We Also Got the Beat: Canadian Female Bands

Japan had Speed and Stereopony, France L5, Italy Lollipop, Britain The Spice Girls, Girls Aloud and Bananarama, the U.S. Destiny’s Child, The Runaways, The Go-Go’s, and The Bangles. How about Canada?

Canada has had a surprising number of all-female acts over the years. Many of these were indie bands or outside of the pop/rock umbrella. There were a few, however, that enjoyed radio hits, were honoured at the JUNOS, scored gold records, and achieved some international success.

Most prefer to note the distinction between girl groups and female rock bands. Girl groups and boy groups simply sing and harmonize together with others writing their songs and playing musical instruments for them. Female rock bands, in contrast, write their own songs and play their own instruments. Canada has had examples of both over the years.

When such acts hit the mainstream, they tend to become extremely popular, so one may wonder why there weren’t more of them. We have seen that, since the early 90s, few male soloist superstars have emerged unless they did something outside of mainstream rock and roll. They have preferred, instead, to form rock bands. Canadian women, in contrast, have usually preferred to go solo. Part of the answer lies in understanding the differences in Canadian male and female culture, values, and attitudes. Rather than going into this, let’s take a look at some of the Canadian all-female acts. We will not include female duos but those groups consisting of three or more members.

Indie all-female acts include Cub, Magneta Lane, Fifth Column, Maow (sometimes called Meow), Jale, Ladies of the Canyon, The Organ, Plumtree, and Pony Up. The Be Good Tanyas, The Wailin’ Jennys, and The Good Lovelies were fairly successful folk/country bands. Below are mini-profiles of some of the better-known pop/rock groups.

Kittie

This is a four-member JUNO-nominated female heavy metal group from London, ON that formed in 1996. They have, since then, released six studio albums and have had success in the United States and Britain. The band’s debut album Spit went GOLD in the United States, as their song “Brackish” became a hit in heavy metal circles. Kittie formed when two members met during an extracurricular gymnastics class. The band is still active and released its sixth studio album I’ve Failed You in August 2011.

Sugar Jones

This R&B girl group was assembled via Popstars, a televised reality series that was a precursor to Canadian Idol. Five members were selected out of thousands of applicants. In 2001, the group released a platinum album, scored the huge hit “Days Like That,” a cover of Fierce’s song, and were nominated for two JUNOs the following year. The five disbanded and three members have released material as soloists, the most prolific of which is Julie Crochetière.

Lillix

This pop/rock band began as Tigerlily during high school in Cranbrook, BC. In 2001, Lillix was signed by Maverick Records, releasing debut album Falling Uphill two years later. Three singles were released including a cover of The Romantics’ “What I Like About You” which was featured in the Freaky Friday and 13 Going on 30 soundtracks. They received two JUNO nominations in 2004. After their second album Inside the Hollow and single “Sweet Temptation”, Maverick Records folded and two members left the band. The group reformed with added male members and is no longer an all-female group.

LiveonRelease

This short-lived pop/punk band from Vancouver enjoyed the hit single “I’m Afraid of Britney Spears” which appeared on the Dude, Where’s My Car? soundtrack. They released albums in 2002 and 2003 before disbanding. Lead vocalist Colette Trudeau is Métis. Lead guitarist Brittin Karroll has written songs with Bif Naked. The two other members of the band were Foxx Herst (bass) and Leah Emmott (drums). The band’s name comes from basketball jargon.

Shaye

This was a trio of high-profile Canadian female recording artists from Atlantic Canada: Kim Stockwood, Damhnait Doyle, and Tara MacLean. The group was not as successful as the individual artists’ solo careers; however, Shaye’s song “Happy Baby” received a JUNO nomination in 2004 for Single of the Year. They released two albums before calling it quits. Doyle is now with the indie band The Heartbroken. Stockwood is still active as a soloist, releasing the album Back to the Water in March 2011. MacLean released studio album Wake in 2008.

Tuuli

Vocalist/guitarist Jenny MacIsaac, guitarist Jen Blackwood, bassist Claire Blake, and drummer Naomi Langworthy formed this Toronto-based pop/punk band in 1995. They toured both sides of the 49th parallel to packed houses and were interviewed by VH1. Their only album, Here We Go (Warner), came out in 2002. MuchMusic began showcasing the MV for “Who’s the Fool Now?” but it was “It’s Over” that became a #4 hit in Canada. “Summer Song” was their third single. They toured for the next two years but dropped off the map after that, sadly.

