Arts & Entertainment
3 min

They just love girls

Lesbian pop duo keeps the lyrics honest

SUGARBEACH FORMED ON A WHIM: Tully Callender and Marlee Walchuck turned their lives upside when they fell in love and started making music together. They formed Sugarbeach and haven't looked back. Credit: Pink Productions (Tiffany Cooper photo)

Working as the CEO of her own accounting firm in Sydney, Australia and married to a wonderful man, Tully Callender likely would not have guessed that a year later she’d be living in Vancouver, married to a woman and fulfilling her musical aspirations as one half of the lesbian pop band Sugarbeach.

Enter Marlee Walchuck, the catalyst and other half of Sugarbeach, a long-time Vancouver musician (once a part of the local ’80s phenomenon, Mistress) who had relocated to Sydney.

The two clicked immediately, developing a friendship that became an attraction and a mutual artistic admiration, culminating in Callender and Walchuck’s decision to cross the globe together to Vancouver.

Relationships ended, careers halted and a new momentum was found in their union.

They are now married, working on an album to be released in July 2008 and planning to tour the Pride circuit this summer. The combination of their powerful union has already resulted in one catchy pop collection, I Just Love Girls.

And that was just 2007.

When asked about the challenges of performing as an out lesbian couple with overtly queer lyrics, they both scrunch their foreheads, scratch their heads and simultaneously blurt, “Challenges?” in disbelief.

The challenges seem to have lifted since they decided to consciously forefront their creative aspirations. Now, they claim, their biggest obstacle is time and wanting to do everything immediately. Such is the gift of inspiration.

“It’s much bigger than music,” Walchuck explains. “It’s bigger than sexuality.”

One of Sugarbeach’s goals is to make it easier for other queer musicians to be open and honest in their lyrics. The opportunity to have a hand in anyone coming out is a great motivating factor.

The even bigger motivation is authenticity, says Walchuck. Their lyrics, while clearly lesbian, are universal and resonate with straight and queer audiences alike.

As Callender and Walchuck grew closer, expressing themselves creatively emerged as the natural outcome. They formed Sugarbeach on a whim, released the single “I Just Love Girls” in record time and haven’t looked back.

They were immediately booked to perform at eight venues during last year’s Pride and the gigs kept coming.

“When it’s right, it’s right,” Callender says. The synthesis of coming out, moving to Vancouver and pursuing her singing career has granted Callender an enormous freedom, allowing her to focus on projects that matter to her and feed her creatively. In addition to singing in Sugarbeach, she also co-hosts The Lesbian Show on Co-op Radio, every Thursday night.

The momentum they gained from being honest with themselves and their art — and sharing that authenticity with their listeners — has had a profound impact. Callender and Walchuck are so intent on being themselves now that they proudly announce at every show that they are married to each other.

Crowds tend to respond well. Walchuck smiles as she describes the momentary silence that steals over the average predominantly straight audience as they piece together the queer marriage thing, then let out an overwhelming cheer of support. That support never ceases to delight the duo and continually strengthens their resolve to create more “alternative content with a mainstream sound.”

Walchuck, who spent six years in Sydney, was surprised to find that Vancouver’s music scene had changed so drastically in her time away. While there are live-act venues like the Oasis and the Majestic, there are many clubs and lounges that simply can’t afford to support live musicians or have opted for DJs instead. Rather than feeling dismayed by this, Walchuck and Callender simply took another route.

They self-produced their debut single and developed a following through networking sites like MySpace and Facebook and are thrilled to find that they have fans in the unlikeliest of places, like the UK and Spain, where they’ve never toured.

While the move might seem like a huge stretch for Callender, the former accounting firm owner, she clearly enjoys the adventure of it all. Her old life might be far away but the tools she used to create that life are still with her and very much at the forefront of Sugarbeach.

“We’ve got the creative and musical talent to do what we want to do but we’ve also got the business model,” says Callender, whose past success includes building a one-woman company into a 200-people-strong business. Walchuck credits Callender’s determination and goal-setting ability as the driving force behind the duo.

As all musicians and creative people can attest to, it takes extraordinary courage to venture beyond the safety of guaranteed income and stable careers. The reward, for Sugarbeach, and their fans, is watching a new and brilliant lifestyle unfold.