Along with the main courses of great art and performances over the next few months during festival season, there’s always a fresh dégustation of new and underrated talent at smaller showcases throughout the city. In the shadow of the Fringe Fest, now in full swing (in its second week and set to wrap up on June 24th), just this kind of talent was put in the spotlight last night at the official Indie Montreal opening showcase at Divan Orange. For those who caught the show, a highlight was the enthralling, harmonious, five-piece local band, Motel Raphaël.
We caught up with Motel Raphaël’s Emily Skahan, singer, songwriter, guitarist and tupperware-shaker extraordinaire, one of three voices and acoustic guitar parts, to talk about the group’s sound, story, inspiration, and aspirations.
Skahan, 23 (who makes up the band with Maya Malkin, 20, Clara Legault, 23, Robin Warner, 21 and Afolabi Fapojuwo, 22) meets me at her second-floor apartment in the Plateau. We drink cheap wine and sit on pillows on her balcony as she speaks excitedly of the band’s current projects and recently added members. “Someone was asking me today, ‘So you’re pretty set, eh? what’s missing in your life?’ and I actually thought about it,” she explains, “and I realized, […] I’m not missing anything.”
The band started as an all-girl mostly acoustic set, known for earthy tones and honest lyrics, a counterpoint to their bold name choice. “I mean, whats the opposite of a terrifying place? Three happy girls,” Skahan jokes. “It was just kind of a funny thing and its very poetic sounding. It’s got a nice ring to it and it’s very Montreal, and that’s a big part of who we are, it’s this city. It’s such a creatively healthy city and it influences us so much.”
In the last few months, the band abandoned their trio to add two male members, a drummer (Fapojuwo) and a bassist (Warner), opting for a fuller, more electric vibe. “I can’t imagine our music without them now, and it’s been so little time. That’s how you know that you really click,” explains Skahan. That said, she assures me that the band won’t be forgetting about their roots any time soon. “We’re never gonna forget where we came from, we’re never gonna forget things like our first shows at Burritoville and the first people that interviewed us,” she says. “These are all things that we will remember, and they will hopefully keep us as grounded as we need to be.”
How to describe their sound now? “The sound is still heavily centered around the voices” she explains, as Motel Raphael’s songs are characterized by layered, three-part harmonies, as exemplified with the group’s current focus, Ghosts. “Our sound is three songwriters doing different things all together to create something crazy,” reasons Skahan. It’s a meeting between Legault’s bluesy edge, Skahan’s country/twang contributions and Malkin’s pop vibe. The difference now, however, is that this vocally-centered sound has a band backing it. “To hear songs that [we’ve] been playingfor a year, all of a sudden have a full drum kit on them, is crazy.”
While Motel Raphael seems a rather eclectic outfit, all members bring something of their own to the mix. “Ideally, I want people to feel like, sometimes, they wrote the song themselves” says Skahan. And while most of their work revolves around the perhaps cliché realm of relationships, she insists the music is still as legitimate and honest as it can be: “you know, heartbreak is such an intense thing to have happen to you, it’s nuts to have a broken heart, so obviously […] when you’ve got the most titillating anger or sadness or happiness is when you’re in love or falling out of love, or hurt…so those are just the easiest places to draw inspiration from.” And, true to Motel Raphaël’s quirky edge, Skahan says she also writes “a lot about alcohol, [that] it’s a prevalent subject” after having worked in bars for three years, which can be very clearly heard in songs like Jameson — the band are also quite set on being direct.
Going forward, the band hope to record a full studio album different from their past live recordings. Over the course of the summer, they also aspire to shoot a video for Ghost.
In the meantime, you can check out Motel Raphaël’s Facebook page. If you frequent St-Laurent or Square Victoria metro on your daily commute, you might catch some Motel Raphaël songs in Skahan’s regular busking sets, sometimes even accompanied by bandmate Legault. Next time you’re stuck waiting for the orange or green line to start moving, keep your ears peeled; you might just like what you hear.