Interview with Les Shirley

Les Shirley

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Les Shirley
Sarah (left), Raphaëlle (middle) & Lisandre (right) (photo: Steve Gagnon)

I’m a Shirley Boy.  

I don’t know when it happened.  I know I didn’t wake up one…it happened between 1:30 PM and 3:00 PM April 20th, 2019.  

Maybe it was when I searched Les Shirley on iTunes and found the 1 track teaser “Korben Dallas” for their Les Shirley EP which is being released April 26th, 2019.

Album Launch

Maybe it was during the interview at a downtown Café, where I spoke with Raphaëlle Chouinard and Lisandre Bourdages about The Fifth Element, the origins of the band and the superpower women have in rock.

One thing is for sure, I will be there at 9PM on May 4th, 2019 at Pub Les Sportifs (Bar Fullum 2300 rue Ontario, Montreal, QC H2K 1W1) for the EP launch along with Wild Mercury.  

Event Facebook Page

Come show your support of the local music scene…and who knows…you might become a Shirley Boy or Shirley Girl too!

We started in French…then quickly switched to English.

Les Shirley
Les Shirley (photo: Alexandre Couture)

Montreal Rocks:  Le marché de la musique françaises est limité à Québec et la France.  En anglais, c’est le reste du monde.

Lisandre:  C’est plus gros, mais aussi plus dur, de se faire un nom.  

Raphaëlle :  Un défit!

MR :  On appelle ça, Blue Ocean/Red Ocean.  Red oceans are filled with sharks fighting over the same food…it gets bloody.  Blue oceans are calm with less competition.  

Le marché Québécois est plus un océan bleu avec moins de compétiteurs.   

Lisandre :  On aurait plus de facilité si on chantait en français, plus de subventions, de concours et des trucs comme ça.  

Raphaëlle :  Il y a une tendance, même à Montréal, que tu perce ailleurs avant que le monde soit proud de toi.  Sinon, au début, c’est plus :  Pourquoi t’a choisi de chanter en anglais ?  C’est comme un double standard.

Lisandre :  On aime ça, et on ne va pas changer.  

MR :  Your EP is coming out at the end of the month.  The first song is English.

Raphaëlle:  All of them, actually.  It’s a project in English.  All our projects, with Lisandre are English.  All the lyrics, I write in English.

MR:  Do you write your lyrics first in French, then translate to English?

Raphaëlle: No.  I heard about some artists doing that, like Bjork who used to write in Icelandic then translate to English.  That works for her.  I feel that French and English are so different, in terms of intention.  If I was to write something in French and translate it in a way that makes sense and that is lyrically interesting…

MR:  It would be like working backwards.

Raphaëlle:  Exactly.  I always felt I had a greater liberty of expression this way.  It’s my weapon of choice.  If I was a painter, I would paint with a certain type of paint, like acrylic.  I don’t do water colors, that’s the thing.  It’s the same things for me with lyrics.

MR:  Is there a specific place you go to write?  

Raphaëlle:  I have my home studio, in my double room. One side is my bed, and the other is studio, so I really have my own space there.  Usually, I write when no roommates are there, when I’m really alone and nobody has a chance of hearing anything.  I’m really self-conscious about having someone hear me when I’m in that process. I have to be in my own bubble.  

Travelling also, but that’s more about writing in a journal than writing lyrics.  I will then go back home and go through them and pick out some nice sentences.  

So, mostly in my own studio, or even when I’m taking a walk, I might think of something.  

MR:  What comes first, the music or the lyrics?

Raphaëlle:  The music comes before lyrics.  I might have some lyrics, but I don’t necessarily have a song attached to it. Music comes first, always.

Lisandre :  Just go jam and then she goes:  “Oh…I have lyrics for that one.”  She tries it and it’s awesome.  

Raphaëlle:  It really depends.  Sarah is on the bass.  Sometimes, she will come up with a guitar riff.  

MR:  She plays more than just the bass.  

Raphaëlle:  She’s a drummer.

MR:  I’ve seen her drum, and I thought she was amazing.  Especially when something broke.  She twirled her finger to signal to the band to keep going, while she fixed the issue, all the while keeping the beat…till it was fixed and they all just got back into the song and finished.

Raphaëlle:  She’s very comfortable behind the drums, for sure.  That’s the instrument that she knows the best and that she studied for so many years. I think that’s why it was interesting for her to start this project with us in the first place because it put her in a situation that was completely outside of her comfort zone.  First of all, standing up on stage playing an instrument is completely different than sitting behind one.  

