December 3, 2015
by Cynthia Spring
Last month I spoke with Josée Caron and Lucy Niles of Partner—a Sackville-based band that writes about Canadian and queer topics ranging from hot knives to sex objects, from working service jobs to looking like Ellen Page. In the interview that follows we talk about friendship, getting stoned, being gay, Shania Twain, rock and roll, and so much more.
GUTS: What music are you into right now?
Josée: We’ve been listening to “Building a Mystery” a lot lately. Like several times. It’s so good! [Sings] “You live in a church, where you sleep with Voodoo dolls.” We’ve also been listening to Dilly Dally, who’s killing it. That song “Desire” is a perfect song.
GUTS: What artists did you listen to growing up? Who are the people that inspire you?
Lucy: Well, we both love Shania Twain.
J: Yeah, I when I was very young I loved Shania. I would write her fan letters and stuff. I tried to send her money [laughs]. And then, Jimi Hendrix, I listened to Jimi Hendrix exclusively for like five years. Someone we both admire is KD Lang.
L: Yeah, we really love KD Lang.
J: She’s just so sturdy. In every way.
L: We’re really inspired by her vibe. There’s one interview where she plays pool with Barbara Walters. It’s hot.
GUTS: It’s clear you have a very special friendship. How did you meet and become best friends?
L: We met in college. In the meal hall. I told all my friends back home that I met a cool dyke that was really, really good at guitar. And they were like, you should try to bang. And I was like, “no, we’re going to start a band, dude.” “No, you’re misunderstanding me, we’re going to start the best fucking band.”
J: Usually when you meet another dyke, you assess the abstract possibility. And that was the magical thing, which had never really happened to us, where we were just like…
J: Yeah! And it’s been so good. It’s only gotten better since I discovered weed. Lucy always knew about it.
L: That’s the origin story of Partner: Josée started smoking weed. That’s when we started writing songs, when we were just sitting around smoking weed and talking about life or whatever. With a guitar nearby.
GUTS: What’s your songwriting process like?
J: I’d say there are two types of Partner songs. There are ones where Lucy and I are just sitting around and they exorcize themselves fully formed from us. It happens really fast. For example, “Hot Knives” was birthed in an instant. And then there is “Sex Object,” about finding an ambiguous object in our roommate at the time’s room. He has all these weird objects, he keeps everything and he’s just perpetually curious. Also an aquarium enthusiast. So he had the thing that turned out not to be a sex object. Those songs just pop right out.
And then, there are the longer songs, I’m not sure what distinguishes them, but usually Lucy will say “we should write a song about x,” and I’m like, you’re totally right. And it’ll arrive to me, and I’ll show Lucy…
L: Those are the ones with more riffs.
J: Yeah, if there is a riff in it, I’ve spent a lot of time alone. But definitely when I don’t hang out with Lucy it’s like an idea desert.
L: Whenever we get together, though, we just get rolling and pick up steam. It’s like the exponential power of collaboration.
J: It’s a fractal, actually.
GUTS: How does being in a band fit into the rest of your lives?
J: Well, the practical side of it is pretty annoying, really. Having to take time off work. It’s a miracle that anyone can tour if it’s not your full-time job. The fact that you could get five people, and five people’s bosses, and five people’s living situations, and just five people’s lives in general—it’s really a feat. Anytime you see an indie band in a van, you can say, that’s a miracle.
GUTS: What’s it like to be trying to make it in the music industry while living in New Brunswick?
L: Sackville is actually a good place for doing what we’re doing. When we were younger, we got to meet older people who were already involved in music. They were really cool and helped us out. If we lived in the city we might not have known these people.
J: We are going to be moving hopefully to Ontario to do business. Which we abbreviate to “do-bus,” like we’re going to move to Toronto to do-bus. It’s so much more concise.
L: Yeah, we are probably going to move because we’ve been here for a long ass time. But up until this point, living in New Brunswick has been pretty sick.
GUTS: Are you planning to record in Ontario?
J: We’re hoping to get in the studio in February.
L: We’ve got something coming out soon!
J: Yeah, we’ve got an EP coming out. It’s called Healthy Release. It’s six songs, all songs from the very beginning. We’re starting in a chronological order in terms of the material we’re going to be putting out, order of appearance in the canon. So Healthy Release is the primordial ooze from which we emerge with our anthems and all.
L: We have a song about sex bracelets.
