when i first approached emily skahan for an interview with her folk band, motel raphael, i was surprised at how stoked she was about it. the thing about emily, though, is that she is so passionate about every single piece of her life – and i quickly learned that this was a common thread within motel raphael. made up of emily, clara legault and maya malkin, the band has residency at burritoville and plays regularly at venues like divan orange! after earning a spot in the top 50 of radiostar’s talent search contest, these girls are quickly on their way! their sound is earthen, soulful and genuinely so beautiful that it gives you chills.
i was lucky enough to be invited to watch motel raphael’s band practice to get a feel for the chemistry of their group. i’d never been to a band practice before, so i wasn’t sure what to expect. i wasn’t surprised that there was beer and jameson involved: moments of lighthearted gossip interspersed with all kinds of silliness cut through with simply breathtaking moments of actual band practice. these were the kind of moments when all three girls just started harmonizing seemingly out of nowhere – the kinds of moments that really take your breath away.
photo by brittany paquin
a couple weeks later, i caught up with the girls for some pizza and a quick (sort of) chat before their show at divan orange alongside calgary’s samantha savage smith. aside from getting attacked by zombies (not joking), we had great time sharing stories and trying to stay focused on the actual interview. clicky clicky to see our full interview after the jump!
motel’s newest song, rooftop of romolos!
littlecity: as a group, how would you define your musical style or genre?
emily skahan (es): that’s a tough question. i always feel like i’m answering poorly! but we all have different styles that come together to make something…extra-terrestrial.
clara legault (cl): extra-terrestrial country!
maya malkin (mm): indie, folk, country, pop…
do you feel that defining yourselves as such holds you back in any way?
cl: a lot of people describe us as indie-folk…we got bluegrass once. but i don’t like to define us because i can’t really put my finger on it.
mm: our sounds combine to make a whole new sound. i don’t know what it would be called, but we can come up with something and get back to you?
haha! i love your band’s name – it comes from an old motel in the west island, right?
es: west of montreal. not quite the west island, more NDG, it’s a bit too seedy for the west island.
that’s so funny because i was reading a report on the real motel raphael on CTV, and they called it “a well-known beacon of seedy behaviour! what did the real motel raphael symbolize for you?
es: well clara came up with the name –
cl: it’s an anti-landmark to native montrealers. to anyone who’s ever ridden by it on the 211, you know?
mm: in montreal, people understand. and if we ever left here, people really wouldn’t get it so it’s a nice “home” feeling.
so, what were you feeling when motel raphael burned down this past summer?
es: people were paying so much more attention to us!
cl: “your namesake is burning!”
photo by brittany paquin
emily and clara, you two were the original motel raphael members – how did finding maya change your dynamic as a band? what does maya bring to the table that motel raphael was missing?
cl: she has a very pop feel. that’s not a bad thing though, emily and i tend to shy away from that kind of music, much to our own detriment. maya’s very honest with her music.
es: when sheila giffin, the original motel raphael third member, left the band, we were so terrified we weren’t gonna find anyone. but then along came happy-go-lucky maya…i couldn’t have asked for a better addition to motel raphael.
maya, what was it like joining emily and clara, as opposed to just being in the band from the beginning? what kind of foundation do you think emily and clara set for motel raphael?
mm: i don’t really know what the difference would have been if i had been in this from the start! other than motel raphael, i play for myself, in my room. less so now that i have, you know, friends…no but i think they set a great foundation! they were strangers to me when i first joined up, if i saw them in the street –
cl: you’d be like “man, i wanna be friends with them”
mm: i think the fact that i was able to come in and we could just get right to work means that the start they made was really amazing.
nice. tell me who are your greatest inspirations or influences?
cl: i was madly in love with john mayer, during my teenage years! i would write him all these letters about how his voice and my voice sound so nice together but the 2 bands i listen to the most are the black keys and bahamas. OH and just recently i discovered gillian welch, who i am so in love with.
everything about motel raphael is organic, from your sound to your style and often, to the settings of your shows/videos. is this something that defines motel raphael as a band? is it something you’ll always keep to?
es: we’re doing more electric stuff nowadays, we have an upright bassist and a drummer at our shows. i think that it’s important for us to keep where we came from, that’s always important in terms of who you are now. we will never forget things like backyard sessions.
mm: but just because we play electric music, doesn’t mean we’re not organic. we’re still us, just with different intstruments.
let’s talk about how the creative process work for you guys?
mm: a lot of…angry emily! and then she settles down.
es: i get really worked up!! i think i’m just a naturally loud person, i have really intense feelings both ways, happy or sad or angry. even if something sounds really good, i’ll be like “YEAH YEAH YEAH!!” …we definitely disagree on a lot.
cl: we have a really fun dynamic though. we’re so into making this successful.
but you guys write some songs together and some apart, right?
es: yeah, we’re trying to write more and more together because it makes for a more unified sound. the songs we write separately definitely have our own styles and then have motel raphael’s style brought in.
alright, let’s talk about “ghosts”, which is one of my favourites of yours. the song a collaboration between all of you – what kind of weight does the actual story in “ghosts” hold for each of you?
mm: well, the chorus was actually brought in by me, the “you’re lying there all cold and quiet/hold me close or i’ll start cryin’” ..and it has to do a lot with when you’re in a relationship and you fight before you go to bed. and all you want is for the other person to be like “okay, it’s okay” but you won’t do it yourself. you’re just waiting for that moment all night, you know? when i brought it to band practice, it kind of turned into something about past relationships and the ghost of an ex having a presence in the current relationship.
cl: lines from that song hold weight in my mind for a few different people.
i think that makes it able to speak to a wider audience.
cl: totally, it’s so unhealthy.
let’s do some fun questions: if you were a superhero, what would your powers be?
cl: i’d be able to fly. no, wait, heal! i’d be able to heal.
es: what would your superhero name be?
cl: the healer. heal-a-tron!
mm: mine would be…i don’t know, teleporting? immortality? i’d be teleportation lady.
es: i would be able to turn into any animal.
cl: an animagus!!
es: i’d be animalemily. it’s a good thing we have motel raphael as our name, we’re terrible at this.
motel raphael’s music is the illegitimate love child of _______ and _________.
mm: beyonce and jay-z
cl: fleet foxes and the dixie chicks
es: katy perry and kurt cobain
cl: could he even get it up?
es: does she even have a vagina?
making music is _____________.
cl: says teleportation lady…making music is my favourite thing.
es: it’s the only thing i like doing more than eating.
mm: aw. can you change my answer into something better?
when i grow up i want to be _______________.
es: a scientist
mm: i wanna be a crazy old bag lady that yells at all the neighbourhood kids.
cl: you know when you run away when you’re a kid and you go to that lady’s house and she gives you muffins and stuff? i wanna be her. flowers in my yard, keeping the kids safe. mary poppins-ish.
awesome. so, what’s next for motel raphael?
cl: world domination!
es: i was gonna say the same thing!
clara, maya and emily. photo by brittany paquin.