Blue Oil | Interview | Quebec’s First All-Women Punk Group

Uncategorized June 1, 2023

Blue Oil | Interview | Quebec’s First All-Women Punk Group

Blue Oil formed in 1978 as an all-women punk group and played relentlessly through Quebec’s early ’80s scene with their dynamic brand of punk, new wave, and post-punk.

Blue Oil formed in 1978 as an all-women punk group and played relentlessly through Quebec’s early ’80s scene with their dynamic brand of punk, new wave, and post-punk.

Supreme Echo did a heavenly job issuing 12 tracks from 1981–83, including their hit single ‘Money’. It comes on deluxe large-size 8-page bilingual English-French booklet with their story, photos, art, and gig posters. Two stickers. 600 copies on beautiful aqua-blue vinyl, oh and it’s remastered!

“We liked music so much that we wanted to become part of the scene”

It’s really wonderful to have you. Are you surprised by the upcoming Supreme Echo release of your music? Tell us how you started working with Jason Flower of the label?

Manon Fatter: Yes, we were quite surprised and honoured when Jason got in touch with us in June/July 2020. He has a record store in Victoria, on the west coast of Canada and has been on a mission for the last 20 years, putting out vinyl albums of rare recordings from Canadian bands dating from the 70’s and the 80’s. Stuff that has been kept under the radar for the last 40 years or so.

I think that the fist spark that lit the fire for the Blue Oil music revival happened in 2014 when Pascal Pilote and Sébastien Desrosiers, radio hosts of the show Mondo P.Q., talked about Quebec bands from the 80’s on one episode of L’envers du new-wave québécois. They played our single ‘Money’. In 2018, Marie Martine had a phone interview to talk about Blue Oil , with Félix B. Desfossés, also a Montreal radio host. Then, Sébastien and Pascal created an album with songs from 12 Quebec new-wave and punk groups from the era. Blue Oil was one of them. This came out in 2020 on vinyl on the label Trésor National. The word got to Jason in Victoria somehow and he got in touch with Marie Martine showing his interest in taking Blue Oil’s story further. He asked us for old recordings and photos. Almost three years later, this LP became a reality. We were so lucky!

What kind of material will be here on the upcoming release?

There are twelve original titles on the album. Two different versions of the songs ‘Money’ and ‘Far Too Much,’ and 8 more ranging from 1981 to 1983, all salvaged from tape reel recordings that Dino Bartolini, our sound engineer, kept well preserved in a cedar closet for 40 years. The single version of ‘Money’ 1982 (B1) was recorded at Montreal sound Studio in Montreal on a MCI JH24 2” 24 tracks analog tape machine. The other cuts come from live shows that Marie Martine taped on her Sony Walkman cassette recorder plugged into the soundboard. Some other songs on the LP were recorded at the band’s rehearsal room, direct to 1/4 inch tape (Bunker tapes 1981.) There was also an Easter weekend all nighter at Montreal sound studio where we did 15 songs, one take. Our goal was to record our songs for demonstration tapes for local radio contests and to help in the booking of shows.

These are all original Blue Oil songs, reflecting our musical influences at the time. Up tempo songs, guitars, bass and drums. Basic stuff…

What was growing up for you like? When did you first get interested in music and what made you interested in being in a band?

I grew up with my mother and my older sister Christiane, mostly in Ville Saint-Laurent. Went to school there. Played street hockey in the winter, rode my bike and later a motorcycle in the summer. Since my sister played guitar, I decided to try the drums, and I loved it! Never a wrong note and you can play real loud without an amp! Anyway, we started learning songs and recruited friends to form a band. All in good fun. And while at it, we soon got booked for appearances on the college circuit around Montreal.

Are you all coming from Quebec? What was the local scene like there? Did you see a lot of gigs?

Yes, we all grew up in Montreal, the largest city in Quebec where the local rock scene became flamboyant at the end of the 70’s into the 80’s. Punk, new wave, experimental, every style was getting attention at the local clubs. When we were not on the road, we went to Club Montreal (later to be called Le Spectrum), the Café Campus, Station 10 and many other clubs that hosted new and exciting local, American, and British bands. We saw The Ramones, Talking Heads, Devo, The Stranglers, The Clash, The Police, U2 and so on.

Were you in any bands before forming Blue Oil?

Our first show was under the name Dark Vision. Then Marie Martine played briefly with another band. The name Blue Oil was decided very early on and stayed until 1991.

How did you get to know each other and what led you to start the band?

We were friends from the same neighbourhood in Montreal. Rock music lovers growing up listening to the local rock radio stations. Marie Martine had some classical guitar training, my sister Christiane enrolled in the electric guitar program in college. I started playing drums to accompany her. We asked our friend Manon (Nilessa) to pick up the bass and things fell into place from there. We liked music so much that we wanted to become part of the scene.

Where was your jam place and how did you usually approach music making?

At the beginning of Blue Oil, we hijacked my mother’s living room where we placed our amps, sound PA system and drums. We must have rehearsed there for about a year before Marie Martine, Manon A. and some other musician friends moved into a large, rented house in the close-by neighbourhood of Cartierville. The basement was made into a rehearsal room and different bands rented the place. This was where Blue Oil crafted most of its original and cover songs. The house was nicknamed “Le Local” and to others it was known as the “Le 4195” or The Bunker.