Lisandre :  You can’t hide.

Raphaëlle:  Yeah, you’re not hiding behind a bass.  You are just there, in front.  “OK…I can move.”  She realized that she can express herself in a different way with that instrument. She literally just picked up the bass a year ago.  

Lisandre :  She used to play guitar.  She’s a really good guitar player.  It’s really in the middle. Between the drums and guitar is the bass.  A perfect match.

MR:  Putting yourself out of your comfort zone.  Is that something you try to do on a regular basis?  

Raphaëlle:  Definitely.

MR:  How do you do that?

Raphaëlle:  This whole project was a change of genre.  Lisandre and I have a band that has been going on for six years now.  It’s called Syzzors and it’s more Electronic Pop, so that was totally different.  

Lisandre :  We just loved Pop Music so we started a band.  It was for fun, but it worked.  So, it’s so easy to work, the three of us, it’s amazing.

Raphaëlle:  It’s almost scary.  The girls introduced me to the idea.  “Oh, we should start a Rock project together!”  Sarah would pick up the bass.  Lisandre would be on drums, but in a totally different way than Syzzors. Syzzors has very intricate beats, not like Rock…going at it for 45 minutes and then you are sweating, pouring your heart out.  

We just starting this whole thing for fun and to experience something else.  The first rehearsal we had, we just came up with a whole song with lyrics.  Bam!  

MR:  What song was it?

Raphaëlle:  It’s not on the EP, but the first song we wrote is called “Game On.”  We wrote the lyrics of the bridge on the wall.  It just came out!  We found the name of the band too, that day.  Something just happened that day at the rehearsal and it was meant to be. 

I never thought I would be in a band with Sarah, because she is a drummer and I play with Lisandre on drums. So for me, it was not a possibility.  We found out that not only does it work out…but it f’ing works out!  

MR:  Every superhero has an origin story.  You mentioned you came up with the name at that rehearsal. What is the origin of the name?

Raphaëlle :  It’s an inside joke.  I think it was the girls who said it first.  They would call each other a “Shirley.”  

Lisandre:  “Hey Shirley, give me that.”

Raphaëlle :  It’s like a nickname.  For us, a Shirley is like a good friend.  At first a good girl friend, but now we have Shirley boys.  You can be a Shirley boy, girl or whatever non binary gender you are. You can be whatever and be a Shirley. 

Lisandre:  We go far. It’s a mindset…

Raphaëlle :  It’s a mindset, a way of life.  It’s a verb now…you’ve been Shirleyed.  People are feeling the vibe and we have a nice gang of Shirley boys and Shirley girls. It’s expanding and it’s fun to watch as people are like:  “Yeah! I want to be part of that movement.” 

We just want to have fun and kick ass.  If it can incite young boys or girls to pick up an instrument and start a band, be a crew…then do it.

Lisandre:  We don’t take ourselves too seriously.  

Raphaëlle :  That’s the best part.

MR:  Sometimes the best projects are when you aren’t trying too hard, but you are being yourself. When you don’t care what other people think, then you become authentic.  

Raphaëlle :  Absolutely.  That’s the way to go.  There’s no other way.

MR:  I hope we are…but I don’t think so yet…at a point where gender is no longer an issue when it comes to rock.

Raphaëlle :  Well, it’s no longer such a statement.  To be classified as a girl band is not our goal at all.  We are just a band.  

MR:  It just happens that…

Raphaëlle :  It just happens that we are good friends and we are girls, but that doesn’t mean we there couldn’t be a boy in the band.  It doesn’t change anything.  We are just a rock power trio…that’s it.

It’s so nice what is happening right now, the rise of the women in music.  It’s powerful and it’s amazing.  Go girls! Feminist 100%, but I can’t wait for the day when it won’t be a statement anymore.  You are just a good musician regardless of gender.

MR:  If I look at my iTunes collection, whom I choose to listen to, I find that there is a majority of female singers.  It seems to be what I’m attracted to.  

Raphaëlle :  For the vocals ?

MR :  Not just the vocals.  I think gender in music is equal, but I think there is a superpower that women have as writers.  They can be a little more vulnerable sometimes.  Men might try to project this macho image…but I think that is fading away. 

Raphaëlle :  Slowly.

MR :  The days of the crazy backstage antics…

Raphaëlle :  The Mötley Crüe era is gone.  

