Canadian twosome Partner fuses the virtuoso of Van Halen with a slyly subversive spirit. Formed out of the ashes of local outfits The Mouthbreathers and hardcore project Go Get Fucked, Josée Caron and Lucy Niles began playing together against the backdrop of Mount Allison University in New Brunswick.
It’s no surprise then that the liberal arts school setting only fueled their counterculture songwriting craft. Take 2015 viral hit The "Ellen" Page, which was inspired by guitarist Caron repeatedly being told she looked like the actress despite admitting in the lyrics “they’re far from spitting images / We're just two gay Canadians”.
The pair's debut In Search of Lost Time curated more of these amusing anecdotes, from feeling paranoid picking up snacks while you’re high to snooping around a housemate’s room and unearthing a sex toy.
Because Partner is also the liberating sound of no longer having to feel ashamed about who you are. This self-assurance plays out in the dual dynamics of the band as well, with multi-instrumentalist Niles providing the constant bedrock to Caron’s freedom on the fretboard, as she explains.
“Lucy is always bringing rhythm and grounding energy. Without that, the solos would just be going through the air, So you'll see Lucy on bass, you'll see her on drums, rhythm guitar, all those things that add structure. I spent so much time as a kid learning Slash solos and didn't focus on it so when we got together…” Niles interjects with impeccable timing “...It was meant to be.”
When Caron jokes about perfecting her solos as a teen, she’s not far from the truth. Tapping into the kindness of the local band leader’s after-school club, Caron took some guitar lessons in middle school.
But it wasn’t until stumbling into a more familiar setting that she felt empowered to play. “When I started, we didn’t have the internet yet so it was magazines like Guitar World and its tabs,” she admits bashfully.
“The lessons were a great way to be around peers and learn cool songs like Rock and Roll, Hoochie Koo, but I could be more focused by myself looking at those guitar tabs.”
This inward-facing focus is still evident today and something Niles felt during the band’s formation. “It’s almost like as soon as we started writing songs, we committed the rest of our lives to them.
“When we wrote Gross Secret [the band's first single] we were like, ‘Here's the first day of the rest of our lives.’ Our goal was always to take over the world with our music, but it seemed less likely with Go Get Fucked,” she reasons with droll self-mockery.
Caron agrees. “We’ve put so much energy into this project. I don't think it was ever a question that it wouldn’t work out.”
This resilience and resolve were put to the test last summer though when the band embarked on the inevitable: the sophomore slump. If Partner's debut was about their infatuation with '90s guitar rock, Never Give Up is about committing for the long haul.
A lot has shifted for Partner since In Search Of… They’ve earned awards nominations, toured internationally, and even picked up a new addition to the fold, Simone TB, on drums.
The result is a rollicking ride through the vintage riffs of their forefathers but with one significant repositioning. “Sometimes when people say, 'What's your genre?', we’ve said before, 'It's post-classic rock.' In the sense of ‘Keep the riffs, forget the rest,’” jokes Caron. “It’s classic rock, but we're allowed to make it,” Niles adds with a wry smile.
Gone are the chugging power chords – instead MIDI flutes lure us into extended jams right out of Zeppelin IV in sprawling closing track Crocodiles. Caron flexes techniques like country-style chicken pickin' in high-tempo, barn dance number Couldn't Forget.
If there’s one thing Partner thrives on, it's existing outside of the realms of those worn-out, plastic genre dividers in the record shop.
“I'm really into country so if I want to expand my skills, I go learn a country riff on YouTube. They've got Mixolydian scales on there and then I bring it to a rock setting. Those clashes can create something cool.”
The same idea plays out in their gear; Caron plays a 1969 Gibson SG, a few years shy of Angus Young’s original in AC/DC. “It’s my favorite guitar I've ever played. I don't own it but Simone works at a guitar shop in Toronto, Paul's Boutique, and it's the owner Paul’s most prized possession. It just rings.”
In the studio, the SG’s sturdy strings were channeled through a fairly modest Fender '57 Champ amp alongside a nod to another rock and roll legend. “The amp was really small so we would turn up the gain and drive it to get a nice hot sound. We also used one mic that Steely Dan had used in the studio!”
Because whilst Partner might lean on a lot of traditional arena sounds (and gear), Never Give Up is undeniably the sound of a band pushing rock forward into a new expansive, and more inclusive, era.
When the band joins our call, they’re dialing in from the low lighting of another studio setting. After pushing through second album syndrome, the threesome is quarantined together for two weeks to work on a new EP.
Nestled in the Gulf Island just off the West Coast of Canada, the studio is flanked by staggering sandstone formations as the waves have slowly eaten away at the soft rock. It’s a rock that’s existed long before polished studio production and arena tours and feels fitting to act as a cornerstone for the next, most excellent, adventure.
“Our base is always the riffs but the context that they're delivered in is completely unknown right now”, says Caron. Casting off the slacker rock of their debut, Partner has pulled their socks up to prove that even the oldest routes of rock deserve to be reimagined.
As the record name suggests, it’s all about endurance. “We've proved everything we have to prove,” says Niles defiantly. “Now it's about doing music that seems cool to us. Before Never Give Up, if I died, I would have felt like there was a giant chunk that people weren't getting our truth. But now, our truth is out there with Never Give Up.”
- Partner’s sophomore release Never Give Up is out on November 20th via You've Changed.