When Milk & Bone played Toronto's Gladstone Hotel in May, the Montreal synth-pop band brought up a special guest, Terrell Morris, for the song Tomodachi. What was surprising was not that he performed – he rapped on the original recording – but that he'd only met the band for the first time that day.
When recording their debut album, Little Mourning, last year, Milk & Bone members Laurence Lafond-Beaulne and Camille Poliquin felt the song lent itself to hip hop. But the pair, who sing in English, mostly knew francophone rappers. So they took to the audio-sharing website SoundCloud to search for artists who might be the right fit; when Lafond-Beaulne heard Morris's flow, "he just sounded amazing." She sent the Toronto artist an offer to jump on the track. Eager to oblige, he wrote the lyrics in an hour, delivered recorded vocals later that day, and that was that. No need to meet when the Internet's involved.
At barely a year old, Milk & Bone have harnessed the Web with wild success. The band released Little Mourning in March, and while a full-length album is a notable achievement for any band, it might not be their greatest. Their song Pressure has earned nearly 1.5 million plays on SoundCloud in the past four months. The song's fame has left the young band in awe – they've barely gotten off the ground, yet they're travelling the world performing for fans who know every word of their music.
"Everything that happens to us is like the greatest surprise," Poliquin says.
Lafond-Beaulne, 24, and Poliquin, 23, write songs that play with synth-y rises and falls, but try to use their voices to reach beyond electronic-pop trends. "Most of the girl-pop synth bands out there right now is one girl with sequencers," Lafonde-Beaulne said after rehearsals one evening in Montreal, in a Mile End café where she used to work before playing music full-time. "I think we add more to that – by using vocal harmonies like synths." While their influences come from that female-fronted synth-pop world – they aren't afraid of name-checking Purity Ring, Beach House and Chvrches – there's an original, patient sparseness to their music.
This approach, including on early singles New York and Coconut Water, earned the band blog hype well before Little Mourning was released. They also use unconventional pop instruments – like, on Easy to Read, the ukulele – to give their songs a sense of duality. "We play with contrast," Lafond-Beaulne says.
Both Lafond-Beaulne and Poliquin are experienced touring musicians, though Milk & Bone is their first writing-focused project. They became friends a few years ago while touring with Montreal songwriter David Giguère; Lafond-Beaulne played bass, while Poliquin sang backing vocals. Both come from music-rich backgrounds. Poliquin started studying singing and piano at 4, and at 12, she was cast to sing in a travelling Cirque du Soleil production for two years. Lafond-Beaulne's parents both work in the music industry; she studied classical trombone in high school.
The two crossed paths at Cégep de Saint-Laurent, where they studied music and started playing in bands. As they became ingrained in the music scene, they got involved in enough projects to make music a full-time job. "It's a really small world in Montreal, so you kind of meet everybody really quickly," Lafond-Beaulne says. Touring with Giguère was a big project for the pair, who became friends on the road, where, as the band's only women, they'd usually share hotel rooms.
The pair lent their vocals to a song with electronic act Misteur Valaire in 2013, and their friendship blossomed into a writing project later that year. They soon entered the studio with friend and producer Gabriel Gagnon, who helped them hone their spacious sound. It was, at first, for a single song, but plans ballooned. When the slow-build track New York, the first song Lafond-Beaulne ever wrote, gained traction online, they eventually decided to make an album's worth of material.
The two write together, regularly trading iPhone voice memos of song snippets to get honest critiques. Honesty is a big part of Milk & Bone: Because they bonded through the band, Poliquin says the night of the Toronto show, "there was no friendship to jeopardize. The friendship built as the band built itself." ("Aww," Lafond-Beaulne responds, sending them both into laughter.)
Little Mourning has been long-listed for the 2015 Polaris Prize, and the band is slowly expanding their touring circuit beyond Quebec. On top of a few trips to Toronto, they've also played Paris and New York, though they're still amazed that people care outside of Montreal – and the Internet.
"We want to keep being surprised about things happening," Lafond-Beaulne says. "We want it to stay fun."
Milk & Bone play Montreal's Club Soda July 4 as part of the Festival International de Jazz de Montréal, and Quebec City's Théâtre Impérial July 9.