“And our next guests were born in California’s Silicon Valley but were brought up in Montreal, they have a EP out entitled Side A, ladies and gentlemen please put your hands together for The Muscadettes”. This could have been the introduction speech from David Letterman on his Late Show, as he displayed the new twin sister rock duo (Chantal and Kathleen Ambridge) to a national audience. Unfortunately, the famous talk show host retired in May but the band have enough potential that the other dreams of Kathleen Ambridge from The Muscadettes can still become realities.
Their harmonic nostalgia has already spread through Canada to Toronto’s NXNE and Quebec City’s OFF Festival and received encouraging praise from the Montreal Gazette, showing that their growing pains are being managed successfully. The construction of their name shows a hint of humour, zest of culture vulture and a spice of nostalgia, as the band explain it: “it’s a made-up word that comes from the French wine Muscadet (cos we’re just fancy like that), and we liked that it has a throwback 60s girl group feel to it“. Kathleen talks about her band’s infectious energy, the possibility of them singing garage rock in French (YouTube interviews indicate they speak fluent French), her questioning what-if-nature, the concept of symbiosis and their various influences.
What genre would you describe yourself as? I’m undecided between garage rock (“Pearl and Oyster”, “Growing Pains”), post punk (“I’m In Love”), fuzzy hard-edged garage-punk (“Honey Let Go”) and 60’s indie-pop-meets-slow rock n roll (“Like A Wave”). Do my reflections ring true?
I think it sums it up pretty well. We listen to a lot of different kinds of music from punk to pop, shoegaze to some more electro bands. We don’t want to limit ourselves in a songwriting, so for this EP we are going with what worked best for each individual song.
You remind me of a short-lived Finnish band called The Micragirls as well as Those Dancing Days, The Cure, The Yeah Yeah Yeahs and the punk rock stage of Blondie. What bands are you influenced by?
We used to do a live cover of Blondie’s “Into The Sun”, and we also love The Yeah Yeah Yeahs. In high school, we discovered the 90’s grunge and riot grrrl scene which was a definite influence; Hole’s [album] ‘Live Through This’ was played repeatedly. Nowadays, we’re into the west coast garage scene, things like Thee Oh Sees, King Tuff. Also smoother, more introspective bands like Beach House, Blonde Redhead and Surfjan Stevens’ latest album is great.
Would you say that you are inspired more by old music than the current musical trends?
We listen to old music as much as new music – I think it’s a great time for music in general, there are a lot of great bands out there. I think growing up, we listened to old bands more, and now and then we do go back and listen to older stuff, but we still very much like to discover new bands.
You are principally a duo but you have other musicians performing with you? Are they the same members on all your live performances and what instruments do they tend to play? Electric organs? Orgatron? Hammond organ?
Yeah we’re five musicians live, with synths, lead guitar and drums (Kat on bass and Chantal on guitar). We’re the ones who write the songs, but it’s very much a band process after that; where we’ll do the arrangements together.
How do you split the songwriting and composition responsibilities? Hopefully there’s no arguing in that respect.
Chantal does most of the songwriting on guitar and she’ll usually have at least partial lyrics and we’ll work on those together. Afterwards we’ll check the song structure and bring in the guys [Joe Gagné, Thomas Augustin) to work on the arrangements with keys, drums and additional guitars.
Are your personalities similar or are you mirror opposites?
We’re similar in interests and our core values, but we do have pretty different personalities and demeanours. Chantal is more temperamental and Kat is more cool and collected.
Would you say your songs are happy or melancholic? What topics do you usually cover? Is there any social commentary?
I’d say the songs are mostly happy, with the main theme being love – falling in love, falling out of love, wanting to love, wanting to be loved. I feel like love at the basis of every action. There’s also a lot of questioning in the lyrics – questioning life, what’s right, what’s wrong and every shade between that… I’m someone who constantly questions everything.
There’s an energetic element to your performances that’s invigorating. How do you warm up for live shows?
I like to have my own space (when we are lucky enough to have a greenroom!) where you can be in your own little bubble and then let it out when you walk on stage.
Tell us about the symmetrical EP cover for Side A. Who designed it and is it a good introduction to the music contained within?
Our friend Melissa Di Menna came up with the cover design. She’s a Montreal artist/musician. We gave her inspirations of what we liked, and she came up with this collage that I think represents us and the music well, touching on the warm summery vibe of the EP.
I’m dying to know what the addictive “Pearl and Oyster” is about and what the title refers to? It sounds like a detective duo that also sell insurance and make creative independent movies?
Wow, that’s an interesting take on it. it’s basically about feeling a connection and being in symbiosis with someone, and the fun, intense chemistry between two people.
“Growing Pains” includes subtle hints of space rock with it’s electronic swirls. Was that a spontaneous decision or completely on purpose?
A little bit of both. It just fits well with the bridge with spacey, psychedelic sounds, leaving a lot of room for synths and it also feels like the instruments are replying to the lyrics by being more chaotic in the bridge and the lyrics about growing up and questioning life.
Sometimes your voices have an old echoey 1960s production to them like in the nostalgic “Like A Wave”. I guess it makes sense that the EP’s name is a reference to the vinyl format. How do you adjust your voices like that?
Kat is actually the one that sings lead on “Like A Wave” and Chantal is the one singing the lead on the other, more energetic songs. Kat has a more laid-back feel so her voice is just more naturally fitting for the slower/moody songs.
Who produced your EP? Any plans for a side B? Or even a LP soon?
We pretty much produced it ourselves. Lewis Pesacov did the mixing so he had good ideas at the mixing stage where we played with cool reverbs and old school delays. ‘Side B’ will be released in the fall 2015 and we’re already working on songs for an LP.
You speak French, have you considered performing or writing in French? Garage rock in French sounds like an exciting prospect but I’ll leave the creativity up to you?
We actually have a few lyrics in French on “I’m In Love”. We have never written in French just because it comes more naturally to write lyrics in English, but who knows maybe one day! A lot of our friends write in French and if we ever come up with French lyrics that work for a song, we would absolutely do it.
Can you recommend any of your musical friends to us?
Meta Gruau, Silver Dapple, Jesuslesfilles, Nancy Pants, Nanimal, Jacquemort, Les Breastfeeders… all from Montreal.
What have been the highlights of your career so far?
Hmmm, I dreamed we were on Letterman once, does that count?
The Muscadettes’ debut EP Side A is out now via PaperCup Music, purchase it here. Keep tabs on The Muscadettes on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.
Words by Matt Hobbs