If you’ve ever wondered how gross secrets and a mutual love for Melissa Etheridge can help you form one kick-ass band, just ask Sackville, New Brunswick duo Partner. Co-frontwomen Josée Caron and Lucy Niles are two friends who spent years playing in different bands together, bonding over being gay, their expertise in guitar, and their deep admiration for queer icons like k.d. lang and Tegan and Sara (a group that’s one of their biggest inspirations). After celebrating the coming out of actor Ellen Page with their viral hit “The Ellen Page” in 2015, Caron and Niles began to explore the hilarious voice they created for themselves through songwriting.
Their stoner jam sessions eventually led them to the goofy, ‘90s inspired alt-rock anthems on their critically-acclaimed 2017 debut In Search of Lost Time. With playful punchlines and dirty jokes hiding behind every patch of reverb and soaring guitar riffs, the album’s charm and exuberant nature is fueled with anecdotes from Caron and Niles’s shared queer experiences. Whether it’s “finding a sex thing in your roommate’s room” on “Sex Object” or the aforementioned “Gross Secret” alluding to something too gross to reveal, every Partner song is just the day in the life of two oddballs with great chemistry who love sex, snacks and weed as much as the next guy.
We caught up with Partner about relocating to Windsor, Ontario, writing queer love songs, and what their obsession with Melissa Etheridge is really all about.
Read the Q&A after the jump!
You two played in a few hardcore bands back in Sackville. What was the transition to writing pop music like when you formed Partner?
Lucy Niles: We’ve played in a lot of other bands. One of them was actually a pretty poppy hardcore band. It was cool because we never really listened to hardcore at all, so a lot of Josée’s guitar parts were interesting in that context.
Josée Caron: Yeah, Partner really taught me how much I love writing pop music. For a while, a lot of the people around me had this idea that pop music was stupid or easy to make. I think it’s a pretty common thing for people to think. Partner for me is a shedding of that.
How have you adjusted to the music community in Windsor since moving from Sackville? Is it easier or harder being a queer musician living there?
L: I feel like we have seen some queer bands here and there, lots of electronic acts and stuff. It’s different from New Brunswick, but we felt welcomed. There’s not a huge difference in terms of the number of explicitly queer bands here than there is in New Brunswick. It’s not as boring as you think. There are definitely places to go and things to do. Being close to Detroit is also pretty cool!
Does living in a more affordable city like Windsor allow you more flexibility in terms of being able to make music and live comfortably?
J: It definitely enables our creativity. It helps that the cost of living is lower. It’s totally like Montreal in that way of being able to work on art and live pretty comfortably. Lucy and I live together now. We can afford our rent and still make music. I just work part-time, so we’re still able to write and go on tour. It’s nice having that freedom.
How did the writing process begin for In Search of Lost Time?
L: After we realized we can write songs in that weird voice, we just began writing a bunch of songs. It took a while to get around to recording them, but we felt like the songs were a good representation of where we were after writing “Gross Secret”. There are still lots of songs that were super important during the [writing] process that we haven’t recorded yet.
What are your go-to snacks while you’re writing and recording?
L: Oh good question!
J: We usually just stand around in the kitchen and eat crackers.
L: Yeah sometimes when we’re working on stuff we’ll just be eating crackers and talking about ideas for songs. We’ll eat those rice ones if we’re feeling a little wild.
“Gross Secret” is a running theme in Partner. Is there a gross secret that’s too gross to write about in a song?
L: I’d say most of them are too gross! (laughs) The thing about songs like “Gross Secret” is it’s not really revealing everything, it’s just sort of hinting at it. It doesn’t really specify.
J: Yeah I think it’s important it doesn’t take on a concrete form. Mystery is key. We want to leave people with an idea of what it can be without giving away the plot.
Is it funny thinking about how people might interpret a Partner song? Are you ever worried about the subject matter?
J: In one way, I don’t think about it at all, but I also think about how things you say can be misconstrued in bad ways. You have to try and find certain ways of saying things before leading anyone into something too personal or sending the wrong message entirely. But in terms of the subject matter on the album, I always just assume that it’s perfect. (laughs)
L: Yeah, we kind of just assume that everyone would want to hear about a gross secret because everyone has a gross secret. Even if it’s something that hasn’t happened to you I’m sure it’s something everyone is interested in.
When you’re writing about love in your songs, how important is it to be intentional with pronouns and the ways in you discuss queer love and sex?
L: I think it’s great as musicians to be able to say whatever you want, but also recognize it’s still not easy to always be that open. Sometimes we can say things like “Girl, you make me want to play the field” on a song like “Play the Field” because it just makes sense. There are other times when we might have to say something else because we don’t want to say “girl” and naturally that gives people something else to connect with. We always want to mindful of how hard queer artists we respect have fought for that visibility to say what they want, but also do what works for us.
J: Yeah, we feel lucky to be able to write the way we do because not a lot of people still can. We’re still figuring out what the best way is to write about that stuff, but I don’t think you always need to be intentional about who you’re writing for.
L: Totally agree! Honestly, if I heard a song written by a gay guy about being love with a guy I can take away the same thing from it than anyone else would. A song of love is a song of love.