MR:  Thankfully, because it’s becoming more about the music and less about the excess.  I believe the female writing is more powerful because it can be more vulnerable.  It can touch more people.

Raphaëlle :  We allow ourselves, in this culture, to be more vulnerable.  It comes from childhood and the way we were raised.  I’m sure, being a boy in the 90’s you were told:  “Man up!  Don’t cry!”  Being a girl, you are allowed to cry and experiment with the whole spectrum of emotions. Maybe guys didn’t feel they were allowed to express or even experiment with their feelings.  “I can’t feel that way.”  But why?  You can feel any way!  It’s good to feed from sorrow or any type of hardship that you have in your life.  It’s sad if you’re blocking yourself from that. 

MR:  If you hide from emotions, you are missing a really big part of your life. 

Raphaëlle :  You are missing a big part of your life and a chance to be creative too.  

MR:  Face your fears.  Maybe that’s why, for me, women who are song writers, can approach these subjects that are more bold and brave.  

Raphaëlle :  Thank-you. That’s a good complement.  Never looked at it this way, but it’s true.  In a way, it’s a double-edged blade because I feel that sometimes, being a man, you have more room to focus on something. A lot of room in a woman’s brain is used to focus on the emotions that surround you, like a relationship.  You feel more broadly for things that happen around you and more responsible, as a woman, to manage the emotions and what’s going on.

MR:  The best way I heard it described is on a computer, a woman is like a browser with like 15 tabs open…and is aware of all of them.

Raphaëlle :   Multi-tasking.  

MR:  I find that for myself…I can only see one tab.  I might have 15 others open…but I can only focus on one at a time.  If I need to change tabs…I have to stop…and then start to focus on the new one. There is a delay there.

Raphaëlle :  It’s true. Women have this capacity of compartmenting their brain and manage a lot of things at the same time.  But that’s what I was saying before, you are aware of a lot of stuff, but it’s preventing you from focusing on one thing.  Maybe that’s why, for a long time, there was more men in music. Men were focused on learning an instrument, while women were told to focus on this and that, like being a good wife. That’s a long time ago, though.  

Even if I look at what I was listening to in the late 90s, early 2000s.  Avril Lavigne, Hayley Williams the lead singer for Paramore, Joan Jett…you know… they were all kick ass women fronting their bands, who were all male.  Men instrumentalists and a girl lead singer. That was the whole model we were raised on.  Now we are breaking this mold and it’s so interesting to see.

MR:  I am (obvious pause) older than you guys.  I remember Joan Jett when “I love Rock n’ Roll” came out.  I was listening to CHOM, probably Claude Rajotte.

Raphaëlle :  Yes!  I love him so much!

MR:  This song comes out…I’ve never heard anything like it.  

Raphaëlle :  Right? It’s powerfull.

MR:  Yes. It made me appreciate that side of Rock n’ Roll.  Maybe that’s why, since then, that I am attracted to female singers.

Raphaëlle :  Yes!  It’s probably your first introduction to this kind of power, like you said.  It was the first time something hit you:  “Oh…she speaks to my soul.”

MR:  When you were growing up, what is your earliest memory of a song or a band where the music that you’ve always heard, suddenly became more important?

Lisandre :  I think it was Coldplay.  

Raphaëlle :  The first album Parachutes?

Lisandre :  A Rush of Blood to the Head.  I listened to it over and over again.  It spoke to me.  

Raphaëlle :  For me it was Aqua for sure.  

MR:  Barbie Girl?

Raphaëlle :  Not even. I got my mom to buy me the second cassette that they released in 2000 (Aquarius).  I don’t know…it awoke something in me.  For real, I listened to it so many times.  I then got her to buy me the first one (Aquarium 1997).  It was so Pop…it was so intense.  Even when I listen to it today, it’s hyperactive.  

Lisandre :  It’s like when you are a kid and you eat hundreds of candies.  

Raphaëlle :  Yeah! It’s the same thing.  A sugar rush, and I just loved it so much.  It was my first music love, my introduction to Pop music. Pop music was a big part of my childhood for sure.

When I think of tracks like “Wherever, wherever” from Shakira, some J-Lo or even Simple Plan.  Those were the first tracks that I really listened to when I was 8 or 9 and it spoke to me.  

Lisandre:  I didn’t buy my first CD till I was 15 years old.  

Raphaëlle :  Yeah, it was later for me too with CDs.  

Lisandre:  I think it was a French band called Trio, an acoustic hippie type band.  

Raphaëlle :  The first CDs I bought myself was Linkin Park Meteora and Nellyville.  

