The Beaches Find Their People

"Someone sent me a video of 20-year-olds pre-drinking to our song, and that was the thing that made me cry. Just a bunch of drunk children dancing along to our song."

Photo: Becca Hamel

BY Alex HudsonPublished Sep 14, 2023

By all outward appearances, the Beaches seemed to have it all. They had topped the Billboard Canada Rock chart, won two JUNOS, earned a fan in Elton John, and packed large venues across the country. Nevertheless, their audience had "stagnated," as guitarist Kylie Miller puts it. Something was still missing.

She continues, "We wanted to reach younger people; to reach more women; to reach more queer people; to people who we identify with as young women. To see more people like us at our shows. We didn't know how to get that."

That all changed in the weeks leading up to this conversation, upon the release of the new single "Blame Brett." The band's TikTok account — with its unpolished dance videos and extremely forthright confessions about recent breakups — began popping off, and their Spotify listener count grew sixfold practically overnight.

That explains why the mood in our interview is one of jubilation: the four band members are drinking Tuesday afternoon tall cans in the HQ of Toronto's Arts & Crafts (a label they're not signed to, mind you), frequently talking over one another as they banter back and forth. Drummer Eliza Enman-McDaniel is sitting on the floor, something she says makes this feel more like a "tea sesh" than a proper interview.

It's a huge turnaround from just a couple years before, when it looked like the Beaches might be in decline. Pandemic lockdowns meant that the hard-touring band were forced off the road, and they lost their deal with a major label. "We got dropped during COVID," Kylie remembers. "That actually happened to a lot of artists — especially artists who really do a lot of touring — because that's really, at the time, where our band was thriving."

Keyboardist-guitarist Leandra Earl adds bluntly, "We weren't of much use to the label."

They are quick to insist that there's no bad blood with their former label — but the experience of being subject to the whims of the music industry was all too familiar to the members of the Beaches, three of whom got their start in the tween pop-punk band Done with Dolls. The Miller sisters and Enman-McDaniel were just kids growing up in Toronto's Beaches neighbourhood when they became active on the country's live music circuit, and they worked with CanCon stars Chantal Kreviazuk and Raine Maida to pen the theme song for a Family Channel sitcom, 2011's Really Me

Earl wasn't in Done with Dolls, but she admired them from afar. "I loved my Jonas Brothers and Demi Lovato," she remembers. "You guys fit right in there, and it was much cooler, because it was four girls playing all their own instruments, and I wanted to be doing that. I loved you guys!" To this day, Earl is trying convince her bandmates to play Done with Dolls' single "Story of My Life" live.

"It's nuts that Done with Dolls is nostalgic to people now," marvels Jordan, shaking her head in wonder. "We're only 26 and 27. It's crazy. We've been playing professionally since we were 13."

Throughout their time in Done with Dolls, and in the early years after rebranding as the Beaches in 2013, the young musicians found that the people giving them career advice tended to be older men. "They either wanted us to be sexy — like, Pussycat Dolls sort of vibes — or they wanted no hint of femininity, only leather jackets and jeans," remembers Jordan, adding that she was told to wear a wig after cutting her hair.

Even after their bombastically hard-hitting 2018 single "T-Shirt" became a hit, radio programmers didn't know how to categorize them —  "Because we talked about having a one-night stand with a boy, or showing my tits or whatever," says Jordan.

That's why, when the Beaches found themselves without a label, they built their own team. "I had men telling me, 'Go look at Tegan and Sara.' They're just like, 'Here is your gay homework.' Who are you, straight man, telling me and my community what we like?" Earl asks incredulously. "We just have women and other queer and non-binary people who think like us and represent us." She turns to raise a glass to Brendan Fitzgerald, a member of their managerial team who is sitting nearby and has been fetching us beers. "And allies — you would never send me Tegan and Sara!"

Kylie notes, "We've had to pick a lot of new people, obviously, because everything's blowing up — for the first time ever, which is absolutely insane."

The band's first independent single, "Grow Up Tomorrow," was an instant radio hit, topping Canadian alternative rock charts. But Jordan now calls that raucous party banger "too euphoric" for what came next: getting broken up with by her long-term boyfriend.

That heartbreak is all over the band's new album, Blame My Ex (out September 15), and its laugh-through-the-tears lead single "Blame Brett," which finds Jordan warning future partners, "So sorry in advance / Before you take off your pants / I wouldn't let me near your friends / I wouldn't let me near your dad."

Brett, by the way, is the guy's real name. They experimented with pseudonyms, but "other names just really didn't hit the same way, like Zack," says Enman-McDaniel. "It just didn't work." The percussiveness of "Brett" was glorious.

This meant an awkward phone call was required. "I spoke to him about it when we were writing the song," Jordan says sheepishly. "I said that 'Blame Brett' was just really good alliteration and kind of funny. I asked him if it was okay, and he said, 'I'm a little nervous for the feedback, but it's a really funny idea and go for it.'"

Thank goodness for Brett's blessing, because the song was an instant hit; a bit like Beyoncé's "Becky with the good hair," Brett is becoming a universal symbol for a familiar romantic entanglement. "There are Bretts everywhere," Kylie says.

The writing and recording process was almost self-flagellating for Jordan: "There were moments when I would write 'I still love Brett' on a piece of paper, just to get a really authentic performance," she remembers of going into the vocal booth.

Another single from Blame My Ex, the apathetic anthem, "Everything Is Boring," became what Jordan calls the album's "North Star," guiding them away from the joyous sound of "Grow Up Tomorrow" (which was ultimately left off the full-length) in favour of more breakup songs, with musical influences that veer away from the heavy riffs of the band's early catalogue and in the direction of new wave and sleek power pop.

"Jordan was healing," Kylie says of the therapeutic process. "There's a couple of songs that are hopeful and looking to the future — self-love and self-acceptance and queer relationships; exploring relationships with multiple people. And also just learning to love yourself at the end of the process." 

With Jordan having worked through her heartbreak, and with the band having finally found the audience they were looking for, the Beaches have arrived at the destination they've been heading towards for 15 years.

Of course, this is real life, and things are never quite so clear-cut: the increased online visibility led to some pushback on Twitter, when their TikTok videos came under fire. Two of the band members have more recently gone through their own breakups, and the majority of them still live with their parents. The Miller sisters are back in their family home in the Beaches, the neighbourhood they named their band after.

"It was a big problem in my relationship," Earl says of her domestic situation. "We live such a weird life. Why do I want to pay so much rent when we're about to tour for like a ton of months? And my parents are so great. I live downtown and I'm grateful enough to have a house with my family. Eventually, I hope we start making some some nice cash where we can all move out comfortably."

With more than a hint of awkwardness, Jordan leans forward, confessing, "If I'm being candid — and I'm not sure if this is a good idea to admit this, for people who might want to date us who read this article — but it's very tricky to date musicians. It's a very different kind of lifestyle. There's like a lot of there's a lot of people that assume that we're just partying all the time, but it's really just kind of grimy and tiresome."

That part certainly isn't going to change anytime soon, as the Beaches prepare to tour large theatres across Canada in the fall. When they look out into audience from the stage, they will be seeing a whole new crowd of young fans — the same sort of people who dismissed them when they were in Done with Dolls, and who weren't paying attention to their early work as the Beaches.

"The other day, someone sent me a video of 20-year-olds pre-drinking to our song, and that was the thing that made me cry," says Jordan with genuine emotion. "Just a bunch of drunk children dancing along to our song."

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