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Ladies of Pop: Motel Raphael

 - Ladies of Pop: Motel Raphael

How could you not love a band that has a ukulele and a tambourine? Emily Skahan, 24, Clara Legault, 23, and Maya Malkin, 20, make up Motel Raphael, a Montreal trio that gives girl band a whole new meaning. Their harmonies may make you tear up, but there is nothing tragic about their hand-clappingly catchy, laughter-infused melodies.

The band celebrated its one-year anniversary during their Pop Montreal show on September 22. “Last year we played a show during Pop Montreal,” Clara Legault told the audience. “It just wasn’t in Pop Montreal.” How things change.

We caught up with the band over breakfast at Montreal’s Quoi D’Neuf to talk about what makes a good bandmate, songwriting, and Disney music.

1 - How did you guys get started?

E: We met at a concert. Clara was friends with my sister and they worked together and my sister was like, “Oh you would really like this girl Clara, she’s a musician and she smiles a lot.” And so Grace brought us together at this concert. They were auctioning off items to fund their tour and they auctioned off a guitar. Clara bid on it for a hundred dollars and she won it, and we had to go get a hundred dollars from an ATM, and we became friends. And we started playing music a few months later with one of our friends, Sheila. We played not very seriously together for about a year. I was in my last year of school, so it was way too time consuming to be serious about a band and then Sheila went and did her masters in BC, so we needed to find a third voice.

We tried to think of female musicians we knew that we liked, and we didn’t...like anyone.

C: You’ve really got to find someone who you groove well with. I always call it “getting naked musically together,” and you can’t do that with just anybody.

E: I used to be a bartender and I worked at this dingy, crapola bar, so I went to pick up my 4% and the bartender saw my ukulele and she said, “Oh, you’re a musician, so am I.” And I said, “Really? What kind of music do you play?” And she said, “Well, I don’t really play in public at all, I just kind of record my own three-part harmony with myself in my bedroom.”

And then I gave her my coordinates and she gave me her SoundCloud. It was Maya...I forgot to say that! And I called Clara and said, “You need to look up this person,” and by the time I got to Clara’s old place of employment in Pointe Claire Village, she had already Googled Maya and looked through all of her Facebook pictures and she said, “She’s perfect for us, look how funny she is!”

M: And I still work at that shithole, just in case you’re curious!

2- All of you were in a choir growing up. How did that shape your sound,and the way that you experience music collectively?

M: I went to an arts school so I had to be in a choir; even if you didn’t like singing it was a class, and it was kind of like a cool thing. No one really liked being in choir class but by the end of it we would put on a big show. It helped to develop all kinds of skills. That’s probably where I learned to do harmonies. I really like choirs. I would even join one now.

E: I was in the McGill Youth Choir at the campus out in the West Island. I loved that choir. Kind of like a gigantic band.

3- Did any of you study music in school?

C: I took violin lessons as a kid...six years.

M: None of us has gone to school for music but as I said, I went to an arts school so we had to do stuff like that. I played the classical flute for seven years because I had to. That kind of sparked my interest in guitar. Once I had learned enough to do it on my own I just did it that way. I think we’re all pretty teach-yourself kind of kids. Music school is one of those things that I’m afraid of. I’m afraid of me learning too much about music and it becoming something technical instead of from the heart.

E: I studied theater, and I don’t feel the same way about theater as I did when I started. I would never want that to happen with music. Music is what I feel. Music is everything for me.

4- How much of a role does performance play?

E: Well, I talk a lot when we play.

M: Does that have anything to do with you studying theater?

E: Well, yeah, I think so. It made me comfortable in front of an audience. My parents have said that I’ve always been loud.

M: It’s two different worlds. When you’re acting, you’re not you and when you’re playing music, you’re totally you.

5- How would you describe the “Montreal sound” if there is such a thing?

