You get a strong sense of what Partner are about when you consider their viral hit, "The 'Ellen' Page." Named after Atlantic Canada's most famous lesbian, the lo-fi garage rock sound and minimalistic video did more than enough to convey the band's ethos — and to help the band's co-frontwomen, Josée Caron and Lucy Niles, stake their garage rock claim.
Their candid lyrics about intimacy, sexuality and cutting loose have many taking notice. Ahead of their appearance headlining Exclaim!'s first Class of 2017 show in Toronto on January 6, we talked to Caron and Niles about inspiration and plans for their upcoming debut album.
Five Facts You Should Know About Partner:
1. Their differences are as important as their similarities.
Though the band — who recently moved from Sackville, NB, to Windsor, ON — are rounded out by additional guitarist Daniel Legere, drummer Brendan Allison and bassist Kevin Brasier, Caron and Niles are the heart and soul of the band, as the group's singers, songwriters and main guitarists. Caron and Niles met in 2010 at Mount Allison University in Sackville and have been best friends ever since. "We bonded on reality TV and playing guitar hard… oh, and being gay," remembers Niles.
But while their similarities brought them together, it's their differences that keep the band strong: Caron, on lead guitar, skilfully executes riffs on a double neck, while Niles, on rhythm, bashes out chords. As Niles explains through Celtic tree astrology: "My druid sign is Hornbeam and hornbeams are known for trying to do as little as possible. Josée's an Elm and they're perfectionists."
"Lucy loosens me up! She really does," admits Caron. "She's got the attitude and style and I've got the desire to make it as good as it can possibly be." Says Niles, "Usually we've do one take and I'm like, 'That sounds sick!'" Adds Caron, "And I'll need to do 45 more takes and then it's like perfect."
2. They're gay, but not for each other.
During our interview, they make the point of emphasizing the platonic nature of their friendship. After the success of "The 'Ellen' Page," repeated queries as to whether or not they were dating prompted them to release "We're Gay (But Not for Each Other)," a quick acoustic ditty designed to clear the air.
"That's never been the case," Caron says. "And we were the only gay people we knew for a long time so we didn't fuck it up." Adds Niles, "We read Tegan and Sara fan-fiction a lot in the car and it's disgusting. It would be like that, and gross.
"My mom's probably gonna read this and be like, 'Are you talking about that again?'"
3. Tegan and Sara are Partner's biggest inspirations.
Thankfully for the iconic pop twins, fan-made slash fiction isn't the primary Tegan and Sara media consumed in the Partner tour van — that honour is reserved for the many videos of the sisters bantering during their live gigs. "We get together and watch Tegan and Sara YouTube videos that we remember from high school. It's nice to think that we were probably watching the same Tegan and Sara videos and now we watch 'em together," says Niles.
"They would banter about being gay and there's a big culture of fans who would film it and make compilations of them talking about being gay," remarks Caron. To this day, the duo remain big fans, and Niles adds, "We would love to play a show with them someday. If you're reading this, Tegan and Sara, we love you."
Though the pair don't yet see themselves as role models, they understand the importance of being openly lesbian musicians. Says Niles, "There are so many things that I wish we could say to kids. Maybe we should start a blog or something. I want all the young queer women out there to know, even if you feel like you're the only one, you're definitely not. There's tons of dykes and stuff out there. You just need to find them."
4. Their debut album is due soon on You've Changed Records.
They've been performing regularly since forming in 2014, and will finally drop an album; clocking in at a lean 35 minutes, it only needs to be mastered. Live, the band's tunes mix the hooky pep of power pop with the feedback-laden guitar squall of garage rock, with plenty of bombastic, catchy riffs in the mix for good measure. The studio album looks to continue that vibe: it was mixed by Chris Shaw (Ween, Weezer). "We thought he was the perfect guy," Caron gushes.
In contrast to their lo-fi garage roots, the record's meticulous production and release was a deliberate decision to ensure the record was given the care it deserved. Says Caron, "We were being really patient. We wanted to put our best foot forward and take the time to gather our resources and do it the right way."
"That's what I'm talkin' about. Elms," quips Niles.
5. Though they've gone viral, they're not forgetting their small town roots.
In anticipation of their upcoming headlining tour to promote the album, they want to take the opportunity to show some love to some of Canada's smaller communities, including the Territories and Goose Bay, Labrador, where Niles is from. Both Niles and Caron are from small towns — Caron from Summerside, PEI — and extol the virtues of putting on a show in a smaller community. Says Niles, "Partying in a small town is the most fun-ass thing you could ever do. Going to a random-ass town where everyone's cool and it's like being at home but with different cool people."
Partner will headline the first instalment of the Class of 2017 concert series on January 6 at the Silver Dollar Room in Toronto. Keep an eye out for more interviews with the Class of 2017 in the weeks to come.
Check out the video for "The 'Ellen' Page" below.