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The heart-on-sleeve success of Montreal's Milk & Bone

Holly Gordon

Milk & Bone’s Camille Poliquin and Laurence Lafond-Beaulne are practically inseparable.

Sitting side by side in a Mile End café in mid-January, finishing each other’s plates and sentences, the fast friends first met eight years ago while in the music program at CEGEP de Saint-Laurent. Having both played in various other bands around the city, the two Montrealers decided to turn their friendship into a musical duo, and their first project quickly took off. Lafond-Beaulne and Poliquin released their debut album, Little Mourning, as Milk & Bone in 2015 to critical acclaim and multiple awards (and a Polaris long-list slot), sparking a tour that stretched itself into a two-year run.

It was a dream come true for two friends who poured themselves into a project without expectation, but every friendship has its limits. So they’ve made a plan to take care of each other.

“We have a date night,” Lafond-Beaulne explains, looking to her right, at Poliquin. “Every month now,” adds Poliquin.

“‘Cause you know if ever something goes in a weird direction or whatever, we always have that moment every month where we can realign,” Poliquin continues. “And that's really important in a relationship where we have to stay friends ’cause it's not like we're coworkers, you know? Because if we were coworkers we'd have a strictly work relationship, but we have to have both. Which can be challenging.”

“Yeah,” says Lafond-Beaulne, “because we travel and sleep in the same room, so.”

Related: Watch Milk & Bone perform songs from their new album in CBC Music's First Play Live

Lafond-Beaulne and Poliquin’s heart-on-sleeve personalities are a crucial part of what makes Milk & Bone work. The 2014 track “New York” — the first one they ever released — is a hell of a heartbreaker, with Lafond-Beaulne singing “It's not true/ that I didn't matter/ I did matter” over a stark arrangement, before Poliquin joins in on the harmony and the song ramps up to reveal its own brokenness: “I made love to another one.”

On Deception Bay, Milk & Bone’s second album out Feb. 2, their hearts are still bleeding but their sound, and confidence, is amplified. Counting 14 tracks compared to Little Mourning’s eight, Lafond-Beaulne and Poliquin have built a mood board of songs, leaning into their Lana Del Rey influence with the album opener “Set in Stone,” bringing in full percussion and horns on the shade-dealing title track (“Your childish dreams seem to know the way/ we’ll meet again in Deception Bay,” sings Poliquin) and shutting off most effects for a stripped-down, intimate keyboard number on “Tomorrow.”

In the back half of the album there are two short interludes, which are manipulated parts of other songs in the tracklist. “It's nice to be disturbed a little when you listen to an album, I think — a little uncomfortable,” explains Lafond-Beaulne. It makes Deception Bay sound like a borderline concept album.

“Lorde's [Melodrama] was a really big album while we were doing the album,” says Lafond-Beaulne. “We loved it. How it was constructed and sometimes really naked and sometimes really raw.”

Rawness is an inherent quality for Milk & Bone — it’s a challenge not to feel too much while listening to their intertwined voices — and it’s something the singers have a particular way of mining for best effect.

“Usually one of us will write the start of a song and then we will put it together and work on it together to make sure that we're both included and feel attached to the song and have a word to say,” says Lafond-Beaulne. “So in the end every song is us, too. We both write in moments where we need to write and we kind of like that ‘cause usually when you write in this state of mind, it comes from a real place and a real emotion and I think those songs are —”

“— they come across more directly, I feel, than a song that we started in the studio together,” finishes Poliquin. “Even though it can be a good song, it's never as raw as a song that [comes] after heartbreak at a party.”

“Or drunk,” adds Lafond-Beaulne, as they both laugh.

The gauzy, catchy track “Daydream” is one of two songs written in studio, in addition to “Kids,” a playful set of nostalgic verses. Ordered back-to-back on the album, it’s an optimistic lens before hitting songs like the aforementioned “Tomorrow” and “Deception Bay” — a song that Poliquin pulled from a break-up.

Deception Bay is a place, right? It exists. In Quebec,” says Poliquin. “And when I saw that word, I thought, ‘Oh my God, that is so evocateur.’ It made me think of a relationship, and that relationship was quite deceptive and ended in a weird way and I find myself very often thinking back about it and about what happened and why it ended the way it did and why I was so disappointed about it. And why I still think about it, you know? ...  I think that a lot of people have those relationships where we know it can't work, it's never gonna work, but it's still in the back of our mind — in Deception Bay.”

It's a standout track on the album, and one that started as simple piano and vocals.

"We knew we wanted to keep the piano and some parts fragile, but it also needed to be a grand song. It's a song where you get back at the person and you grow from that experience, and we wanted for the song to reflect that," says Poliquin. "And I think that's what the drums bring and the horns at the end also, very orchestral. Kind of elevates."

The two singers wrote most of the new songs over three days last winter in a house in Eastman, Que., and later recorded Deception Bay at Studios Apollo and La Majeure with producer Gabriel Gagnon. This time around, they let a few more people into the process: Howie Beck (Feist, Charlotte Day Wilson, River Tiber) mixed the album, while Chilly Gonzales and Max-Antoine Gendron are also listed among their collaborators.

“I think we're talking about similar themes, similar experiences [on this album],” says Poliquin. “We’re in the heat of the moment, with the raw emotion, with writing the songs and producing them as we were feeling in the heat of the moment. And I think this one [Deception Bay] talks about similar themes but it's more of a reflection. Taking a step back, analyzing a bit more.”

To match the bigger sound of Deception Bay, the two singers are ramping up their live show. On their previous, and first, tour, it would often be a sparse setup: the two of them, plus stand and keyboard. Now, two months before the tour starts, Poliquin and Lafond-Beaulne are working on the new stage show: a full setup with lighting, double the amount of songs to choose from (including plenty more upbeat numbers) and a more immediate connection with the crowd.

“Our stage confidence is not comparable,” says Poliquin. “We'd never been leads [before Little Mourning’s tour] on the stage in front of that many people before. We performed in front of how many people at jazz fest? It was like 40,000. It was our biggest crowd. So I was terrified. But having gone through that I think makes me a better performer and allows you to think that I can do that.”

“We have some tricky, risky parts,” says Lafond-Beaulne, “and we're like, ‘Let's do it!’ And we're gonna get better. And maybe one night is gonna be shitty but at least —”

Poliquin interrupts: “When we nail it, we nail it. You know?”

Deception Bay will be out via Bonsound on Feb. 2. Order it here, and find their tour dates here.

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