourage people to challenge themselves.”

making waves with a just-released cover of the huge Loverboy hit “Turn Me Loose.”

The decade that most of The Beaches have spent playing together is plainly evident in the confidence of their performances. “You hear all the time that as a genre rock ‘n’ roll is kinda dead,” says bassist Jordan Miller, “but we’re shocked by that. We grew up with a bunch of young people that loved classic rock, and loved hearing real instruments on records, and going to see crazy rock shows.”

Of the genre and the bands cited above, Jordan says, “We really wanted to make sure this album sounded that way, ‘cause those are all of the bands and artists who inspired us as musicians and songwriters to do what we do. We wanted to make sure that our album had a clear, consistent sound that references those bands and periods.”

Sisters Jordan (bass/vocals) and Kylie Miller (guitar) and Eliza Enman-McDaniel (drums), along with Megan Fitchett, (guitar) were once in a much poppier, young-teen group, signed to Disney in 2010, called Done with Dolls. In 2014 Fitchett left and Leandra Earl (keyboards/guitar) came aboard, along with a name change.

Jordan credits the experiences learned from a developmental deal they had with Universal Music for her growth as a songwriter. “We were sent to Los Angeles for a couple of writing trips and we wrote upwards of 60 songs with a bunch of different writers,” she says. “Some of the songs on the album that feature other writers, like [producer] Jackknife Lee and [songwriter] Nicole Morier, are songs we wrote there and brought back to Toronto.” But most of the tracks on Late Show were written solely by the band.

It was when they saw the documentary Amy, about the tragic life of the genius singer-songwriter Amy Winehouse, that songwriting really changed for Jordan, who’s become The Beaches’ principal lyricist.

“That was a difficult process for me to go through, to make that change,” she says. “For me it was always easier to just start from my imagination, and create songs without involving my personal experiences. Then I saw that documentary and I realized how rock ‘n’ roll her lyrics are, and how me and my mother and my sister could all relate to her experience and music, despite not going through nearly anything that she went through. There was something in her story that we could all feel. That changed the way I wanted to write songs, because I want to make music that’s accessible and will connect to people.”

 


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Helena Deland

Photo: Alex Huard

“The songs musicians write aren’t representative of all of their feelings,” warns singer-songwriter Helena Deland. “But it’s true that mine lend themselves well to sadness.” Not today, however: we caught up with her on a beautiful blue-sky day in Austin, Texas, where she played five gigs in as many days at the South by Southwest (SXSW) festival and conference. She has a smile in her voice while she tells us the story behind her excellent EP From the Series of Songs “Altogether Unaccompanied” Vol. I & II, launched in early March.

It’s her first major, professional, international showcase, and the first time she’s played with her band of three musicians outside of Canada. Deland is living life to the fullest. “It’s funny, because people warn you about South by Southwest in so many different ways, but truly, it lives up to its expectations!” she says, in English.

It’s more of her mother tongue than her first language, as it were: Deland’s mom is Irish and dad is Québécois, and she grew up with both languages, which she uses equally. “Before I recorded anything, I wrote my lyrics in French,” she says with a marked Québec City accent. “I still like those songs, but I feel it’s easier for me to write in English because of my personal musical culture. There’s also something appealing to writing in English because of its inherent rhythm. It flows better.”

She left Québec City five or six years ago to pursue her literary studies at Montréal’s UQAM. At that point, Deland had a few songs in her suitcase, “but it was nothing much. It’s pure happenstance that I met Jessie.” That would be Jessie Mac Cormack, who produced her first EP, Drawing Room, launched in 2016. “I wanted to record my songs, but I wasn’t thinking about a career,” she says, “and I had zero in-studio experience. I didn’t really play any shows, either. It was just one thing leading to another. It was a lot to take in.”

Her promising first EP revealed Deland’s soft voice and pretty timbre, inside Mac Cormack’s distinctive world of ethereal folk, undulating electric guitars, and a sound engineer bent on capturing intimacy. The formula was spot-on and the EP quickly attracted a lot of attention from producers.