West End Girls

This was a beloved Vancouver-based early-90s teenage trio consisting of Camille Henderson (daughter of Chilliwack frontman Bill Henderson), Aimee MacKenzie, and Silvana Petrozzi. The West End is a ritzy area of downtown Vancouver. Their debut (self-titled) album was released in 1991 and spawned two Top 40 singles and two Top 10 hits: “Not Like Kissing You” (which made the year-end Top 100) and “I Want U Back” (cover of the Jackson 5 song). The album was certified GOLD and The West End Girls received a JUNO nomination for Most Promising New Group of the Year. They toured with Roxette. First Petrozzi then Henderson left the band in 1992 and were replaced by Janele Woodley and Celia-Louise Martin respectively. The new lineup released their second album We Belong Together in 1993. “R U Sexin Me” and “Pure” received JUNO nominations. As their sophomore album did not sell as well as their first, the group broke up in 1994.

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Please do let us know if there are any other Canadian all-girl groups you would like us to mention.

Bands, Bangs, and Boomtangs (2000-2002)

The first new major star to arise in the new millennium was a Canadian of Portuguese descent who had grown up in Victoria, BC. After her Juno Song of the Year winner “I’m Like a Bird”, Nelly Furtado went on to sell 20 million of her three studio albums worldwide. But the early years of first decade were known for a slew of new (mostly short-lived) bands.

RPM magazine and their national charts folded in Y2K and determination of the Canadian charts was ultimately handed over to the Americans. Coincidentally, Canadian music seemed to become increasingly Americanized with a host of Canadian-made R&B and rap songs reaching high positions on the charts. Interesting though was the fact that new Canadian artists who embraced American styles of music, though scoring one or two big hits, did not last past an album or two. Fewer new Canuck acts took on genres more Canadian, but those who did saw greater and longer-lasting success.

Alberta gave the nation and the world the hard rock group Nickelback who scored the biggest hit of the year in 2002 on the U.S. Billboard charts. And a young singer from small town Ontario, who swung between pop and punk, scored a diamond debut album and, by the end of the decade, had sold over 30 million records worldwide. Her name was Avril Lavigne.

2000

Montreal-born Daniel Boucher released his debut album in 1999. Its opener, “La désise” was declared song of the year at the Felix awards gala. He was the only significant new soloist in Y2K. All other new artists were bands.

Vancouver’s ambient pop band Delerium had been around since 1989. But it wasn’t until this year that they scored (thanks to the vocal help of Sarah McLachlan) their first big hit. “Silence” peaked on the charts at #5 in Canada, #3 in the U.K. and #1 in Ireland. Further singles released from the band saw greater success in the U.K. and Ireland than at home.

Another Vancouver act was R&B-rap soulDecision whose song “Faded” topped the charts, driving their album to platinum status. They scored a couple more hits later on but remain best known for “Faded” which appeared on the year-end Billboard Hot 100 chart in 66th place. Aimee MacKenzie, who had been part of the female group West End Girls in Vancouver, formed a new R&B band called D Cru. “I Will Be Waiting” was a Top 10 hit (#9).

Sault Ste. Marie produced an indie rock / pop-punk band called Treble Charger. Their 2000 album went platinum thanks in part to the Juno nominated song “American Psycho”. In Toronto, pop boy band B4-4’s debut album went platinum and their song “Get Down” made it to #4. R&B outfit Jacksoul, which had debuted in 1996, scored a #8 hit this year called “Can’t Stop”.

In Montreal, twin sisters Toni and Trisha Sherwood formed a dance-pop duo named after their shared birth date (November 30th). 11:30’s song “Olè Olè” peaked at #10 on the charts. Folk-rockers Okoumé which had debuted in 1997 came out with their second album this year which spawned the Felix-nominated “Irresponsable”. They were never heard from since.

2001

Although there were no significant new female soloists in Y2K, this year one of the biggest acts of the decade emerged. 2001, for all intents and purposes, belonged to Victoria’s Nelly Furtado. Her debut album Whoa, Nelly! went quadruple-platinum and sold 7 million copies worldwide, thanks to the hit “I’m Like a Bird”, a British Top 5 hit and 43rd biggest song of the year in the United States. The album spawned three more Top 20 singles.

New Brunswick’s Natasha St-Pier, who had released a debut album in 1996, represented France in the Eurovision contest with a Jill Kapler-composed masterpiece called “Je n’ai que mon âme”, turning her into an international star. The song entered the French and Belgian charts at #11 and then jumped to #2. It remained on the charts for 26 weeks and, in Canada, was declared song of the year by the Felix Awards. St-Pier released an English version of the song (“All I Have Is My Soul”) which was ignored. Lulu Hughes scored a hit called “Rock with Me”.

