This week’s POP Montreal festival has been giving an incredible platform to artists from inside and outside Montreal since 2002, including Arcade Fire, Stars, the Unicorns and countless others. Another local band whose rise has come thanks in part to the festival is Caveboy. Comprised of lead vocalist/guitarist Michelle Bensimon, bassist Isabelle Banos and drummer Lana Cooney, this dreamy, ’70s and ’80s-influenced indie pop trio last played POP in 2016, and have since seen their young career pay serious dividends for them.
Following their 2015 self-titled debut EP (and off the strength of recent singles like “New Touch”, “Landslide” and “Color War”), they’ve made their way onto multiple North American festival bills – playing SXSW, Osheaga, and Canadian Music Week among others. They’ve also won the 2018 Allan Slaight Juno Master Class; had the chance to record at Ireland’s legendary Grouse Lodge Studios (Michael Jackson, R.E.M., Muse) for two weeks last year; played the 2017 Pre-Grammy Celebration of Canadian Excellence in Los Angeles; and have seen their songs used in shows like Orange is the New Black, Awkward, and You’re the Worst.
Northern Transmissions spoke to Bensimon over the phone ahead of the band’s two upcoming shows at POP Montreal (September 27 at O Patro Vys, and September 28 at Casa del Popolo), as well as a POP Symposium on Thursday the 27th where she’ll be moderating a discussion about music licensing and how songs can get onto film and TV. Here, she talks to us about the band’s formation, their history with POP, and their plans for touring and new music going into 2019.
Northern Transmissions: You’re about to play two shows at POP this year; one at O Patro Vys on the 27th, and another at Casa del Popolo the following night. How are you feeling leading up to those shows?
Michelle Bensimon: We’re really excited. It’s going to be interesting, because we’ve been writing for the last little while and getting deep in new music. It’s exciting because I think we’re going to test out a new song that we’ve been working on that we’ve never played. It’s a great opportunity for us to showcase our old music that’s still doing well, and then the new stuff; what people can expect in the next little while.
NT: What can people expect from you guys in the next little while musically?
MB: We’ve been fortunate enough to have been very busy over the last little while. The thing is, when you’re playing shows and running around, you don’t necessarily have time to jump in the studio and write and record. We’ve been spending the last little while going through the music that we’ve written in the last two years, and we’ve been finalizing to prepare to go into the studio before the end of the year. We’re getting our album all together for next year.
NT: I saw you guys play POP Montreal previously in 2016 opening for Let’s Eat Grandma at Bar Le Ritz. How much do you think things have changed for your band in the two years following that show?
MB: Two years! That’s crazy. So much has changed. We love POP Montreal so much. Montreal’s an interesting music scene. It’s fun; there’s just so many bands, and always so many shows, and always so much to do. POP has always given us a chance and an opportunity to meet a lot of really great people. They’ve always had our backs. In the last two years, since doing the Juno Master Class [earlier this year], and then we got to play at the Juno gala dinner this year in Vancouver, so much has changed since then. Having toured across Canada, having met new fans in new cities and then coming back home now, I think it’ll be quite different than two years ago. Maybe less of our family and friends in the audience. *laughs*
NT: How do you think POP Montreal helps both the scene here and the artists who come from it both in the short and long term?
MB: POP is so great at connecting artists with the people that we need to be connected with. We’ve gotten so many awesome opportunities because of our POP shows. Most of our bigger things were because somebody was in the room at our POP show. We met our publishers from a POP speed dating [event] four years ago. It’s been so great for us every year, something interesting always happens. Someone interesting is at a show. That’s the thing – there’s that opportunity for bands who don’t know anyone to actually play for some really high-level people who could make a difference in their career.
NT: POP speed dating?! I didn’t know that was a thing.
MB: It’s awesome! It’s amazing. There’s so many symposiums and so many opportunities to meet the delegates that are coming in. It might seem like, “Oh, do I want to go to that?” But I would suggest to bands to go to those things. Go meet the labels, go talk to the festival bookers, go and do everything you can. Listen to people speak. I’m actually going to be moderating a think panel, talking about music in TV and film, because Caveboy has had a lot of placements in TV and film. That’ll be super fun. I would suggest for people to go check stuff out, because that’s why the delegates are here and POP is so great at connecting the artists.
NT: Where and when is the panel going to be?
MB: It’s on Thursday [September 27] where the POP symposiums are [at the Piccolo Rialto]. It’s from 12 to 3.
NT: Coming from a city like Montreal with such a rich musical history and being such a fertile place for artists to come up through in recent years, do you find that to be a blessing because of how much attention Montreal gets for its artists on a national and international scale? Or is it more of a curse because there’s a relatively crowded pool of artists here?