You self-released ‘Money’ / ‘Living For The Time’ in 1982. What can you tell us about those two songs? How many copies did you press of the single and did you send it to any labels or radio stations? Did you receive any airplay?

Yes, we did send promo copies of the single to different commercial and college radio stations. It must have gotten airplay somehow but not in a big way. A thousand copies were pressed, and most of them were sold at shows. The A side is ‘Money,’ the studio version, and for the B side we chose a more mellow reggae feel with the song ‘Living For The Time’.

Tell us about your gigs. What are some of the most memorable ones?

Since we were mostly doing the club circuit around the province, a typical night would consist of three 45-minutes sets, starting around 10pm and ending at closing time around 3am. Sometimes we were booked for special parties at colleges, and these were the most fun. We also played in a bar called Satan’s where all the décor was bright red and the tabletops were made of mirrors… Hum…

There are two releases you released in the late 1980’s via Alert Records. Tell us about it.

In 1986, Blue Oil went through a change in lineup and music direction. Marie Martine had left the band around 1985. At that time, Manon Asselin (Nilessa) decided to trade her bass for a keyboard. She remained the main lead singer in the band. A friend of ours, Marie-Christine Thiboutot, replaced her on bass guitar. Another keyboard player, Cari B. Jones joined the band soon after, providing Manon A. the opportunity to also play electric guitar on some songs.

Marc Durand, co-founder of Alert Records in Montreal, signed Blue Oil for the release of a 5 songs EP that came out in 1988. From that album a video was filmed for the song ‘I Blow You a Kiss’. The EP also features a cover song of ‘Somewhere Over The Rainbow,’ with a punk twist!

Then, at the end of 1990 going into 1991, Blue Oil recorded a full album with Neil O’Connor who had just moved to Montreal. Neil is the brother of the British singer Hazel O’Connor and was a member of the punk rock band The Flys in the early 80’s. The album was recorded with a new member, Mona Laviolette who joined Blue Oil as a second guitar player. Cari had left the band by that time. It took some time after that to get the 11 songs released on CD. It finally came out in 1992. We had already decided that Blue Oil would change its name to Ginger Snaps during that time and the album was released under that name. Shortly after the filming of a video (a new version of the 1982 Blue Oil song ‘Living For The Time’), I left the band. The remaining girls continued for about a year after my departure, with a male drummer, before calling it quits.

Photo by MP Belisle

What kind of gear did you have in the band?

I played on an old second hand blue Tama Imperial Star drum kit. Many cymbals were cracked during the drums demolition derby at the end of Blue Oil shows, as we finished the show with a cover of ‘My Generation’ by The Who. But the toms, bass drum and snare were surprisingly solid and survived the attacks!

Marie-Martine played a Stratocaster, and later a Gibson The Paul, her favorite axe. She had a Marshall combo amp, and an array of pedal effects mainly chorus, distortion and delay. Manon A. played a Guild bass going through a Peavey 2X12 cabinet and Traynor Mono block B amp.

“I think that we were the first female band in Quebec playing punk rock”

There were none other all-female bands around your area, did you have any bad experience?

We had heard of another female band in Montreal called Wonder Brass, but their music was more on the rock jazz side. I think that we were the first female band in Quebec playing punk rock and new wave at that time.

Most of the time we were well received at venues and the people enjoyed the music that we offered. Naturally, girls playing electric guitars and drums were still a novelty at the time and we were occasionally challenged with crude remarks. That did not stop us, on the contrary! As long as we could play the music that we loved.

Photos by MP Belisle

What would be the craziest story that happened to the band?

Let me see if I can recall this one correctly … It must have been around 1983 or 1984. We were hired to play two weekends at a bar outside of Montreal. During the week following the first shows, Marie Martine, the guitar player, injured her right arm. When it came time to play the second weekend, she had to wear a makeshift cast to keep her arm straight. Since this bar was known as a bikers’ hangout and the patrons were expecting Blue Oil to be there, it would have been dangerous for us to cancel the shows.

A friend of ours, an amazing guitarist, came to the rescue. I think that he followed the set list from the side of the stage, playing along as Martine tried to do her best with an injured arm. Not sure if anybody noticed the trick but we managed to go through the weekend without a scratch and everyone seemed happy afterwards. But this is a blurry memory from our touring days. I think that we were very relieved when it came time to leave town…

Looking back, what was the highlight of your time in the band? Which songs are you most proud of? Where and when was your most memorable gig?

I think that when we had in our hands our first songs on vinyl, with the help of Dino Bartolini and Bill Hill for the recordings, and Michel Paul Belisle with Wayne Kimbell doing the cover artwork, we were ecstatic!

My favorite Blue Oil song from that era is ‘Money,’ but I really like the drive of Sardine City, the instrumental ‘Free Fleas On The Roof,’ the new wave feel of ‘Stop Complaining’ on which you can hear influences from the music of Siouxsie and the Banshees, and also “Producer” with its abrasive guitar and lyrics.

Photo by Jill D.

Thank you for taking your time. Last word is yours.

The last word should never be the last… Thank you Klemen!

Klemen Breznikar

Headline photo: Blue Oil | Photo by MP Belisle

Blue Oil Facebook
Supreme Echo Facebook / Instagram / BigcartelBandcamp

One Comment
  1. The Triumph of the Thrill says:

    Fascinating, I’ve long been a big fan of all-female or female-led bands from that great era and it’s nice to discover another one. Good stuff, more Punk, New Wave and Post-Punk please!

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