As intoxicating as Milk & Bone’s vocals sound on their album, Little Mourning, they are astounding live in the swanky basement of the Drake Underground in downtown Toronto. Twinkling keys flutter under the siren-like power of Milk & Bone’s harmonies. Suddenly, a core-shaking blast of bass and pulsing rhythms causes pulses to quicken and chills to emerge. Sitting atop a plush booth with my back to the wall, I’m shocked when the sonic power coming from the stage causes both the wall and booth to aggressively vibrate. Milk & Bone have the room in the palm of their hands and are making the Drake Hotel tremble on command. It is quite an experience.
Milk & Bone are black and white, soft and harsh, strong and sweet. These motifs are both natural and deliberate and are evident visually, lyrically, melodically and physically. This young duo from Montréal write songs “because they have to.” In other words, music is their expression, their therapy, their art form. Both Laurence Lafond-Beaulne and Camille Poliquin are classically trained musicians who grew up with music. These singer-songwriter multi-instrumentalists are so skilled that original demo vocal tracks were used for many of the songs that appear on Little Mourning.
On a rainy fall night in Toronto, I am met with warm smiles from Laurence and Camille, both dressed fully in black, who await me in the room where they will captivate their audience two hours later. They lead me back into the drizzling outdoors, through a nearby unmarked door, and up four flights of stairs to a quaint guest apartment where they’ll be staying after their show tonight. As we sit down, Camille, the more assertive of the two, shares that she loved the playlist that Stories Behind The Songs curated and included them in last month. And so began the Stories Behind The Songs interview with the lovely Milk & Bone.
Both of you have grown up studying several instruments and styles. How did the sound of Milk & Bone come about? Was it something you envisioned and decided upon before you began putting the album together?
Camille: It was never discussed but at that specific time when we merged our two sounds together, we were both listening to the same kind of music and sharing a lot of music, so when the time came to find a sound we were kind of on the same page.
C: I remember listening to Blue Hawaii.
Laurence: Blood Orange!
C: I remember the playlist I was listening to. It was Songza – Blogged 50. It was all music that was super mellow but kind of lusty in a way that you could just chill. And we were in a certain mood when we were writing as well, just very friendly and cozy.
L: It usually starts separately. “Coconut Water” was written in the studio in an hour and a half but it’s the only one like that.
C: We can do whatever. Naturally, the songs are born out of either one of us. We’ll have either a verse or a chorus, or just a melody or a mood, and we’ll bring it to the other and the whole song will eventually finish itself. That’s how it usually happens but we can change it up and we like to change it up, too.
C: For me, most of the feelings that I brought to this album came from the same kind of place even if [some of the songs] were written two years before. They came from a space of helplessness which is what brought me to have to write these songs. That’s what Little Mourning is. It’s kind of a sum up of what happened in our emotional lives in the past years. Every time we wrote a song for the album, we were in a position where we didn’t have the choice to.
L: For me, it felt like each song was a little closure of the story that happened.
L: I think, for me, I’m really done with those stories. But it’s still very intense. For example, “New York” is very raw and intense and pretty harsh and every time we perform it I’m really, really into it and it’s very personal and very intense but I don’t get sad from it. It puts me in a mood that I really like, also. I don’t know, you want to really relate to the lyrics you’re seeing on stage. But it doesn’t give me more closure. Probably in the beginning it did a little bit but not anymore.
C: I get really mad.
C: Not every time. But that’s what I like about performing those songs that are very personal. Sometimes I’m in a mood where I’m just singing it and I’m enjoying singing it and I know where the story comes from and I’m just loving the moment, and sometimes I’m just furious. Last time we did “Watch” I was furious. I don’t know why. That’s one thing I love about performing songs that are very personal – I never know how I’m going to feel when I do it. Sometimes during “Pressure” I get emotional and I forget my lyrics because I get overwhelmed with lust.
L: Yes, and musically.
L: Yes, yes, of course. Well, the lyrics say it all. I wrote that song in an afternoon. I bought my Nord stage, my piano, and it was the first time that I had a piano at home. It was in the afternoon and I was thinking of the dude that I was with for like, three years. I felt like I never apologized for everything that happened and I felt like I needed to apologize but we weren’t talking anymore so I just had to apologize with a song. I felt terrible with everything that had happened so I just started playing with that in mind and it just happened. It took me like, 30 minutes to write that song with both the piano and vocals. So, it was an “I’m sorry” song but I never sent it to him.