Launched on the New York-based label Luminelle, From the Series of Songs “Altogether Unaccompanied” Vol. I & II – once more produced by Mac Cormack – sees the young musician stepping out of her producer’s shadow. Her personality shines through with more clarity, in songs that avoid the clichés of contemporary folk and embrace more minimalist grooves.

“Our relationship was completely different,” Deland explains. “I was always there in the studio, I took more time to make this EP. Our relationship became conflicted at times, because we’re both very stubborn, and we both think we know what’s best. It was a more tightly collaborative process. Jessie has the technical know-how to make anything happen in a studio, and now that I know what I want, he provides me with the means to make it happen.”

Deland’s style is all about intimacy. “Personal things, the exchange from one person to another,” she says. “I often sing about things that remain unsaid in my relationships with people to whom I’m close. I’ve often used writing music as a way to vent, and help myself understand inter-personal stuff.”

Her cellphone is full of musical ideas recorded on the go. “I record small melodic phrases, and some of them make me feel like pursuing them further,” she says. “Sometimes they become a song. Sometimes they become nothing at all. I’ll mostly start with an idea, a sentence; then the real work begins: finding chords, a melody, and then lyrics. The melody and lyrics will be inspired by the original idea, that line I recorded on my phone. When it’s good, everything falls into place and the creative process happens in an almost mystical way. It’s as if the song was born simply because it had to be.

“I’ve always been in awe of original song structures,” she says. It’s one of the most captivating aspects of her writing style, which seems to have its own rhythm, a natural and dynamic way of moving from verse to chorus. “I read a lot of fiction, it helps me to write,” says Deland. “What I’m fascinated with in writing is the element of surprise. I love reading and being surprised.”

She cites New Zealander Hollie Fullbrook, a.k.a. Tiny Ruins. “The day before yesterday, I ended up at her concert in Austin, purely by a twist of fate,” says Deland. “There were about a dozen people in the room – five of whom were staring at their phones, as any industry type would… I went to talk to her after her show and, of course, I cried. She influenced me a lot, especially when I was recording my first EP; I was really happy to meet her.”


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In Québec, there exists an entity called “rap québ” that’s more or less hermetically sealed, encompassing a considerable number of popular artists. There’s also a movement of women trying, through various means, to make sure that all musical genres allow them to put their music in play. Those two groups might seem contradictory, yet both characteristics exist in Random Recipe.

Random RecipeThis month, the band celebrates a decade of existence by releasing its third album, Distractions. This time around, the group is reduced to a trio, comprised of Frannie, Fab and Liu-Kong. The eight songs on the recording know no bounds, thanks to the musicians’ eclecticism, and a fresh sound. It was co-produced by Philippe Brault and Marie-Hélène L. Delorme (FOXTROTT). “I’ve never met a producer [Marie-Hélène] with such care for sounds,” says Frannie. “She truly is a sound sculptor!”

Following Kill the Hook (2013) and Fold It! Mold It! (2010), Frannie, Fab and Liu-Kong felt the time had come to re-affirm themselves, for the sake of both the audience and themselves. “We knew it had been awhile since we’d released anything,g and artists nowadays really live in a culture of the ephemeral,” says Frannie. “You don’t want to come across as an old band who just won’t retire.”

Random Recipe isn’t under the impression they “won the music lotto,” and they’ve had ups and downs, but they wanted to re-kindle the energy of their first album. “Two years ago, we tried making a record, but we told ourselves that if we were going to release something, it better be well thought-out,” says Liu-Kong. “The second album was done under pressure,” says Frannie. “Everything was overwritten, and the raw product got lost.”

So, moving on, Random Recipe chose differently this time. “It’s a bit like deciding to have another child. You need to make sure you’re happy together first. Being in a band isn’t easy,” says Frannie. Adds Fab, “Ten years ago, we had to create new songs every time we got booked for a gig, because we didn’t have an album, and if we recorded one, we wouldn’t have enough time for gigs. We wrote our songs in the car, and it was pure ‘us.’ On the second album, we went for the cerebral side of music, and that wasn’t us.” This third album sees them going back to a more physical interpretation of music: Random Recipe express music with their bodies. “It would’ve been a shame to end our career with that second album, which was so difficult,” says Liu-Kong.

