When it came time for a name, local indie rockers The Beaches wanted one that hints where they’re from.
They tried “Skeleton Beach,” says lead singer Jordan Miller, but it was taken by a synth-pop guy from L.A.
“The Beaches” did the trick. For an all-girl band, it even has a double entendre – one too edgy for a family newspaper to explain.
Just don’t ask about the singular option.
“I’ve never called it the Beach,” admits drummer Eliza Enman-McDaniel.
“Don’t put that in there,” she added, laughing. “I don’t want to start a civil war.”
Civil war or not, The Beaches are putting this neighbourhood on the map.
Since forming from the ashes of Done With Dolls a year ago, the four-piece band has played the only sci-fi bar in Ottawa, and opened for Kings of Leon and their 30,000 fans in Montreal. They have headlined shows in London, Ontario, and shot a music video in London, England.
A few weeks ago, when they met Beach Metro News, The Beaches were about to wrap recording for their second EP, Heights. And they were still sleeping off the effects of four shows at South by Southwest – a Texas-sized festival that brings some 2,000 bands to Austin, America’s self-proclaimed capital of live music.
It was an honour to play, said Eliza, and a giant step up after Toronto’s own North by Northeast festival.
“It’s way crazier,” said Kylie Miller, The Beaches’ guitarist and Jordan’s sister.
Austin was full of characters. On the street, The Beaches sang with a Hare Krishna group and met a six year-old with flyers for his family’s goth band. On stage, they performed alongside a Swedish duo who play theatre pop in pantomime facepaint, and a scream-o punk band from Seoul, Korea.
Any band would be thrilled by the stellar gigs The Beaches have landed in their first year – a feat that is all the more amazing considering that none of them meets Texas’ 21 year-old drinking age.
But even at 16, 18, and 19, the girls have a collective 48 years of playing behind them, much of it as recording, touring musicians.
“Even though we are young – and being girls – we have the element of surprise, it’s important to kind of over-achieve,” said Eliza.
“You have to surpass people’s expectations,” she said.
“By a lot,” Eliza added.
About a year ago, before The Beaches, there was Done With Dolls, a band that sisters Jordan and Kylie got rolling.
“I wanted to start playing music because I was obsessed with Sheryl Crow,” said Jordan, who remembers singing Crow’s Soak up the Sun at age six.
Jordan’s parents got her a guitar that year, on condition she play it every day. Following her big sister, Kylie picked it up a year later, and the two started lessons together at Scarboro Music on Kingston Road.
James Quinn, now The Beaches’ producer, was their first teacher.
“He always encouraged us to sing together, and then to write songs together, and that’s where the whole band started,” Kylie said.
Meanwhile, Eliza was learning drums almost by accident, thanks to a drum kit stored in her grandmother’s basement.
“I would just go over there and teach myself some stuff,” she said. Eliza counts her dad – a professional folk and blues musician – as a big motivator, not to mention his Led Zeppelin and The Band records.
When the Miller sisters were starting Done With Dolls four years ago, they were stuck for a drummer until Jordan caught Eliza on the way to school and asked if, by chance, she could play.
“Actually, I kinda can, I think,” was Eliza’s reply.
Together with Megan Fitchett on guitar, Done With Dolls became a training ground for Jordan, Kylie and Eliza. They signed with Disney, and got mentoring and songwriting help from Raine Maida, former frontman of Our Lady Peace, and his wife, singer-songwriter Chantal Kreviazuk.
Done With Dolls got to tour and play TV gigs like the “Days of the Week” song they performed for Mamma Yamma, the Ontario yam and host of CBC’s Kids’ Canada show. It meant the girls had to work hard on their live show – they spent one summer rehearsing four hours every other day, with Eliza squeezing in a three-hour drum lesson on days off.
But being a cute Disney act started to chafe the band as they got older.
“We were doing pretty well for 13 and 14,” said Jordan.
“We just got to a point, right before high school, where we were writing songs about being the anti-Disney band, but we were playing with Disney boy bands, for a Disney audience, on Family Channel.”
“That’s where I found them,” Leandra chipped in. “Avid Family Channel watcher.”
“She still is,” said Quinn, as everyone laughed.
To find a new sound, Kylie, Jordan and Eliza took full creative control of Done With Dolls. Twenty new songs later, it was a different band. Megan decided to move on, and Leandra joined her Family Channel heroes that same day.
“I’d always just practised by myself – all classical piano – until last year when Kylie phoned me and asked me to join the band,” Leandra said. “I was like, ‘What?’”
“I think it’s probably the best thing that’s happened to this band,” said Eliza, of Leandra’s joining. Her synth and organ-sounding keyboards gave The Beaches new sounds and melody lines to work with, she said. Compared with their first, self-titled EP, which relied mostly on hook-y guitar riffs, the new record has a lot more keys going on.
“You can really hear it,” said Eliza. “I really like the way it’s going.”
For her part, Leandra said the idea of going to a recording studio was scary at first. The nearest thing she had done was record with a school band – on field trips to cities like New Orleans or Nashville, school bands often go into a studio and record as a whole group.
“It’s like two takes – done, perfect – and you move on,” Leandra said.
But at Toronto’s Candle Studios, Leandra found The Beaches could record separate tracks, do multiple takes, even sneak in rounds of Mario Kart.
Jordan said it takes her anywhere from 30 minutes to eight hours for her to nail a song, depending how much belting she has to do, and how hard her sister Kylie needles her about pitch.
While The Beaches record here and rehearse regularly on Cherry Street, their new booking agent has offices the world over – London, Beverly Hills, Miami, Nashville and New York.
Several Canadian musicians have told the band their best chance to grow their audience here is to first make noise outside the country first.
“It’s like Canada and the States only think things are cool once they see it somewhere else,” said Leandra.
“It’s weird how it works like that,” said Eliza.
But this summer, the band’s biggest gig so far is a Canadian one – the Osheaga festival in Jean-Drapeau Park, Montreal.
Putting on her best announcer’s voice, Leandra boomed, “With the likes of Lorde, and Haim, and Jack White!”
“Arctic Monkeys!” said Kylie.
“I’m going to try and fit in as many bands as I can,” said Jordan.
“I don’t think I’m going to sleep the whole time.”
To hear their latest single and find out about upcoming shows, visit http://www.thebeachesband.com/.