Music/Interviews

The Beaches are drawing up a new rockstar blueprint

May 30, 2018

Fresh off their Juno win for Breakthrough Group of the Year, the Toronto four-piece have an unbeatable method for standing their ground.

I always thought it would be cool to start a band with my best friends. In high school I took guitar lessons for two years, but was really only interested in learning how to play my favourite songs at the time, like “The General” by Dispatch or “Wagon Wheel” by Old Crow Medicine Show. Pretty much any song I could take back to camp that summer and sing with my friends by the fire.

But if I had fulfilled this dream of starting a band, I would’ve wanted it to be like The Beaches. It’s more than the fact that they’re a new generation’s example of how rock music is reimagined through the confidence of young women. They’re also building a blueprint for keeping an iron hold on their creativity, ensuring that the future of their careers remains within their grasp.

When I met with them a few days after their Canadian Music Week showcase at The Opera House in Toronto, which coincided with the end of their first headlining tour, I realized early on that the foursome have become quickly adept at looking out for each other. That also means holding each other accountable for decisions they make as a group. “If one of us is passionate about [something], we let each other try it out and see if they can prove us wrong. Boom,” Leandra teases.

Formed in 2012, The Beaches aptly named their band after their east-end neighbourhood in Toronto. After releasing two EP’s they got their big label break and released their first full-length studio album Late Show, produced by Metric’s Emily Haines and James (Jimmy) Shaw. Their sound bounces between a fusion of 60’s and 90’s rock with the stadium prowess of acts like the Arctic Monkeys or The Killers. Paired with Jordan Miller’s powerhouse vocals, The Beaches make music that’s moody and sultry with a smooth satisfying edge that demands car radio shout alongs. Since their inception, Leandra Earl, Eliza Enman-McDaniel, and sisters Jordan and Kylie Miller have opened for the likes of Eagles of Death Metal and Death From Above, and recently won the 2018 JUNO Award for Breakthrough Group of the Year.

With four voices in the band, a less-connected group could find it difficult to foster a unified vision for the band, but The Beaches are friends first and take a diplomatic approach to making decisions together. “It’s interesting because there are 4 different voices and 4 different personalities that we try to showcase through our music,” Kylie points out. “We all bring something to the table that’s unique.”

Being young women you’re a little more vulnerable. But we also are able to stand our ground together and keep ourselves in check.

Eliza Enman-McDaniel

“There’s been a few trivial disputes. Leandra wanted to bring the Itty Bitty Titty Committee t-shirts on tour and I said ‘they won’t sell you’re a fool,’ and then Leandra was right they were the hottest selling ones,” Jordan says with a laugh.

As young artists starting out in the music industry, the group went through a period of having more seasoned producers and artists try to establish their sound for them: “We actually went through a period where that was happening to us,” Kylie remembers. “But we just took a step back and came to our senses that we wanted to be in control of our project 100%. Once we came to that understanding it was really easy to be like, ‘no we’re just not going to do that.’”

Considering that the band is comprised of young 20-something women in an industry predominantly governed by men, they’re used to pushing back when something feels off. Still, it takes grit to believe in your own vision and take a firm stance against the persistent nudge of veteran music professionals.

“At first it was challenging to stand up to those people,” Kylie continues, “but now –” “It’s easy,” Jordan finishes, “especially with our label. “They’ve been very accommodating and let us participate in every creative aspect that goes into our project.” “But even when it comes to other things,” Kylie continues. “Like doing an interview or a photo shoot and having someone say can you pose like this or can you wear this, we just say no sometimes. It’s ok to say no, it’s ok to be…” “Assertive,” Jordan provides. “Yeah, exactly,” Kylie agrees. “It doesn’t make you a bad person, it just means you know what you want”.

The band’s tight-knit connection is evident as they leap into each other’s sentences. It’s proof of a deeper intimacy that’s paramount as they navigate the churlish sea of the music industry together. As a group, they find strength in each other and hold fast to their own artistic direction. “Being young women you’re a little more vulnerable,” Eliza cautions. “But we also are able to stand our ground together and keep ourselves in check. We all look out for each other and if there’s something we don’t feel comfortable doing we have no problem sticking together and voicing our concern.”

Just as it takes guts to trust in their unified vision, the band use their instincts when deciding which path to take when it comes to their music. They refuse to be pushed in a direction that doesn’t feel right. “We’re a live band, that’s where we’re at our best. So whenever we’re making a decision we also have to think — ‘will I be comfortable playing this song to our fans?’ If the answer is no then it becomes very easy,” says Jordan. “I remember Jimmy [Late Show co-producer and Metric member James Shaw] saying you should be comfortable with what you’re putting out there because you could be playing this song for the next 20 years,” Leandra adds.

So many rock bands think that they have to wear the leather jackets, white t-shirts, and jeans and it becomes such a homogenous look. I think it’s so cool when bands are creative and expressive with their clothing.

Jordan Miller

In addition to honing their sound, the band have developed a distinct look that’s all their own. Part 70s glam rock with touches of 60s bohemia, all filtered through a contemporary lens that channels the best looks of the past, their collective style is carefully considered, while remaining true to each individual member.

In Leandra’s case, sometimes it just takes a little mixing and matching. “I grew up super tomboyish in my Avril [Lavigne] days. I was this little 12 yr old skateboarder and would wear a lot of guys clothes. Going the 70’s route it can feel super girly but I’ll throw in a skateboarding shirt or my vans.” Eliza has no set “thing.” “I like what I like,” she states. “But recently when I shop for clothing I like things that show off my new tattoo.”

It appears that the inspiration behind the 70’s look comes from the Millers. “I like clothes from the 60’s and 70’s the most,” Jordan proclaims. “A lot of baby doll dresses, bell-bottom jeans, old gross 70’s tacky sweaters, false eyelashes, big hair, bucket hats.” Kylie sites glam fashion girls Anita Pallenberg and Lee Sedgewick as her personal inspirations. “I love fashion,” she adds. “It’s just a really fun way to elevate yourself.”

The group’s aesthetic certainly sets them apart from other bands that adhere to the token rock n’ roll vibe. They’d like to see more artists distinguish themselves by their style. “So many rock bands think that they have to wear the leather jackets, white t-shirts, and jeans and it becomes such a homogenous look. I think it’s so cool when bands are creative and expressive with their clothing,” Jordan exclaims.

When it comes to their role models, The Beaches turn to prolific Canadians whose commitment to their creative vision has inspired them to expand their own involvement with their projects. “I think Grimes is amazing,” says Jordan passionately. “The dedication and involvement that she places on herself in every aspect of her career whether it’s her music or her art, or directing her own music videos or posting her artwork online.”

Jordan is heavily involved in the production of the band’s music videos and enjoys working collaboratively with Ben Roberts, director of their last three music videos (including my personal favs “Gold” and “T-shirt”, and soon to be released “Highway 6”). “Emily Haines,” Leandra offers as well. “She doesn’t take shit from anyone and she knows what she wants. She’s her own businesswoman.” As the co-producer of Late Show, Haines influence on The Beaches runs deep. When they recall the most notable insight from the Metric frontwoman, there are a few key things that stick out: “Stick to your guns. At the end of the day you have to be the one comfortable performing the music live. It’s your ass on the line.” Jordan says. “Also, are you having fun? Yes? Then keep going,” Leandra laughs.

Kylie has her own words of wisdom: “Do your own thing. Find something that’s unique and that allows you to express yourself and don’t be afraid to let that out and be different. That’s a really cool thing and will set you apart from others, even if it’s a bit scary.”

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