By: Matt Williams
When Partner’s debut full-length, In Search of Lost Time, dropped in the fall of 2017, it was heralded by many as beacon of giddily ballistic rock ‘n’ roll hope—almost 40 minutes packed with in-jokes about Melissa Etheridge drawings and pissed pants, songs about cheesy pick-up lines and getting stoned, and even a voicemail from dad. For those who’d already been following along and proselytizing ad nauseum about the band’s mythically fun live show and indomitable charm, their concerts were (and remain) never-to-be-missed events. It’s largely due to a couple major factors: Lucy Niles’ Godzilla-sized riffs and Josée Caron’s face-melting solos. And recently In Search of Lost Time has rightly picked up some accolades. It was just longlisted for the Polaris Music Prize, and one of the album’s singles, “Play The Field”—a song born from a conversation “about how sporty girls are hot,” Niles says—nabbed them the SOCAN Songwriting Prize, which comes with a Yamaha PSR-S970 keyboard, $500 gift certificate to Long & McQuade and $10,000 cash. What does a young band of rock ‘n’ roll enthusiasts do with so much dough?
“Buy a bunch of weed. No, I’m just joking,” Niles says. Although this is the first of a few times she cracks that rib-tickler during a seemingly endless two-hour sit-down at a Sackville, New Brunswick restaurant where the sushi never manages to make it to the table. Caron sits across from her, and bassist Kevin Brazier’s warm, comforting presence rounds out the four-top. Drummer Brendan Allison and guitarist Dan Legere are off somewhere else, probably eating food they got in a reasonable amount of time.
Niles confirms there’s some truth to every joke: “If I get to keep any I’m gonna buy weed.”
But really, the money is headed to a yet-to-be-decided-on charity, settling debts, paying videographer/photographer Colin Medley, and maybe “diversifying our brand” with new, different merch, pics, and videos. Niles is fantasizing more about going “apeshit at Long & McQuade” with the gift certificate and buying a bunch of picks, patch cords, and strings. The band is pumped to be on the Polaris longlist but doesn’t have any expectations of shortlist glory, considering the present nomination is an award in itself. If there was ever a group of hot-knifing underdogs to cheer on for an award that traditionally skews toward serious artistic statements, though, it’s Partner. Regardless of prestigious trophies, the band’s performances are what garnered them so much love in the first place. And that’s what we’re here to talk about.
Sitting around stoned in Guelph a few years ago, the band figured it’d be hilarious if Caron had something to elevate her on stage just a little bit. Allison, who’s especially handy, put together a prototype in the next week. It’s not huge, but then again, Caron is not a giant. Her feet just fit on the solo step. Allison worked on a second, bigger model, with heightened structural integrity and grip tape for better foot purchase, and he’s very proud of it. But it just wasn’t the same. “The first one, there’s something really special about it,” Caron says. So that’s the one that’s still in use at every Partner show.
Even though it’s supposed to be powerful—stepping on the little black box, scanning the crowd, and whipping out an incendiary solo—Caron says, it’s also very vulnerable.
“I put the pressure on myself to sort of give to the crowd… myself, but not be worried about what anyone thinks,” Caron says. “I try to let all my worries fall away as best as I can, and just be transparent to the crowd. That’s what’s vulnerable. It’s hard to describe. I guess it’s just growing as a performer. It’s like performing in a way you think people expect versus being really present, and not protecting yourself with moves, but going with the flow of what’s going on and not being scared of it.”
The road to the solo step really began in Summerside, PEI, where Caron grew up and after a couple years eventually managed to get her hands on a Roland Cube-15 amp, which was a bit miraculous, given that her mother had refused to let her dad have one in the house. He had apparently been “yearning for the whole marriage,” which is especially believable if you hear his contributions to In Search of Lost Time. Niles caught a punk show when she was 13 and decided she wanted to be in a band, so she started playing her dad’s copy of an old Gibson hollow-body, also without an amp for a while. “Maybe that’s why I can’t shred,” she says with a laugh.
“It’s funny that you wanted to be in a band,” Caron says to Niles. “I didn’t even want to be in a band. I was just thinking about being the best ever at solos, and how that would be a way to get on in life.”
Caron rebelled against her dad’s influence at first, saying that he would go on and on about rhythm guitar, and she thought he only talked about it because it was something easy he could achieve. But now she knows rhythm guitar and bass are important. And hard. “I spent so much of my life and career thinking bass and rhythm guitar weren’t important,” Caron says. “How sad is that? That’s where the magic is.”
“It’s like being a goalie,” Niles adds. “People only notice if you fuck up.”
Niles’ first guitar was $200 with the amp included from RadioShack, bought partly with money she thinks she saved up by babysitting. Caron’s was a Japanese Fender Squire, all red, black pickups, and no pickguard. When asked about any guitars they have an especially close bond with, Caron says she just gave it away because it was broken—an old classical, nylon-stringed guitar that all the Partner songs were written on. “I was ready for the future,” she says. She’s adamant in pointing out she does not play a doubleneck Epiphone SG anymore, as it fulfilled its purpose as, “a short-term gag.” Niles still has hers.
“This time last year, everybody chipped in and gave me $20 each for a new guitar,” Niles says. “So I got this sick guitar that’s silver with a purple pickguard, and we put an EverTune in it, so I never have to tune it. So it’s both practically and sentimentally valuable. I don’t even know what part is more cool.”
That super sweet kinda story is par for the course with Partner. Besides fostering an attitude of celebration and friendship in their tunes, their live show is dense with feel-goodery, and Caron is an especially poignant speaker. She often breaks with the rock and addresses the crowd close to the end of the night, encouraging those watching to be present in the moment they’re sharing and appreciate the experience of being together (Partner’s Tiny Desk Concert provides just one example). Those good vibes seem to emanate brightly and boldly every time she gets up on the solo step to let her worries wash away. As much as any of her electrifying fretwork or Niles’ wall-shaking riffs, that energy is why people often carry their Partner memories around in their hearts. And there aren’t many better ways to get lost in a moment than surrounded by pals as an atomic guitar solo washes over you. We already know it’s a long way to the top if you wanna rock ‘n’ roll. We should enjoy the ride together.
“I’m just mirroring my own journey into wholeness,” Caron says. “So wherever I’m at, it brings me a lot to show people that. Maybe they’re in the same place too, and we can all open up together and let some shit fall away for a second. Those are the moments that remind you of what’s real and good, and I think a rock show is the place. Everyone’s ready to join minds or whatever.
“Slowin’ it down,” she adds. “It’s as simple as that. Slowin’ it down.”