Vancouver’s all-queer, all-female alt-rock outfit Strange Breed has been slowly taking over their local music scene one show at a time. Sounding like a ‘90s riot grrrl fan’s feminist dream with an unexpected modern rock twist, the fierce four-piece consisting of Nicolle Dupas (vocals/guitar), Terra Chaplin (lead guitar), Megan Bell (drums), and Ally Von Wallis (bass) has been described as a “grittier B-52s” and in a short year and a half they have gone from playing tiny clubs in Vancouver to larger venues such as The Rickshaw, Venue, and Fortune Sound Club.
They’re currently taking the rest of Canada by storm with their debut album Permanence., out now on all platforms, and a tour that wraps up this weekend in Montreal. Produced by Darren Grahn (Veruca Salt, Metallica, k.d. lang), Permanence. touches on a number of social and political issues, such as gender discrimination, mental illness, LGBTQ+ visibility, #MeToo and gun laws, but in essence is the summation of the band’s core beliefs and hopes they have for the future of society.
Part of that is what they describe as “queering the status quo,” illustrated by Permanence.’s first two singles: Closer, about queer desire and being accepted for who you are, and The C-Word, a lighthearted, almost step-by-step guide to how consent should work. The members of Strange Breed are also dedicated to helping communities and have raised money for organizations including Music Heals B.C., Girls Rock Camp Vancouver, The Downtown Eastside Women’s Centre and WISH! Drop-In Centre.
We spoke to Nicolle Dupas and Megan Bell about all of this while they were on the road, and you can find out more at strangebreedband.com.
What was the process like making Permanence.?
Nicolle: Long! This album had been a year in the works as far as working on it in the studio, but some of these songs, My Blood, for example, I’d started writing years ago. It wasn’t until Strange Breed became “a thing” that they were brought to the table and finished as rock songs. Working with our producer, Darren Grahn, was a monumental part of the process. He has a long history with artists like Metallica, Veruca Salt, Bon Jovi, k.d. lang, and so many more. Darren helped us form something that maintained a stronghold on the grunge-inspired, garage rock roots that we’ve grown from. Then he helped polish it and give it mainstream accessibility.
I feel that this album has a really strong modern rock appeal and potential to reach a much broader audience than we set out to achieve in our first days as a band. Darren also helped us bring back some of those dreamy ‘90s femme rock vibes through layers of harmonies and guitars that are reminiscent of bands like Veruca Salt. The ‘90s have been making a large comeback in a lot of ways, but there are certain sounds that have yet to make a strong comeback in modern rock. It’s cool to be one of the bands doing that at this moment. In short, this album was hard to make in some ways, but mostly it felt natural and cathartic. It is us sharing essential core values and beliefs with the world and introducing ourselves as a band. Naturally, there were moments where we wondered if we should say certain things, cut parts out, cut songs out, for fear of judgment. But we wanted to be our honest selves, and we feel like we’ve achieved that.
What song on the record are you most proud of and why?
Megan: I’m personally most proud of the song 25 only because of the last-minute decision to put it on the album. Nicolle had written it towards the end of our recording sessions, but we all had a feeling that it needed to be on the album. Darren also on board. The song came together so quickly that it confirmed our gut feeling. Even listening to the song now, we all still get a shiver.
How would you describe your artistic evolution so far?
Megan: We are still a new band--just over two years old—so our artistic evolution has been about getting more comfortable with each other and with our instruments. You can hear that evolution even on the album. Being on tour and playing every night, we feel our musicality growing stronger. We all know we have so much to learn, but gaining a sense of comfort with our instruments is a great place to be for us.
What's been the biggest change in your life over the past year?
Megan: That’s a big question, as it’s been a big year for us. I think the most significant change has been how people treat us as a band. Before our album release, we were often viewed as an inexperienced “girl band” in a derogatory way. We often felt overlooked, or underestimated, and were often approached after a show by people saying things like, “I wasn’t expecting much, but I’m impressed,” and other backhanded comments like that. The change has been the seriousness in which people now perceive us. We are now looked at as a “real band,” and we no longer have “that guy” giving us unsolicited advice on what our next move should be. I think with our album release party, and our tour, the Vancouver music scene knows that Strange Breed will be around for some time to come!
What's your best touring story?
Nicolle: We’re currently about halfway through this cross-Canada tour, and in spite of all that’s happened so far, I wouldn’t say we’re a typical band on the road. We’re very straight edge by comparison, so I can’t think of any crazy stories, unfortunately! A lot of it has been small moments shared between us--mostly weird inside jokes and silliness, to be honest. Overall, we’re just feeling humbled by the generosity of all the folks putting us up in their homes, buying our album, and coming to the shows. The turnouts and the responses have all been overwhelmingly positive, and it’s been helping us make our way pretty easily across the country. For the first tour, we couldn’t ask for anything better!