My favorite song on the album is definitely “Daytime TV.” When I grew up, my grandma ran her own store and she’d just leave the TV on soap operas. I pretty much grew up on soap opera storylines. Is there anything you watched on daytime tv when you were younger that sort of stuck with you?
J: I think when I watched daytime television and people said things like “I love you,” I kind of wondered what that felt like (laughs).
L: Like when you’d watch a show and someone was like, “I just had sex with your mom, but I love you.” (laughs)
J: Yeah, exactly!
L: That was always the crazy thing about seeing stuff on daytime TV. I’d always think to myself, “Is this real or no? Should I worry about this or no?” It’s also just really cheesy and bad.
J: Yeah, I really think it’s funny that your grandmother let you watch soap operas. (laughs)
L: (laughs) Yeah, pretty amazing grandma!
How important has the internet been for Partner as a band now that your album has connected with young queers from all around the world?
C: For queer kids, aside from like a Tegan and Sara fan forum or something like that, it’s great being able to easily seek out other people making music and things you’re interested in on the internet. I think what we’re doing is important and I like that we’re in a time where it’s accessible because it’s always going to be important to queer kids to find good music and other communities that support queer artists.
L: The internet is cool because it’s always great seeing that the things you do resonate with people all over the world. It’s also cool being able to tweet at famous people and wonder if they’ve seen or heard your stuff (laughs). Tegan and Sara tweeted our record once and we got like 300 new followers! The internet is frickin’ wild, man!
What do you guys love about being on tour?
L: We love everything about being on tour. Sitting in the car, chilling, listening to weird music. You get to see all your friends from different places, you get to meet new people and party. It’s always a good time.
J: Yeah, I definitely like sitting in the car after a wild night and the overstimulation of people. We’ll just sit in the car and talking about all the funny shit that happened. All the highlights. (laughs)
It’s always funny talking to men about how they navigate tour romance. What type of rules do you two have for hookups on the road?
L: Well, it’s simple for us because we both have girlfriends. It’s sort of better that way. We’re just not built for the tour hookup thing. Not worrying about that stuff frees up a lot of time to socialize that would be spent trying to hook up. Also, on tour it’s never that sexy. You don’t get to shower that much, you’re in a car with your bros. I couldn’t imagine doing anything sexual on tour if I was single.
Where do you want to see Partner go from here? How do you want the project to evolve?
J: We’re in the process of writing the next record. We have tons of ideas and a possible title for it. We pretty much know what we have to do to keep the project thriving.
L: Yeah, we basically just need to stay inspired, live cheaply, and take care of ourselves. I think the main thing is trying to figure out what the voice is going to be for this next album, but we know what we have to do to maintain the project itself.
Last thing: Can you finally clear up this Melissa Etheridge thing. She comes up a lot on the record. Is she just an idol or a secret crush?
L: (laughs) Well, we met Melissa one time and I really want to be her friend. That’s my main priority, but I’m also really in love with her. Her songs are just so fucking amazing. But not only her songs it’s just her whole being. It’s hard to explain.
J: There’s just so much about her career that’s just like a beautiful miracle. It’s unprecedented. The power of her voice, the way she uses chords. It feels like it comes from this pure energy, a pure passion for what she does. She’s just a shining star.
L: Yeah, I’d say Melissa Etheridge is one of the people whose ethics have inspired us the most over time. She even straight up says in this one interview that she wants to be the most sexual performer of all time. That’s a really great aspiration in my opinion.
J: (laughs) Yeah, when we saw her live I can definitely say we saw her living that truth.
L: (laughs) Oh she was absolutely living that truth! Definitely! Also, that was the best question anyone has ever asked us.
Well, I’m glad we finally cleared that up!
L: (laughs) Yeah, I’d definitely say it’s more of a deep love than a secret crush.
— Q&A by Max Mohenu (@maxmohenu)
In Search of Lost Time is available now. Partner will tour the USA and UK this year. Tour dates are below.
January 25 – MOTR, Cincinnati OH
January 26 – Empty Bottle, Chicago IL
January 27 – Founders Brewery, Grand Rapids MI
February 02 – This Ain’t Hollywood, Hamilton ON
February 10 – Hillside Inside, Guelph ON
February 17 – Lupercalia Festival, Owen Sound ON
March 02 – Grace Family Church, Sudbury ON
March 13 – 17 – SXSW, Austin TX
March 21-25 – Treefort Music Fest, Boise ID
April 10 – Ace of Cups, Columbus OH
April 11 – DC9, Washington DC
April 12 – Johnny Brenda’s, Philadelphia PA
April 13 – Silent Barn, Brooklyn NY
April 14 – Now That’s Class, Cleveland OH
May 05 – Live at Leeds, Leeds UK
May 06 – Machynlleth Comedy Festival UK
May 07 – The Crofters Rights, Bristol UK
May 08 – The Victoria Dalston, London UK
May 10 – The Cookie, Leicester UK
May 11 – Focus Wales, Wrexham UK
May 13 – The Sunflower Lounge, Birmingham UK
May 14 – Broadcast, Glasgow UK
May 15 – Westgarth Social Club, Stockton UK
May 17 – The Great Escape, Brighton UK
May 18 – The Great Escape, Brighton UK
May 19 – The Great Escape, Brighton UK