If you don’t know quite what to make of Montreal’s female rock quartet, Mad June, you’re right where they want you. Lead vocalist and rhythm guitarist Vanessa says of the band’s name, “We wanted something people could read things into. We didn’t want people to have a preconceived idea of what the band would be.”
As Pascale, the bassist, puts it, “We were looking for a short name that sounded good and that didn’t mean anything. We started with Mean Martha, but then Martha Stewart went to prison.”
“And everyone said, ‘Oh, is your name about Martha Stewart?'” Vanessa chimes in. “We were like ‘No!'”
Vanessa and Pascale are joined by Marie-Lyne on lead guitar and Lydia on drums. All four women happen to be lesbians, though they don’t necessarily consider themselves a lesbian band.
“If you go through the lyrics, you’ll hear stuff about Prop 8 and stuff about other issues like acceptance and non-tolerance, but I don’t call us a lesbian band,” Vanessa explains. “I don’t mind if people want to say ‘Oh, that’s the lesbian band from Montreal,’ but I don’t know what that means exactly, soundwise.”
Meanwhile, ask the band how they came together, and it’s classic lesbian-degrees-of-separation. Marie-Lyne was Pascale’s first girlfriend’s best friend. Vanessa and Pascale are girlfriends. “And she’s my ex,” Marie-Lyne jests, pointing to Vanessa.
Mad June sprang from a relaxed, half-joking conversation the three had while vacationing at the beach. “Basically, we wanted to create a project that we’d have a lot of fun in,” Vanessa says. “Not all the bullshit of business, but just to do music for the right reasons.”
Pascale was the only non-musician at that point, but after picking up Vanessa’s old bass, “she starting playing a song by ear. She never played a guitar or bass in her life. I was like, ‘Wow, okay. We have a band,'” Vanessa says.
When asked to define their sound, Vanessa and Marie-Lyne laugh, talking over each other in a way that suggests everything they’re saying should be enveloped in air quotes: “pop rock, alternative, indie, rhythm-dripping, folk-laden.”
“Sometimes we can play heavy metal festivals and the next day a folk show,” Pascale says.
Within a month this summer, Mad June went from playing Montebello Rockfest, with “a bunch of scream-o, heavy metal bands,” to being hugged by Sarah McLachlan on-stage at Lilith Fair’s Boston finale.
Mad June was chosen to play Lilith Fair in Montreal, after winning a contest for independent artists on ourstage.com. “We got an email with the contract,” Vanessa explains, “and four days later, we got an email saying, ‘Sorry to announce the Montreal show is cancelled.'” As a consolation prize, the band was given tickets to a show in the city of their choosing, along with an invitation to be on-stage in front of 10,000 fans.
“It would have been amazing to play a full set at Lilith Fair,” Vanessa says, “but just going to Boston and the fact that we were there, made people ask a lot of questions and led to a whole bunch of other stuff, like a TV special in the US.
“That was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. It went by so fast. Thank God we filmed it. I looked over it after, and there were a whole bunch of things I didn’t remember. Even the thing of Sarah coming up to me. I watched it after like, ‘Oh my God!'”
As for what’s next, “I just learned today that we got selected for Canadian Music Week, which is the biggest music festival in Canada,” Pascale says.
“This is the third year that we applied,” Vanessa says. “It’s baby steps. Things are moving at a pace that I think is normal for an indie band; we’re doing it all ourselves. And I’m really proud of how we run our own business. I’m really proud of how far we’ve gotten. It’s been exhausting and a lot of fun at the same time.”
- Oct 14 and 15 in Toronto
- Oct 20 and 29 in Montreal
- Oct 23 in Ottawa