MB: I think it really works for us in places other than Montreal. We go to Toronto, we go to the States, and I think it works that we’re from Montreal. I think it has an element to it that is quite helpful. There’s a niche here. The style of music we’re doing, I don’t find there’s hundreds and hundreds of bands [here] who are doing this blend of the old and the new – a lot of ‘70s and ‘80s influence meets now. There’s room for all of us, really. I feel like it’s more of a blessing than a curse, for sure.
NT: Your bandmates Isabelle [Banos, bass] and Lana [Cooney, drums] had first met in CEGEP and had already been playing for quite some time before you joined the band as well. How’d you get acquainted with them?
MB: I actually knew Lana when we were kids. We played soccer together at the age of four to seven. I was living in Toronto – I’m born and raised in Montreal, but I was going to school there – and I started dabbling in music. I remember sending Lana a song back when Facebook was public, when everything you posted was a public message. I definitely still have it somewhere. I guess I posted on her wall or something, like “I have this song. I know you’re a really great drummer, and I’d love to send it to you. Maybe you could put drums on it.” She was like, “My friend Isabelle is really into electronic music now.” This was eight years ago. I was coming into town for something, and we jammed together. We just vibed so much. I never moved back to Toronto; I had all my stuff sent back to Montreal, and relocated back home. It was the best decision ever.
NT: Since I’m interviewing you for POP, the three of you have also become mainstays on the festival circuit in Canada in recent years, especially at POP, Canadian Music Week, Osheaga, Hillside in Guelph, and Rifflandia in Victoria among others. What’s the most rewarding part about doing festivals like these?
MB: I love festivals so much, because I feel like most of the time the people who are going are just music lovers. They want to see music, they want to discover new artists. I went to the first Osheaga [in 2006], I went to every single Osheaga… I remember when I went to the first Osheaga, I said, “That’s exactly what I want to do with my life.” It’s because of going to that festival that I realized I really wanted to give this a try and see what I could do with music. I feel like there must be so many other people like me who go to festivals and discover all these new artists and get inspired and just have the most amazing time. Sometimes you’re at the same festivals as the same bands as you’re travelling through the circuit, and that’s super exciting. You get to meet all sorts of people. I love festivals so much, I think they’re so much fun.
NT: You won the recording festival contest which got you a two-week residency at the Grouse Lodge Studios in Ireland. How much did that experience help you in terms of growing as a band and developing your sound?
MB: That was an incredible experience. Just being somewhere completely different and being in a studio with so much history, we were really able to write and record a bunch of stuff. Actually, some of the stuff we did there will transfer now into this new phase of finishing up the album. It’s really exciting. It’s just another really awesome, cool thing that we’ve gotten to do. It’s a very special studio.
NT: Your music has also been featured on show like Orange is the New Black, Awkward, Killjoys, and You’re the Worst. How much has use of your songs on shows like that helped you as far as exposure goes?
MB: It’s crazy how much. If you think of [shows like] The O.C., I remember I would watch that show, and I would look up every song. They would post online the list of songs that were in every episode. I was just obsessed with music in shows. I discovered so many bands that way. That’s still very much a thing, and there are so many people on YouTube, on Twitter – these TV and movie lovers who’ll get so excited about music when it’s placed right in a show or film. We actually just had our song “Something Like Summer” in the trailer for a new movie called The New Romantic, starring Jessica Barden from The End of the F***ing World, and Camila Mendes and a couple other people from Riverdale. It’s crazy how much that’s already brought us some attention, and that just came out a couple of days ago. We love when our music gets placed. Again, we met our team at POP Montreal four years ago, so it all happened because of POP. It really goes full circle.
NT: There’s been a real fascination with ‘80s-inspired stuff lately in pop culture, and there’s definitely shades of that kind of sound in your music. What is it about music and cultural trends from the Ronald Reagan era that you think is so appealing to people in 2018?
MB: The bright colours. *laughs* I think synthesizers will always be super cool. We’re all still discovering new sounds that we’re using with all this old equipment. We use a lot of analog stuff, and we’re still discovering what those things can do. They create this world that I believe has a lot of emotion, and that’s what people are hooked on. They want to hear the emotion… I have a bit of a deeper tone [in my] singing voice, and I find it very supportive of the vocals and the songs.
NT: You toured a little bit across Canada earlier this year as well, going out west back in March – the first time you’ve done a tour like that. What are some of the biggest things you took out of that experience?
MB: Ontario is very big when you’re driving through – that’s something everyone can know! *laughs* It was really awesome. I’ve never even gone through Canada that way not doing music. It was very special to be able to see a lot of our country and meet all sorts of different people. I really find each province has quite different vibes. I think it was one of those things we wanted to cross off the list. Now that we’ve done it, we’re already excited to do it again and continuing to go back to those cities and see what happens.
NT: Will you be planning on doing it again anytime soon?
MB: Possibly next year. Once we have the album out, we’re going to do a bunch of touring.
Words by Dave MacIntyre