J: Which you only really know about if you were like hanging out as a teenager between like 2004 through 2007?
L: Yeah, like do you remember sex bracelets?
GUTS: Sex bracelets? No idea!
J: They were these weird jelly bracelets that were supposed to symbolize this system where if a guy broke a certain colour from your wrist then you owed him like a blowjob or something.
L: They were only really a thing for like a second.
J: Yeah! But like a formative second. We just wrote a song about how weird that is. So the EP is an exploration of pretty niche themes. Hopefully people aren’t disappointed, because all the loud songs and the longer songs are a couple of albums away.
GUTS: How is Partner foregrounding queerness? Why is that important?
L: I guess we foreground it by talking about it, like all the time.
J: And the songs all get filtered through, whether we like it or not, a queer lens. The marriage of our overt lesbianism and the rock and roll canon is a pretty queer thing to see and hear.
L: It makes me feel very powerful to play music in that way. It’s almost like wearing a costume of not being reserved or apprehensive.
J: It’s the source of our joy and our power.
L: We just talk about being gay like 24/7. And we’ve done so for years.
J: Yeah, it’s an infinite well of inspiration. I just hope that people are like, “I need this, I’m happy that this exists.” And that they feel represented in some capacity if they haven’t felt that before.
GUTS: Is feminism a concept that you think about when making music or when performing for others?
J: 100 percent. Always. Especially lyrically, I think.
L: Yeah, we try not to say any ignorant shit.
J: And we’re usually very careful with the “we’s” and “I’s” and “me’s” and “you’s”
L: We don’t really use gender pronouns that much.
J: We’re trying to keep all the barriers open, so that everyone can come in. We want to make sure that everyone is invited to the party, right? And lyrically, we try our very, very, best. We can only speak for our own experiences.
When I think about feminism and how it relates to our music it’s about wanting to welcome people and make them feel safe and to allow them to engage with the music. And it’s ongoing. It’s not like you are a feminist and then know everything.
L: Yeah, just always trying to learn how to be less of an asshole.
J: Performance wise…I took my shirt off in Toronto. I think that was pretty feminist!
GUTS: It really was!
L: I think it would be great to engage more with the crowd and learn more ways to tell people to not be so aggressive.
J: Because sometimes there’s that aggressive, male energy, just like a wrecking ball, that happens in crowds and really interrupts people’s enjoyment.
L: It’s good to have girls to the front.
GUTS: Is that something that you think about regularly? At your show in Toronto, there were a lot of men there. Is that your general audience? Or does that change between shows?
L: I mean, a lot of our friends are straight dudes, so it usually is a pretty heavy straight male presence.
J: Yeah, and if they are there, and not hating it, it can only be a positive thing, right? But at our shows in Sackville there are so many chicks.
L: I love our Sackville shows so much.
J: We want to make something that you can enjoy on every level. We want to make it as non-exclusionary and as fun as possible. There’s lots of serious feminism, it’s not always really easy to think about. We want to use fun music to relax your soul.
L: I think that’s how music should be, make people feel relief so they can actually engage with a difficult idea.
GUTS: As a couple of really great musicians, do you feel pressure to excel in your technical skills or prove yourself in the music scene you are in? Is that frustrating or tiring, or not something you think about?
J: It’s something we used to talk about when our friendship was just blossoming: how being gay, you feel like you have to excel at something to prove yourself as being at the same level as everyone else. You feel like you are already so behind. It’s a driving force, like: I’m gay, I better be good at something.
L : Especially when you are a kid.
J: Yeah, as a kid there’s this push to get really good to excuse how freaky you feel on the inside.
L: And the good side is that now we just don’t stress about our skills. We have being trying to be good for those reasons for a long time.
J: And now we’re just coasting. Also the freedom of being at least technically proficient, at least for me, is a means to an ends. Like the freedom to express myself exactly how I want to. If I hear something in my head I want to be able to get it out there. And also to be able to turn my brain off when I’m on stage so I can focus on everything else that’s going on. Then I can do a solo from muscle memory and just enjoy everything else that’s going on, instead of stressing over hitting particular notes.
L: There are definitely a lot of bands that express themselves at like all levels, going for a sort of newness, which is interesting and totally sweet. But what we are doing, and what we know how to do is pretty much…
J: …Classic rock!
Partner will be releasing their EP Healthy Release Jan 23rd, 2016 and are planning to release their debut LP in the fall of 2016. You can find out more about what they are up to here.