les Shirely

Photo by Camille Gladu-Drouin

Montreal punk queens les Shirley drop their debut album

The band spoke to us about Forever Is Now and planting a flag for California punk in Quebec.

Les Shirley is not your regular punk band.

Raphaëlle Chouinard, Lisandre Bourdages and Sarah Dion are good friends who always wanted to play together. One drunken night, they decided to start jamming together and play some good old punk rock. The rest is history.

“We wrote a song and found the name of the band at the first rehearsal. Something was really happening there. A few weeks later, after that, we had some songs written down, but we were really approaching this as a fun thing. We were not ready to invest too much emotionally into a new project. One day, a friend was sitting on the couch in our rehearsal space and asked us to play some tunes. She was curious. So we played our whole set, which was probably like three songs. After these three songs, She was like, ‘Holy shit. This is so awesome.’ She went crazy about them. This is when we realized that maybe it’s not just for fun,” says Chouinard.

Les Shirley’s energy is contagious. Chouinard and Bourdages (Dion was not present for the interview) are both excited and nervous about the upcoming release of their first album, Forever Is Now. They were both part of an electropop band called Scissors before jumping to punk rock, their teenage love, which was a more natural match for Bourdages, who mentions coming from the punk rock music scene. Chouinard adds that early-2000s punk is how they began their first band.

“It’s more from where we come from. Our roots are really pop-rock music from the early 2000s. That’s when we were in high school. This is when we first started to pick up instruments as well with our high school bands. We were doing covers of Blink 182 and such.”

West Coast punk rock is omnipresent in their music. From early Green Day to Nirvana, they cite ska, punk, emo and grunge as major influences in their lives and music, as well as some surprising other artists. They mention Céline Dion and Haim, the latter being an influence because of their work and relationship.

“(Haim) are so amazing. I mean, they are not doing punk at all, but it’s their own formula and their own spirit. They embrace being three sisters, and we feel we’re three sisters as well,” Chouinard explains.

“Because we’re such good friends, we have the same kind of vibe (as Haim) together. We’re always together. (Les Shirley) resonates with me,” adds Bourdages.

The two women clearly have a special relationship, one that is very evocative of sisterhood. They finish each other’s thoughts and seem to agree on everything, a dynamic that is reflective of their band.

While punk music is typically more associated with men, Chouinard and Bourdages didn’t have any difficulty getting accepted by listeners and their peers. Winners of the GAMIQ 2019 for Best Rock EP and Breakthrough Artist of the Year, the two women are still nostalgic about their performance on stage for the indie awards show. They both bring up that, to this day, people still talk about that performance to them. To Chouinard, they have earned the respect of their peers by being who they are.

A sample of les Shirely performing at the GAMIQ awards in 2019

“If you don’t have respect, you got to earn it. Once people watch you play, usually they understand who we are. Like us or don’t, this is who we are.”

Being who they are without any shame is their signature. Through their experiences, they sing about relationships, conspiracy, heartbreak and girl gangs. Their songs are emotional, raw and raging. Even if punk music was rarely about relationships and heartbreaks, they both think that there’s a special place for tracks that talk about relationships in general. For them, women would have done punk differently if they had gotten more involved in the ’90s. That being said, les Shirley write songs reflecting their state of mind.

“We basically do just whatever we want to do. Are people gonna follow? I hope so. I think so. In the end, we don’t really care, we do it for us. If we want to talk about it, we’ll just talk about it,” states Bourdage.

Les Shirley do punk rock their own way. They masterfully carved their own place within the punk rock scene with their fresh sound and their strong charismatic personalities. The California-sounding punk sound is alive and well with them.

“But you know, I think why not make Montreal the next California punk scene?” adds Chouinard towards the end of the discussion.

If Montreal is the next punk rock scene, it has found its queens in les Shirley. ■

Les Shirley’s first album, Forever Is Now, will be released on March 19. For more about the band, and to buy the album, please visit their Bandcamp page.

For more Montreal music coverage, please visit the Music section.