Culture | All hail Duchess Says

Montreal band Duchess Says can command the party without a full command of the English language

Raucous shows, keytar riffage, and their own religious cult: dance punk darlings Duchess Says certainly have all the makings of Montreal’s Next Big Thing. Now, with the much-anticipated release of their debut full-length – Anthologie des 3 Perchoirs – on April 15, and an extensive follow-up tour, the group’s staying power will be put to the test.

Duchess Says originally formed as a duo in late 2003, after vocalist/guitarist/keytarist Annie-Claude Deschenes and keyboardist/guitarist Ismael Tremblay relocated to Montreal from Quebec City. Eventually, the pair joined forces with drummer Simon Says (né Desre) and bassist Philippe Lement. The foursome quickly gained a reputation for high-energy gigs and their mission to spread the message of Duchess, the high priestess of their self-styled Church of Budgerigars.

Despite recording casually throughout their career, the process of making an entire album was a long and disjointed one for the band. “We make music in a very humble way,” says Tremblay, whose bedroom acted as the recording studio for “80 per cent” of the album. “If people like it, we’re very happy. If they don’t – well, of course we’re scared. [The album’s] taken so long, and we had so much pressure from everybody to release it.”

Perhaps the wait was worth it: clocking in at just over 40 minutes, Anthologie seamlessly blends Duchess’ anthemic, hook-oriented numbers – known to fans from live shows and a 2005 EP – with more progressive, almost post-industrial, experiments.

“La Friche,” “C.H.O.B.,” and the apocalyptic gypsy-trance meltdown “A Century Old,” for example, are distinctly darker and more aggressive than earlier recordings. Anchored by Simon Says’s madman drumming and Deschenel’s sugary vocal assaults – think Karen O meets Crystal Castles’ Alice Glass – these tracks demonstrate that Duchess Says are more than just flash-in-the-pan soldiers of a deteriorating dance punk revolution.

And though the four band members are francophone, Duchess Says’ songs are all in English, when they are in any language at all.

The decision to sing in their second language is not really much of a choice, Tremblay insists, but rather a natural impulse based on influence. “We’re all very Québécois, very Queb,” he says. “It’s just that I grew up listening to The Velvet Underground and Sonic Youth and The Pixies – all my favorite bands were English.”

Tremblay also cites artistic reasons for singing in English: a lack of total fluency in the language adds a desirable sense of ambiguity to their lyrics, he says. “When you get know something too well, it gets less mysterious and less exciting. But since we don’t know English that well, and don’t control the language, it remains mysterious. It creates a more poetic feel.”

According to Tremblay, ten or 15 years ago Québécois musicians had no chance of leaving the province, making it more commercially viable for them to sing in French. However, with the Montreal music boom of recent years, Québécois bands have had the opportunity to reach larger, and often predominantly anglophone, audiences.

Duchess Says will return to Montreal to kick off an extended tour that will take them across Canada, through Europe, and hopefully to the U.S. in the summer.

“I hope a lot of people show up, and it turns out to be a big party,” Tremblay says of the April 17 show at Le National. “That’s pretty much the point of all of this.”

Duchess Says play at Le National (1120 Ste. Catherine E.) on April 17. Tickets are $12 in advance or $15 at the door.


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