E: The sound in Montreal I wouldn’t say is unified, which is kind of the main characteristic of it. The great thing about here is that it’s so varied, you get so much stuff. We’re part of one scene but there are so many scenes we know nothing about. There’s just so much here and it’s such a healthy place to harvest a career in music. It’s a lot of bands helping each other out and making things as easy as possible for each other.

C: What I’ve noticed a lot is that there’s also a big folk scene that has a lot of space, which is kind of neat. It’s folk but with a twist. It’s not your run of the mill banjo, folk/country. Everybody is taking that and making it their own. I feel like there’s a lot of that and I think it’s pretty neat that everybody kind of gets a chance.

6- What would you say your main influences are?

C: We said Fleet Foxes once just in terms of our harmonies.

M: I was thinking about this the other day. Influences... I think that one band that I’ve always listened to, and this sounds like, is Coldplay. I am obsessed with Coldplay. I think I’ve loved every CD that they’ve ever released. I think they inspired a lot of my personal sound. That type of music is the kind of flavor that I bring to the band. Like poppy-rocky type music-ish.

E: It’s good to remember with Motel Raphael that it’s three different songwriters bringing three different styles to the table and the strongest material that we have is what we write together.

7. Do you all write the songs?

M: Right now our set list is mostly compiled of songs that we’ve written individually and brought in and we’re trying for our next chapter, we want to try and write more songs all together, just to make a more unified sound. Right now every other song is kind of a different genre.

8- What does making it big mean for you?

E: Not having to work in a shitty bar to pay rent.

C: If you can get rid of the day job.

M: Touring and making money off of music, I think that would make us happy.

9- If someone gave you $50,000 today, what would you do with it?

C: Wooow! Buy a new pair of shoes.

E: Throw a massive party for everyone who’s come out and supported us.

C: Yeah, that’s what we always said--that if we ever made it big that’s the first thing we would do. A thank-you-for-helping-us party.

M: I think we would definitely fund an album, for sure.

E: I think $1000 would be impressive. And if we had $50,000...

M: We could party every week for a year!

C: We’d have to obviously sit down and discuss our priorities...All of us have wanted to tour. The first thing we want is an album, because there’s no point in putting yourself forward if you’ve got nothing to show.

E: So you can make the check out to...

10- As women in the music world, do you have to mold yourself to a stereotype? Do you have to be a Beyoncé or a Madonna?

E: I’m Beyoncé, Clara is Lady Gaga and Maya is Katy Perry. That’s that.

C: Right now we try to be a lot of fun, more than showy or anything like that. We have a ton of fun playing so our live performances are about trying to put out an energy that everybody in the room will be like, “Wow this is a great time.” All the while, our harmonies are what get us noticed. There’s the big stars that are showy and have that strange personality, Nicki Minaj style, but there’s still a space for just heart-warming music.

11-  What comes first, the lyrics or the melody?

E: The idea.

M: I get inspired by the weirdest things. Like yesterday, I was making Alphaghetti... I started thinking about how I should write a song about Alphaghetti, and then I started humming things about Alphaghetti in my head, and all of a sudden I was at my guitar and then after like an hour of Alphaghetti writing I was like, “Ok, this is going nowhere.” But you get inspiration from really weird things. When I think of something, I don’t care who’s standing next to me, I sing it right into my phone.

12- What’s Motel Raphael, is it that Motel...

C: Yup!

E: It was Clara’s idea to call the band that.

C: It’s just so silly! For Montrealers it’s just a little shout out and for everyone else it’s like, “Oh, like the painter?”

E: I always say the Ninja Turtles, but that’s just me.

13- And now, because we all have one, favorite Disney song?

E: Give us a second... I REALLY like Disney.

M: Can we list Disney movies right now?

E: I know it’s really racist but ”Colours of the wind” in Pocahontas.

C: I think my all time favorite is in Cinderella, “A dream is a wish your heart makes.”

M: I don’t even know how it goes, but I remember when I was a kid my favorite, favorite, favorite song was one that Jafar sings to Aladdin. It was like a scary one.

C: Oh, my mom made me fast forward those!


Anne Cohen
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