Imagine the scenery: a chilly mid-February evening, a service road, the dim light of an occasional lamp-post, an old tires depot, and a glimpse of some fire escape exits on the side. You’ve got a view of the desolate, bordering onto creepy, South Shore suburbia. But walk past the depot and punch the access code on the neighbouring door, walk up a flight of stairs, and find yourself in a parallel universe: bright lights, walls postered with Iron Maiden memorabilia, a coffee table covered in stickers and a stack of old issues of Alternative Press magazine. Not to mention, of course, the loads of music gear all over the place. The band Florence is rehearsing, and even drummer’s Phil “D. Machine”‘s joking, “Guys, this is my new girlfriend,” only goes so far in grabbing his bandmates’ attention.
If you are from Montreal -or just about anywhere in Quebec, for that matter- you may be acquainted with Florence already. Formed in late 2003 by Mike “O’Gilthor” and Guil “Boldcock,” Florence have toured the province restlessly, even through several line-up changes and badass snow storms on the way to Sept-Iles. In fact, as the band prepares to record its first full-length album, its members are getting anxious about you being too well acquainted with them as it is.
“In Quebec, people are fed up with seeing us live,” said lead singer Patrick. “It’s not that they don’t like us anymore – they want new stuff. And we don’t always have new material. We’re not Gods who can write new material every day. So we’re trying to keep it low for now, write new stuff, and then we’re going to go out there and spread it out!”
With all the band members being primarily francophone, the guys pointed out how difficult it is for a band that sings in English but comes from a French background to carve a niche for itself, both on the local scene and elsewhere. “Here, when people speak French, it’s like something less cool,” said Pat, who thinks English-speaking bands have an inborn advantage.
“We don’t have the same resources,” added Phil. “Let’s say, they have MuchMusic [in English Canada]; bands can visit it and try to get their videos played there. Here we have MusiquePlus. It’s French, so they have to help out the French bands. But in English, we’re against the big names, so it’s harder. And I think it’s the same thing with radio stations.”
“There’s a language barrier,” bassist Hermann “Axel Cunningham” agreed.
“There are very few English-speaking bands out of Quebec that have actually made it,” he went on. “For example, a certain band called Simple Plan. But they work with American labels, so that helped them a lot. But if you start indie, from the underground scene, it’s pretty hard.”
Nonetheless, Florence’s main focus right now is not finding a label that would help them out. Although the band has been approached by some big indie labels in the past, nothing ever came out of it. “We’ve always wanted a label, but right now we’re focusing on what’s important, which is writing new material,” said Pat. “With the new songs we also have new sounds, new influences, but we have nothing of that recorded to show to the labels yet.”
New sounds, new influences, and perhaps even a new name. Since Guil’s departure from the band last summer, Florence is looking to change its name into something more relevant to all of its current members (Guil is being replaced on guitars by Johnny “Joe” Feed, formerly from Adore Stella).
“The name actually comes from our ex-guitarist,” Hermann explained. “He had a dream about a neighbour girl that he met in elementary school, and her name was Florence. And when came the time to choose a name for the band, it’s the first name that came into his head.”
Innocent enough. So what is the new name going to be?
“I can’t tell you the name yet,” Hermann teased. “I can tell you that ‘Florence’ is still going to be in the name. But it’s going to be something different, something new.”
Which only makes sense, especially considering the fact that all the guys deny wanting to date girls named Florence. “We’re dating guys,” Phil joked.
“Seriously, no Florence girlfriends,” added Pat.
“Girls named Florence seem to be too young,” Phil went on. “It’s a name from another generation!”
“It’s either a young name or a really old one!” Pat commented. “Like, grandmothers are going to be named Florence. And I don’t like dating grandmothers.”