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The Metamorphosis of Milk & Bone 

The Montreal electro-pop duo talks beginnings and the beauty of blooming where you’re planted.

by Madeline Lines

I walk into Milk & Bone’s favourite neighbourhood haunt – a cafe on a sleepy street in Montreal’s Parc Ex neighbourhood – and snag a spot by the window. It’s easy to expect the Quebecois pop duo to roll up in their signature perfectly coordinated, laced up outfits, but I recognize Laurence Lafond-Beaulne by her fluffy bangs ordering her coffee at the counter in a casual but fashionable turtleneck. She walks up with a big black milk crate tucked under one arm that she scooped from the side of the road. It’s the first blustery day of winter, and as we wait for her other half, Camille Poliquin, we wrestle the howling window beside us shut.

Poliquin pulls up in a cozy hoodie and slides into the conversation effortlessly. The two have a symbiotic way of talking, almost like sisters, stopping just short of finishing each other’s sentences. Riding the high of their freshly released third album, Chrysalism, it’s clear that their success is built on a lovingly shared history. They talk about caring for their multi-layered relationship – part best-friendship, part-work, part-creative partner – as intentional an act as tending to a garden. For fun, I ask them to go back to their first impressions of each other, and their eyes light up.

“She looked different than the people I hung out with,” says Lafond-Beaulne, turning to Poliquin. “You had such a cool outfit. I don’t even remember how I dressed, I think it was quite bad.”

Poliquin interjects, “No! You were very fashionable. Boyish.”

Lafond-Beaulne and Poliquin met in CEGEP – Quebec’s buffer between high school and university – where they felt instantly drawn to one another. Poliquin was the new girl in their small jazz music program when she spotted Lafond-Beaulne. “She knew everyone, and everyone was friends with her,” says Poliquin. They became fast friends and natural musical partners, in an environment that taught them the art of composition. 

“That’s when we started getting super close and noticing how easy it was to sing together, how complementary our voices were,” says Lafond-Beaulne. “That’s when the stars aligned for us.”

A fruitful career soon followed – their debut album, 2015’s Little Mourning, earned them a 2016 JUNO for Breakthrough Group and Polaris Music Prize buzz. By their sophomore album, Deception Bay, the pair solidified their place as Quebec’s indie darlings. But it’s really in Chrysalism that the two think they’ve really come into their own as artists, and as people. The new record leans into a bolder pop sound than ever before – a risk they hadn’t felt they could take before.

“When we first started out, it was very important for us to identify as musicians. Ten years ago even, it was like, you’re either a pop star or you’re a band,” says Poliquin.

“There was this assumption that the women singing on stage weren’t necessarily writing their own songs, or producing their own music,” Lafond-Beaulne chimes in. “I think people are assuming less now. We don’t have to shove all that we can do in people’s faces.”

They credit artists like Charli XCX and SOPHIE for leading a revolution of cool, camp, covetable pop. Poliquin also points out that the power of this new wave of pop is that it was not made for the male gaze – it was made for the shes, theys, and gays. “As a woman on the stage, you used to have to be sexy for a certain type of person,” she says. The pair riff off of this in the song “Object of Fun,” a punchy and humanizing pop anthem. It’s a song they’re both especially proud of. 

The newest era of Milk & Bone sees the duo push back against more than just the patriarchal foundations of the music industry, but the expected recipes for success as well. Their roots are firmly planted in Montreal – not LA, not New York – and this acts as a healthy foundation for not only their music, but their personal lives. Montreal is their home. Lafond-Beaulne grew up on the island, between NDG and the East Plateau, and Poliquin in the suburban South Shore. Of course they feel the inevitable pull to places where you’re supposed to move to “make it” as an artist. They’re not doing it though. Montreal is the community that knows them, loves them, and gave them their nurturing start.

As a child, Poliquin even performed in Cirque Du Soleil, which she assures me other born-and-raised Montrealers would not bat an eye at or find to be an interesting fact. 

When I ask Lafond-Beaulne if she has any fun nuggets up her sleeve, Poliquin nudges her to plug her passion project – ACT, an effort to encourage sustainable touring. It’s why she snagged that milk crate earlier, and is on the hunt for more reclaimed stuff that could be useful on tour. “I get it, when you’re super busy, it’s hard to find the time for it on tour. Because it’s not something you do for money or for profit. It’s something you do for the future, and for your values,” says Lafond-Beaulne.

“It had to be an artist to do it,” adds Poliquin. “It’s a very unique knowledge to know what it’s like to go on tour. To know what being in a green room is like and how everything’s plastic and all of that, and there’s so much waste.”

The Montreal stop on the Chrysalism Tour is a full circle moment where they’re returning to the site of their debut show in the city, at Centre PHI. It’s not an appropriately sized venue by any means – the show sold out almost instantly. It wasn’t even big enough for that very first show back in 2015. They remember sweating buckets when they saw the line winding around the block. “I thought 15 people were going to show up,” says Lafond-Beaulne. “And then they actually had to start opening up other rooms and doing live projections of the show for people that couldn’t fit in the concert, because too many people were showing up.”

The location’s a fitting choice for an album that evokes a feeling of regeneration – of returning to your younger self, transformed by time and dying to tell her what you’ve learned. Instead of packing a stadium, the two are making a meaningful experience for themselves, their fans, and the artistic institutions that make the city such a vibrant place to create. 

“It’s about continuing to connect with people who have given us so much,” says Poliquin. “It’s important to me to come back to these places, and to not just be like, ‘See ya!’ Let’s go back. Let’s keep feeding that garden.”

Chrysalism is available now via Bonsound. Milk & Bone perform February 9 at Drake Underground in Toronto. Click here for full tour dates.