C: We hate answering that question! (laughs) No, we can’t! And everyone asks! Basically, we’d been friends for a while and then we worked together on a song for friends and then we decided to work together and write songs together so we decided to find a name for ourselves and it took five minutes! We never thought about it again, you know, like, whether we’re going to regret this. It was just like, this is what it’s going to be. And I still like it! (laughs)
C: Yes. And, well, when we named the project we never thought about what it could mean. But then afterwards, we were like, you know what, we have very strong images, why not use them in our aesthetics? We were like, “Let’s use the duality of the milk that is very soft and the bone that is very harsh. Okay, black and white. Okay, let’s have two personalities in the band.” It wasn’t intentional at first but then we were like, why not use this and make a strong aesthetic for ourselves so that we’re remembered and that people know exactly what we are.
L: It just made sense.
Your black and white press photos were done by [Montréal photographer] Le Pigeon whose work has a kind of dark beauty to it. What was working with him like and what’s the story behind how that came about?
(In unison): He’s a good friend!
L: So it was easy!
C: Honestly, we’ve done a few photo shoots for magazines since and it was only then that we realized how easy and fun it is to work with him. It’s so nice to have a friend in front of you who knows exactly how you want to be pictured and knows what you find beautiful about yourself and what you want to portray. And he’s a genius and a beautiful artist.
L: He’s really good.
C: Um… that’s funny. Um, I met him because a friend of mine was dating him at the time and she became my best friend in the world for a long time. I spent all my time with her and she spent all her time with him so it was the three of us all the time together.
C: Well we started by doing “New York” which was written by Laurence and then we did “Coconut Water” which was written by the two of us together. Then with “Easy To Read,” Laurence had this beautiful base for a song.
L: I had the first verse and chorus but then I was so stuck. Then she wrote the second verse and I was like, (sighs) “THANKS!”
C: It was so much fun! I remember being in the studio, sitting in the vocal booth and just being like, “Okay! Where are we going with this? This is not my song but there is such a strong emotion to it. How can I put myself in that emotion?” It’s so fulfilling to be able to do that because she was stuck in the song and I could be stuck in some kind of writing but then I can write for someone else. It was awesome!
L: And that’s why it’s really cool to be two. ‘Cause I get stuck in songs a lot. I start thinking too much about everything and then I’ll be like, “What do you think?” and she’ll be like, “Oh! Well, let’s go there.” and I’m like, “Yeaaaaah! Let’s go there!”
C: Well, what happened was that we did “New York” first without even thinking of doing other songs. At first it was just, “Let’s do one song for fun.” And then afterwards, the response was so good! But we didn’t have any other songs! So we kind of freaked out. We knew that we wanted to work with Gab [producer, Gabriel Gagnon] and it all sort of happened at once. We wrote, produced, arranged, and recorded the album at the same time.
L: It was a year but it was like, once a week and sometimes we would skip a session. We couldn’t go a lot because our producer worked during the week and then sometimes on the weekend we had shows. But what’s cool about that is that we didn’t have that much time so we had to be focused. A bunch of the vocal tracks on the album are the demo ones. A lot of them. Most of them. They’re first takes. We kept them.
C: When we tried to redo them, we just couldn’t find the emotion anymore so we kept the raw ones.
C: No. Honestly, there could have been ten songs on it but what happened is that we didn’t have ten songs that were finished. We had three songs and then we had beginnings to other songs that we chose to fit together. We wanted a short album, we didn’t want to have a 14-track album.
L: Yeah, like, we wrote [the last songs], recorded them the day after, and then we had to give the stamp on the album the day after.
C: Yeah, we rushed at the end!
C: Absolutely. I don’t know why, I just feel proud of the people who I admire who are from Montréal. I’m proud of the people I work with every day. I can walk on the street and I’m amazed by everything. I can walk into a show and be amazed. I feel like there’s so much talent coming out of there and everyone is so friendly. People work together, they’re nice to each other, and they love to collaborate and I think that makes it so much stronger.
L: Yeah, of course.
C: Yeah, but it’s a very soft pride. It’s not an aggressive pride. I feel very lucky that I get to be a part of that.
C: Yes, but I could never not have a home in Montréal.
L: Yes. Exactly. Same for me.
C: Recently, we’ve been travelling more and every time, like, two days before I come back, I always feel like “Yessssssss.”
L: The more we get to travel the more I’m like, “Oh, I love my home.”
C: And I don’t feel like it’s a betrayal at all for musicians from Canada to go to the States. I feel like people don’t forget that. Even if you do go to the U.S., they know where you’re from and people are usually proud to say it. I think that’s awesome.
Milk & Bone has been featured in the Stories Behind The Songs Playlist Series.
Follow Milk & Bone:
Twitter: @milknbone Instagram: @milknbone
Stories Behind The Songs Editor Stephanie Horak with Milk & Bone’s Laurence Lafond-Beaulne and Camille Poliquin after their Toronto show at the Drake Underground, October 28th, 2015.
“Can I just say, this was one of the most awesome interviews we’ve had recently. I just want to say thank you.” – Camille Poliquin