Photo credit: Chris MacArthur
Like everyone else, NOBRO had plans. Plans for concerts with Pussy Riot at the CMW in Toronto, tours and festivals in Quebec and elsewhere… and like everyone else, those plans fell through, for obvious reasons. But there’s one project that hasn’t been cancelled, rather simply postponed for a few weeks, and that’s the release of the 4-track EP Sick Hustle, on the Toronto label Dine Alone, and the accompanying video clip. “The music video is for the song ‘Don’t Die…’ We were supposed to release all this stuff a few weeks ago, but with everything that’s happened, we thought it might not be the best idea to release it too soon,” explains drummer Sarah Dion, interviewed along with keyboard-percussionist Lisandre Bourdages, both of them in quarantine after a trip to Mexico. “We thought maybe the timing wasn’t right. I know it’s a cartoon, there’s nothing creepy or sinister about it, but we thought we’d wait a bit until the panic over the pandemic thing died down and our song wasn’t misinterpreted.”
Formed about six years ago by the fiery bassist and singer Kathryn McCaughey, NOBRO has seen many musicians pass through its ranks before arriving at the current configuration – a mutation that has transformed the sound and energy of the Montreal band. Today, the four musicians, with Karolane Carbonneau on the six-strings, play a furious mix of heavy rock – and a bit of pop – that would make L7 blush.
“When Kathryn started the band, her idea was to bring together the flashiest and most show-off musicians, put them on a stage and make fast and intense songs with them,” says the metronomic Sarah Dion. “It was really a statement, and the band’s name leaves no room for innuendo. No bro. A first EP was released in 2015, but only Kathryn from the current band was on it. Then Lisandre, Karolane and I all arrived at different times. I’d say it’s been about a year and a half since the four of us have been playing together, and this is our first record. It’s quite different from what the old band used to do. It’s like a new start.”
“It was a lot more punk before, more knockabout,” adds Lisandre Bourdages, who is also in the Shirley line-up with Sarah Dion, and Comment Debord with Karolane Carbonneau. “Now, I’d say that we’re putting more time and work into the search for tonalities, into the composition of the songs. It’s more complex and we have more confidence. The sound is much richer, less punk and more ’70s rock, stoner and even pop. We follow a lot of Kathryn’s influences – T-Rex, Betty Davis, Black Sabbath, MC5… As for me, I studied Latin percussion, Sarah had a reggae band, Karolane was in a free-jazz combo… So when you put it all together, you make sure that all these influences are coherent.”
Calling themselves a feminist rock band, the NOBRO girls point out, however, that this stance is not really reflected in the quartet’s lyrics. “I see myself more as a musician in a rock band,” Dion admits. “But the basic idea, the statement in fact, is that NOBRO is a group of girls who rock. To show that four women together are capable of mastering their instruments superbly, and tearing it up. But as the years go by, we’re finding that it’s becoming less and less rare to see bands made up entirely of women. The day it’s the norm, then I’ll say we’ve won our case.”