In terms of new bands, the most successful was Sum 41, the only act, besides Furtado and St-Pier to score an international hit this year “Fat Lip”, a #8 hit in Britain, helped the Ajax, Ontario punk rockers’ debut album attain triple platinum status. The Matthew Good Band’s “Raygun” was a Top 10 hit this year. Later suburban Vancouverite Matthew Good was to go solo and score another Top 10 hit: “In a World Called Catastrophe” in 2003. Montreal’s funky dance collective Bran Van 3000 scored a Top 10 hit with “Astounded”.

Newmarket, Ontario’s Serial Joe scored a #1 grunge-punk hit in Canada called “Completely”. Niagara Falls’ Wave went to number 1 as well thanks to “California”. Created on the first season of the Popstars show, assembled group Sugar Jones became one-hit wonders with the #2 single “Days Like That”.

There only new male soloist this year was Toronto rapper Jelleestone whose “Money” made a brief appearance on the charts peaking at #6.

2002

2002 was a huge year in Canadian music, one of the biggest of the decade. Two new superstars came out of nowhere, both selling over 30 million copies of their records through the decade.

A teenage singer from small town Ontario won a contest to sing with Shania Twain in Ottawa before a crowd of 20,000. She was offered a record deal and became a multi-millionaire when she was 16 years old. Avril Lavigne’s debut album, Let Go, was released this year and went diamond, with four singles entering the Top 20 all over the world. Ironically, her singles charted better in every other country than in Canada, including non-English-speaking countries. “Complicated” was the song that first thrust her into the limelight and was the 11th best-selling single of the year in the U.S.

Alberta had not contributed much in the way of Canadian music over the years besides the occasional artist like The Stampeders, k.d. lang, and Jann Arden. From the small town of Hanna, northeast of Calgary, a rock band had released a debut album in 1996 that went nowhere. Their 2000 release garnered some attention on the “alternative” charts but this year’s release, Silver Side Up, went 8x Platinum. Nickelback’s single “How You Remind Me” was the biggest song of the year south of the border and “Too Bad” was a Top 10 hit in Britain. Furthermore, Chad Kroeger, the band’s lead singer, teamed up with Josey Scott of the American band Saliva to record the song “Hero” for the feature film Spider-Man. It topped the charts in Canada.

Around since 1993, Windsor Ontario’s The Tea Party finally became big names thanks to “Soulbreaking”, which peaked at #3. Four of the band’s albums, with their unique sound of rock with middle eastern touches, reached multi-platinum status. After being around since 1997, folk-rock band Les Cowboys Fringants garnered their first Felix-nominated song this year, “Toune d’automne”. Dance trio The Boomtang Boys topped the charts with “Movin’ On”, following up with the Top 10 hit “Squeeze Toy”. Aside from writing original songs, they created dance versions of past hits, like Joni Mitchell’s “Both Sides Now”. Toronto’s overlooked all-female power punk band Tuuli scored a #4 hit called “It’s Over”. BC’s rap group Swollen Members made it to #3 with “Bring It Home”. Grungers Theory of a Deadman, from suburban Vancouver, made it to #2 on the charts with “Nothing Could Come Between Us”. Quebec City’s dance band One Ton made the Top 10 with “Supersexworld”.

A male-female duo emerged that sung a couple of popular duets. They were Jean-François Breau and Marie-Ève Janvier. “Changer” was popular this year and, later, “Donner pour donner”.

A few new male soloists appeared this year. Mascouche, Québec’s Marc Déry went solo after a stint with the band Zébulon and scored the hit “Depuis”. Montrealer Sam Roberts rocked his way to platinum, to Juno awards, and gave us the gold single “Where Have All the Good People Gone?” With roots in Rwanda, German-born R&B artist Corneille came out with the hit “Avec classe”, and, later on, “Parce qu’on vient de loin” and “Seul au monde”. Dany Bédar, who had started out as a dj, debuted this year with the hit song “Faire la paix avec l’amour”. Later he scored with “Écoute-moi donc”.

Calgarian nurse-turned-country-star Paul Brandt crossed over onto the pop charts with the #1 “Canadian Man”. His debut album in 1996 had gone triple-platinum and he had been the first male Canadian country artist since Hank Snow in the 70s to have a Top 10 single in the American Billboard charts (“My Heart Has a History”).

Coming up are mini-profiles on semi-major artists Daniel Boucher, Natasha St-Pier, Sum 41, The Tea Party, and Les Cowboys Fringants. Following that will be features on major artists Nelly Furtado, Avril Lavigne, and Nickelback.