Fate. Destiny. Kismet. Whatever you call it, musicians Michelle Bensimon, Lana Cooney, and Isabelle Banos—the trio behind Montreal’s Caveboy—know it well.
Bensimon and Cooney, both queer women, actually grew up together in the suburbs of Montreal. After high school, Cooney stayed in the city, where she met Banos. The pair became fast friends, playing synths and drumming in the same bands. When Bensimon hit them up and asked if they wanted to play together, the duo brought her in for “a little jam” in Cooney’s mom’s garage.
Bensimon was living five and a half hours away, in Toronto, at the time, but it didn’t matter. As soon as she lent her vocals to Cooney and Banos’ dreamy, ’80s-inspired pop instrumentals, she knew she had to stick around.
“I immediately moved back to Montreal, which was not in my plan, but something in my gut said, This is what you need to do right now and see how that goes,” Bensimon tells NewNowNext. That was roughly nine years ago, but today the group is promoting Night in the Park, Kiss in the Dark, their debut studio album, which dropped in January.
We caught up with Bensimon and Cooney to chat hot yoga, the origins of their band name, and how the queer scene in Montreal has changed.
I found Caveboy through the super-sexy music video for “Landslide,” your 2019 single. What’s the story behind that video?
Michelle Bensimon: We worked with a videographer out of Toronto named D.W. Waterson, who is a queer, awesome director. When we finally got to collab on a music video, we knew we wanted to do something very sexy and steamy. It was the first inkling of what this new record was going to sound and feel like. At its core, “Landslide” is really about desire. We wanted the video to reflect that without it necessarily being too on the nose, so hot yoga just came about, and it just seemed like a perfect fit.
I’ll say! And how did you come up with the name Caveboy?
Lana Cooney: It goes back to our childhood—our collective childhood when we were all kind of tomboys, didn’t really fit in with most girls, kind of did our own thing, liked our own music. We tried to sum that up, and we came up with the idea of a “caveboy” because when you think of a caveman or cave person, they’re just finding their way through the world. They’re wild, they’re feral, they’re not afraid to get their hands dirty. So the idea of a caveboy is the child [version] of that person, and just not giving a fuck about anything else.
Night in the Park, Kiss in the Dark is your first studio album, and first substantial work since your 2015 EP. Why the five-year gap?
LC: We really wanted to take our time with the record. We did release a few singles in between this and the EP, and that was the route we went just because that was the advice we were given by most of the people we encountered. In the music industry it was always, “Oh yeah, don’t do an album if you’re a new band. For your first record, you should just put out a single, single, single.” We took that advice for a little while and then just said, “You know what? We want to make a record.”
MB: As we’re talking right now, I’m thinking about how as a solo artist, it’s a lot easier to pump out music than it is as a band. Because we play every instrument ourselves, it always feels like we’re trying to play catch-up. But I guess the best thing to do is to not compare [ourselves] to anyone else and keep moving forward.
You also introduced a new perspective into the mix: producer Derek Hoffman (Ralph, The Trews), who worked on the record. What was that like?
MB: When we met him, we just instantly clicked—not just as people, which we did very much, but sonically. He just got what we were going for and took it to the next level.
LC: It was a little scary for us. But as soon as we could hear what he was able to produce with the three of us in the room, it was like, Okay, we’re good. I think he was as curious and willing to take risks as we were. We would talk to him about influences and other artists we were liking at the time, or I would say, “Hey, I want a drum sound that sounds like Phil Collins, ’80s, whatever,” and he would just know exactly what that sound was and how to get it. He really understood that for us, this was a very important thing—bringing someone else into the mix.
One of the major themes in Night in the Park is navigating change, both personally and in relationships. We hear this in songs like “I Wonder” and “Guess I’ve Changed.” Can you speak to that?
MB: I think we all hold on to the simplicity of the past, whether it’s simpler relationships romantically, or relationships with parents, or just being that young caveboy who didn’t really care or worry about what anybody thought. All three of our parents are divorced, and we all grew up in really similar situations in the suburbs, being that different kid with that broken family. I think the idea of change and changing relationships is always going to be something represented in our music because it’s so much about who we are.
What’s the music scene like in Montreal?
LC: Montreal has produced some pretty awesome artists over the years, but I think the real thing about Montreal that attracts artistic types is that it’s pretty inexpensive. So it’s easy for people to have a part-time job, or no job at all, and be able to get by and make music.
What about the queer scene?
MB: I’m the single queer person in the band who goes out more. Isabelle is more of an ally, and Lana is married.
LC: Yeah, I’m a married queer.
MB: A married, stay-at-home queer. [Laughs] I drag Lana out. But yeah, I think there are two sides of it. If I’m thinking about queer non-male [people], there’s the older professional lesbian crew, which has been around forever. And then there’s this young, up-and-coming, gender-free group—just this whole new movement. A lot of it is in the punk scene. Lana and I are kind of in the middle. We’re in our 30s, so we’re not necessarily… I guess we’re becoming the older professional queers!
Are there a lot of options for going out on the town?
MB: There are a lot of fun events, but sadly there was this bar called Drugstore that Lana and I both grew up going to—it was a lesbian bar with eight floors and all these different patios, and we had so many experiences there as young queer people—but then it closed because of rent. That was a really tragic shift for the city.
LC: The gay village in Montreal feels like it’s also very male-centric. Drugstore was always the one spot where you could go out and see women. But it seems like those spaces have now moved to other parts of the city. There are some queer spaces; they’re just not in the gay village.
Do you find that most of your fans are LGBTQ?
MB: Oh, there are definitely a lot of queers [at our shows], 100%. But there’s also a lot of men and older people. We really are wary of being pegged as only appealing to gay women or the queer community. We want to reach the masses while still being partly queer-identified. So it feels great that there’s such a variety of people at our shows.
Night in the Park, Kiss in the Dark is out now.