COVER STORY: The Muscadettes

This week, the band led by Montreal sisters Chantal and Kathleen Ambridge launch their debut EP, Side A.

Chantal and Kathleen Ambridge of the Muscadettes
Sisters Chantal and Kathleen Ambridge were into the ’90s revival way before it was popular — pretty much right after that decade came to a close. The California-born twins, now 27, were heavy into Nirvana and the Seattle band’s family tree when they were in high school in the West Island, at a time when everyone else was into hip hop or, if you were a rebel, metal.

“It took a lot of time to find what we really liked because it seemed like nobody was into that stuff,” says Chantal.

The sisters grew up in a house with very few records — the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s and an ABBA greatest hits collection stand out in their memories.

“I would’ve liked to be more musically aware when I was younger,” says Chantal. “I remember listening to CHOM, getting to know my classic rock,” recalls Kathleen. “And I remember seeing Ramones t-shirts, so we went and checked that out,” Chantal adds.

Through Nirvana, the Ambridges discovered Courtney Love’s band Hole and a scene that would have a lasting impact on them: riot grrrl, the early to mid-’90s cluster of punk bands with female songwriters and musicians at the forefront (not just as the singer or keyboardist).

“That was a revelation,” says Chantal. “t really made me want to be in a band.”

The sisters had no musical background to speak of — no musician relatives, or anyone in their family circle with artistic tendencies. Music came to them by chance.

“I remember seeing somebody playing cello on the street and I told my mom I wanted to play ’cause I really liked it,” says Kathleen, who wasn’t even in high school when her tutelage began. “I started taking classes but it was too much studying for a young kid, so I lost interest and started singing. In CEGEP, I decided to play bass.”

The Ambridge sisters on the cover of Cult MTL's April issue
The Ambridge sisters on the cover of Cult MTL’s April issue
Meanwhile, Chantal gravitated towards guitar in high school music class. “They would just leave us in cubicles, little practice spaces, and I would hang out with my friend who played guitar. I’d listen to Kim shredding — that was basically our music classes. The teacher really didn’t care.”

Chantal retained enough interest in the instrument to study guitar in CEGEP. She and her sister got a little band experience on campus in high school and CEGEP, but they were always in the background, playing other people’s material. It was when they moved to Montreal after university that they started to get serious about forming a band together.

“When we moved here, we started playing together, going to shows and meeting people,” says Chantal. “We’ve always wanted to be in a band together,” Kathleen adds, “ever since I can remember.”

The Muscadettes played their first show at l’Escogriffe in 2013, unleashing a sound that blended ’60s surf/garage and the ’90s “alternative” of their youth, with some pedigreed players in their ranks: alongside their CEGEP friend Jonathan Lafrance on drums, they recruited Breastfeeders bassist Jocelyn Gagné on guitar and Thomas Augustin (of Malajube fame) on keys and synths — he and Chantal are now married, incidentally.

The band recorded a demo and began working towards making an album with producer Ryan Battistuzzi, first at Breakglass Studio then at various home studio set-ups. It was a slow process, with lots of stops and starts as the sisters found their bearings and the sounds they wanted to hear. In the end, what was meant to be an album has been divided into 2 EPs.

The first, Side A, will be released this month on small indie labels in Canada (Costume) and the U.S. (PaperCup), with Side B coming in October. With this month’s launch show, they hope to make up for a poor performance at last fall’s M for Montreal festival, where they experienced some significant technical problems and subsequent nerves. “We were so disappointed,” says Kathleen.

“It was one of those really important shows and we all walked off the stage saying, ‘Oh shit.’”

My Cult MTL colleagues and I saw the Muscadettes for the first and (so far) only time that night, and sound problems didn’t register with us — we were impressed by the songs. If that’s the Muscadettes at their worst, as the Ambridges suggested it was, a regular show is going to knock us on our ass.
The Muscadettes launch the Side A EP at Casa del Popolo (4873 St-Laurent) on Tuesday, April 21, 8 p.m., $10
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