Canadian music is more than Drake - Montreal's Milk & Bone moves to their own beat

Milk & Bone are an electro-pop duo from Montreal, consisting of Laurence Lafond-Beaulne and Camille Poliquin. Their debut album Little Mourning, released in 2015, received critical acclaim and was a nominated for a 2015 Polaris Music Prize. In February 2018, the duo released their sophomore album, Deception Bay, for which they are currently on tour.

We had a chance to catch-up with Camille before the tour started to discuss the duo's recent festival performances and their vision for the future.

Winslow: Deception Bay was released in February of this year. You have had some time now to sit with the album and tour the songs. How has this felt?

Milk & Bone: Really good. It’s an album that we weren’t sure how people were going to receive because it's quite different from our first album. We went a little more pop and a little less indie. One of the reasons we wanted to do that is because we wanted to be a little more energetic on stage. Our songs from the first album didn't allow us to do that.

The album came out in February, and to be honest with you, I haven’t listened to it since. It’s so much work to do, and then once it is out you don’t want to hear it for a long time. Right now, we’re feeling the vibe as we’re performing live and seeing the songs in a different way. People are really reacting in a positive way to it, so it’s cool.

Winslow: It must be so exciting to take it from little sessions to the stage. What can we expect from your live performance for the upcoming tour?

Milk & Bone: We’re a duo creatively and we wanted to stay that way on stage and not compromise that by having other musicians with us. It’s just us with our instruments, drum pad and keyboards.

We wanted to present something visually interesting. We have a light set-up with a table that reacts to the music as we play. When we do bigger shows, we have a big light structure with mirrors moving behind us. Since it’s just the two of us, if its not visually interesting, we were afraid we would lose people’s focus. If you zone out and just want to be in your head and listen to the music, you can look at the optical illusion that the lights and mirrors are creating.

Winslow: Montreal is such a creative space and there are so many people flourishing in their creative fields. Since you’re based in Montreal, how has this city helped to build your identity and brand and shaped your music?

Milk & Bone: It’s everything. No matter where you grow up and develop yourself as a musician is going to shape you a lot. Being in Montreal and it being so small and collaborative and supportive is everything.

I’m not quite familiar with the musical scene in Toronto but imagine it being a lot bigger. You have The Weeknd and Bieber….

Winslow: Drake is everywhere.

Milk & Bone: That’s what I thought… and how do you rise from that? How do you get attention from elsewhere in the world saying, “I’m this new artist from Toronto”, when we’re already focused on Drake?

In Montreal there is the French and English scene, a pop scene, the mainstream, but the indie scene is very important for us to support. Just the fact that its so small but so diverse - you can be friends with everyone. I don’t feel a competition with anyone. It’s very supportive and it helped to shape the way I’ve seen the music industry and how we develop our brand. We've never had anyone tell us “that’s not going to happen” or “you’re not going to do that.” It’s very empowering.

Winslow: You made a triumphant return and played Osheaga and Festival d’ete this year. What were those performances like?

Milk & Bone: It’s crazy. We released the first album in March 2015 and in August we played Osheaga for the first time. It was so quick. It was our first festival performance and many firsts for us. It was such a crazy moment where so many people showed up and were supportive. It really made us want to work harder to perfect the show. Coming back this year with the show that was super solid and seeing that we had a bigger stage, better slot, and more people came through exponentially. It was packed.

We performed at Festival d’ete with Cindy Lauper and Lorde. It was our biggest audience this day. For our show we had 55,000 people and for Cindy there was 80,000. The festival vibe is something else. First of all, you see people. It’s not something that I am accustom to, seeing people’s eyes and their expressions because when you’re in a venue it’s in the dark. I’m a shy person, so when I’m in a venue it’s a lot easier for me because I can imagine they’re not there. This year performing festivals, I really felt that I was empowered in a next level way. I had to acknowledge the people were there, and they were so friendly, nice and generous, that it gave me so much strength back and I was able too look into their eyes and sing for them and that was a really big milestone.

I’ve only just realized that when you perform a show that you own the stage and people are there to see you. I’m slowly realizing.

Winslow: Do you feel as though its a packaged deal as an artist to have to create this studio album, this art, but then also perform live? Do you feel as though they are hand-in-hand?

Milk & Bone: I don’t know if they are hand-in-hand for everyone. When we wrote our first album, we didn’t think about the live aspect because we had never done it before. We just focused on how we wanted the album to sound.

The album is one thing: you release it and it is so different from the consumer’s point of view. You can buy the album or listen to it on Spotify and have this experience that is yours, but on our end, once we release the album, all we do is perform. We are never going to sit with people and listen to the album and ask them how they feel about it. The only aspect we share with people is the live performance. It’s so important for us to know that we were going to have fun on tour for hopefully two years, (that’s usually how long it takes to tour the world) and to just be happy with our show and then talk to people after the show and see how they felt.

Winslow: How does being bilingual affect your writing process? Do you ever write in French and translate it to English or vice-versa?

Milk & Bone: It’s always in English. You just said translation and I just thought that I’ve never thought of that before. It would be an interesting exercise to see if I could do it. I try to write in French but I can’t get behind it. They aren’t songs that talk about me when I do it. I can write for other people or write songs with a character; sort of what Lana Del Rey does. She’s like, “my boyfriend is in a band, he plays guitar…” I can do that, from someone else’s perspective. Whenever I want to write from something going on in my life, from something that is really deep and true, it’s always in English.

Most of the music we listened to growing up was in English. I feel like that’s when you develop your emotional language and how you react to things and how you express yourself. It stayed with me. To this day when I get mad or sad, I switch to English.

Winslow: In the writing of the album, you stayed in a cabin together outside of Montreal. How did this work in comparison to the writing of the first album?

Milk & Bone: It was similar. During the tour for Little Mourning and in the time we had in between those two albums, we are always writing little sentences or parts of a song that we recorded on voice memos. We didn’t show each other anything until we got to the cabin. It was the first time for this album that we exchanged what we worked on and what we thought was album material.

Winslow: Was it easier because you were away from everything to get into it?

Milk & Bone: It’s a lot easier when you are confined to a space where you stay and sleep. What I find hard when I am home is waking up, having breakfast, checking my email, and by the time you get to the studio it’s 10AM. You break for lunch at 1PM, get a sandwich somewhere, come back for 2PM, and you are done by 6PM. When you go home, you kind of forget about it and leave the vibe.

Where as when we go to a cabin and work, we eat while we work, and night we are still together. We get a bottle of wine and talk about what is going on in our lives. That is going to feed the creative process. Even If we watch a movie, we’re going to be in the same mood as that movie and write something with that aesthetic in mind. It puts you in a bubble where its easier to get on the same page and write in the same direction together.

Winslow: What are your hopes and dreams for the near future?

Milk & Bone: Hopes and dreams would include Asia. We’ve never toured there and it would be such a dream.

We are performing at the Reeperbahn Festival in Germany. I hope it goes well because its a showcase festival where we present to people that might be interested in working with us. Hopefully we get to tour more in Europe and South America.

We are working on secret things that we can’t talk about yet. We’ve been producing a lot more ourselves recently and it feels so good and empowering. We are collaborating with a bunch of friends that we really admire. We can’t wait to put it out there.

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