Lorraine Muller is a legend in the world of ska music. She is recognized for being one of the first women in ska music in Montreal to have garnered success. Though Muller is in the spotlight now, she started off in the shadows. She began her musical career in 1994 with the Montreal ska band, The Kingpins. She was the alto saxophone player—but she would soon become much more.
The band was running through songs at a rehearsal one day when the lead singer wasn’t there. “I was like, ‘Okay, whatever, I’ll sing it. Just for the rehearsal,’ recalls Muller. The band was so impressed by Muller’s vocals that she continued to sing on their albums, and then at their shows. “Every time I would do a show and I would step up to the microphone, people would go crazy,” said Muller.
While she was on stage one night, the band’s guitar player introduced her as “the Queen of Ska,” a nickname that has stayed with her ever since. “It just stuck,” said Muller. “Nobody had ever had that nickname before me in North America.” When the lead singer of The Kingpins left the group in 1999, many of the original band members followed suit. The band shifted from 10 musicians down to five, with only three of its original members remaining.
Muller immediately began looking for a new lead singer for The Kingpins’ third album, but the band already had someone in mind. “The drummer said, ‘What are you doing? Why are you looking for somebody? You can sing,’” Muller said. At first Muller was hesitant, as she preferred to go unnoticed. “I never wanted to be in front or anything like that. I always preferred to be in the back,” she said. “Some people enjoy that stuff. They’re like, ‘Look at me!’ I’m the total opposite.”
She also battles with stage fright—Muller said it stems from her insecurities about her musical capabilities. “Just thinking that you’re not good enough or you don’t have anything to offer or that there are people that are better than you, all that stuff,” she said.
But her passion for music is what pulls her through when she gets caught up in her insecurities. “My strength is my passion, because that is what surmounts everything else,” she said.
With that passion and drive, she put everything aside and became the lead singer of The Kingpins. “Trust is a big thing,” she said. “When I got pushed at the front of the band, it was trust. I trusted my guys. They said ‘You can do it, come on, let’s do it.’ And so we started writing after that.” The Kingpins eventually lost all of its original members, except for Muller. In 2003, the band’s name changed to Lo and the Magnetics, with Muller as the lead singer.
When they took a break in 2006, she decided to come up with a new and exciting concept. She gathered a group of musicians she had worked with before and created a band, the Fabulous LoLo.
She then approached the Montreal Jazz Festival to see if her new band could perform at the festival— it turned out that they loved the idea. Muller brought in many legendary musicians, including guitarist Lynn Taitt, who discovered many bands, such as the Wailers, and is also credited for being the creator of rocksteady music—a genre that is the successor of ska and reggae.
Muller also brought on a former Studio One musician from Jamaica, a member of The Planet Smashers and several former members of The Kingpins. “I just assembled the best musicians in Montreal for that style and we just had such a wonderful time,” she said. Muller would love the chance to play with her former bandmates again and relive those wonderful memories. “The community, the shared experience, for example, of touring and being onstage and playing a good show, or you know, just having fun at rehearsals… you become a family,” she said.
Muller’s life has been completely changed by music, and she said can’t see herself without it. “I find it a very zen thing that I’m just where I was meant to be,” she said. “And you know, whatever, I don’t live the white picket fence dream… Maybe I don’t have anything to show, nothing material, but I sure have a hell of a lot of experiences and I wouldn’t really change it, to be honest, you know?” Muller said she is very grateful for the chance to follow her dreams. “I want to give my gratitude to everybody who comes out to the shows and who buys the albums and who supports the music and who makes it a special thing that we share together,” she said.
Muller can now be seen playing with Les Handclaps, a French-English pop band in Montreal. They just released their third album, Sessions: Brooklyn, in June, which is a collection of the best songs from three years of studio sessions.