MR:  Very different genres.

Raphaëlle :  Definitely. I didn’t know them.  Back then, at Archambault, there were booths with 5 or 6 CDs in it and you could listen to them.  It was nice because you got introduced to new stuff.  It was eclectic as well, they would put in something from Metric for example.  That’s how I was introduced to Metric.  My friend was listening to it and said: “That’s so weird!  Listen to it.” So I did and I said:  “Oh…that’s so good!”  

MR:  I met you at the Vinyl and art fair recently and I picked up “Live It Out” by Metric.  

Raphaëlle :  That was the CD that I listened to at Archambault.  It was like nothing I had ever heard before.  It was weird, but in a good way.

MR:  So, who in the band is the science fiction geek?

Raphaëlle :  Humm…I would say me.

MR:  Or the Fifth Element geek…

Raphaëlle :  Sarah and I saw it before, but it was the first time, recently, that Lisandre saw it. I would say I’m the most geek of the three because I’m really into video games, medieval stuff…  That was my movie for sure.  I watched that movie so many times.  

It just happened that we went to a retreat to write in a cabin. We do movie nights and we decided to watch it.  I don’t know why, but I was inspired by it.  The character of Milla Jovovich was so powerless even though she was the most powerful being.  How are you so powerless?  So this guy, coming from nowhere, Korben Dallas comes to save the world.  Why couldn’t she save herself?  She could have.  

MR:  Who in your life is most like The Fifth Element Leeloo, someone more powerful than they think?

Raphaëlle :  I would say Lisandre.  

Lisandre:  Ah, wow!

Raphaëlle :  She’s the strongest person I know.  The most righteous…a lot of good qualities that many struggle to have in life, she already has.  Speaking her words and being honest…that’s hard sometimes.  

MR:  Lisandre, what’s the first word that comes to mind when you think about Raphaëlle?  

Lisandre :  Primed…she has so much energy. It’s crazy.

MR:  She’s the Leeloo of energy.

Raphaëlle :  Definitely.

MR:  That’s why I’m looking forward to seeing you play live.  Are we going to see that Fifth Element energy come out?

Lisandre:  Oh yeah! We are going to sweat it out!

Raphaëlle :  It’s interesting because when we finish the set, we are all in a pool of sweat.  Yet, it’s so liberating.  

MR:  Do you find that when you are on stage, time will fly by?  Next thing you know, the set is over?

Lisandre:  Always.

Raphaëlle :  Definitely.  You start and you say: “See you in 45 minutes.”  

Lisandre:  Then it’s already the end.

MR:  That, to me, is when you are in a state of flow.  You are tapping into your most authentic self.  When times flies, that is when you are operating at your best. You don’t have to think about it, it just comes out of you.  At the end, you are left drained, even emotionally.  I would assume, just by knowing you a little bit, that you would give a lot into your performance.  

Raphaëlle :  Yes, always…100%.

Lisandre:  100%

Raphaëlle :  There’s no other way to do it.  If you are on stage and self-conscious, or conscious of anything while on stage…that’s when you mess up.  Whenever you start to think about what you are doing…you just f-up.  It’s like automatic.  

Lisandre:  If I’m singing while playing drums, if I think about that, I f-up.     

MR:  Drums is a perfect example because you have four different appendages, two feet and two hands, doing different things.  

Lisandre:  I don’t see it as four independent things, but one thing.  

MR:  Yeah…but you can’t think about it.  

Raphaëlle :  Piano and drums are in the same category, for me.  On piano, playing the melody and the rhythm at the same time…how can you do that?

MR:  My last question.  If, one year from now, we were to open up a bottle of Champagne to celebrate something you just accomplished.  What would that be?

Raphaëlle :  On my list would be going to South by Southwest.  Also, we just booked a tour.    

MR:  Outside of Montreal.

Raphaëlle :  Outside of Quebec, even.  That would be even better.  Knock on wood!  Let’s just start with hoping people like our EP.  We put all our soul into it.  We had so much fun doing it.  We chose our studio team wisely.  We couldn’t be more confident about this project.  Let’s see what happens.

MR:  Hopefully, you can gather even more Shirleys.  

Lisandre :  Are you a Shirley?

Raphaëlle :  Are you a Shirley boy?

MR:  Well…I am now!

Interview by: Randal Wark is a Professional Speaker and MasterMind Facilitator with a passion for live music.  You can follow him on InstagramTwitter and YouTube.

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