UFO Music

Over the last decade, hip-hop has become mainstream in Montréal, but people who used to pigeonhole Random Recipe as a “female rap” group have now realized that not everything deserves to be classified. “We’re still something of a UFO,” says Frannie. “We borrow from hip-hop as much as we borrow from funk. We’ve played more with Canailles than we have with Dead Obies these last few years! [laughs] We’re the thing that’s beside everything else.”

Although women in music are demanding their place in the business, it’s even harder in hip-hop, where female role models are rare. “There are a growing number of female rappers,” says Frannie. “It’s in no one’s interest to compete against each other. What Sarahmée does and what we do have nothing in common, so we’re much better off helping each other out. We’ve become the big sisters for artists searching for their identity,” she says, before reminding us that Betty Bonifassi and Beast, Ariane Moffatt, and Pierre Lapointe, among others, took Random Recipe under their wings when the band started out. “Marie Gold calls me, like, once a week, panicked about her career, and I have answers for her,” says Frannie.

But beyond genre, musical diversity on the scene in Montréal deserves the means to expand. In the city, musical styles are rich and diversified because they have the tools to build bridges between themselves. “Musical talent in Montréal is not located strictly near metro stations, and at the Jazz fest,” says Fab. “You need to go to Hochelag’ and NDG, and listen to stuff you’ve never heard before. It’s important. That’s what the local mosaic is all about.”

Inspiration flourishes all over the city, just as it does all over the world. The band draws the broad strokes of their musical development from their travels, influencing their culture as much as piquing their interest. “It’s quite rich to travel to Brazil after we just played Côte-Nord,” says Frannie, laughing.

Leaving Home

Independent and crowd-funded, Distractions sees Random Recipe leaving their musical home, record label Bonsound. The trio now manages itself as it sees fit. “It was scary, at first,” says Frannie, “especially the crowdfunding part; we didn’t want to come across as beggars. But all the money we collected allowed us to validate that this album was meant to be.”

“We’re not hating… We just needed to understand what it’s all about before we could do it ourselves,” adds Fab. “Questioning what we do is important, too. You don’t know what pain is if you never fall down. Now we have three good heads on our shoulders, and we’re even more aware, because we’ve already made our mistakes.”

Group Therapy

The decision to fly solo wasn’t made lightly. During the summer of 2016, the band stayed at the Los Angeles SOCAN House to create the first drafts for this third album. “We used that trip mainly to touch base, and realize we had no idea where we were going,” says Frannie. “We questioned ourselves on the social responsibility of having a mic in your hand. What is cultural appropriation, to us? What’s our relationship with hip-hop culture?” Those questions directed all of the ensuing creative process. “We know we have a style that’s unlike any other,” she continues. “We’d always thought it was fragile because of that, and that we therefore shouldn’t be open to others. But we realized that it was actually the opposite, that we wanted to explore, and see what other women could bring to the table.”

“We also did group therapy, like Metallica,” says Liu-Kong, laughing. The result? Making a band last is hard work. “When we were young, we wanted to be cool, but the truth is, there’s always someone younger and cooler than you,” says Frannie. As far as Random Recipe’s new approach to music, the main thing, from now on, is to focus on human relations. Marie-Pierre Arthur, Rhonda Smith (Prince), Ladybug Mecca (Digable Planets), Lisa Iwanycki (Blood and Glass), Heartstreets, Tali Taliwah (Nomadic Massive), Giselle Numba One, Sunny Moonshine (Sunny & Gabe) and Emily Lazar all contributed to the album, and the magic happened. “We don’t have many role models when it comes to getting older as a musician who does something wild like we do,” says Liu-Kong. “There’s one band in Québec that’s older than ours with a front woman, and that’s Duchess Says. Being in a band is hard, and we want to set the example.”

“Where do we go?” That’s Random Recipe’s constant question, ever seeking adventures abroad. “We want to go places we’ve never been,” says Fab. “Eastern Europe, Japan, the South of Africa. There’s a lot of Latin American vibes on the album, yet we’ve never been there as a full band. We’re gonna go there to experience what we need to create the fourth album. In 10 years, we’ve proven to ourselves that we still don’t have a single style. That’s gold. It’s always alive, just like kombucha.”


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