Le Vent du Nord’s music is well-known as a stunning fusion of traditional Québécois folk with contemporary elements. Their melodies; which are rooted in the rich heritage of French-Canadian culture, weave together intricate layers of instrumentation with powerful harmonies, carrying the raw energy and authenticity of their roots, all whilst pushing boundaries with innovative arrangements and inspired compositions.
We were lucky enough to catch up with the band towards the end of their Spring UK tour at the Brewery Arts Centre in Kendal and The Stoller Hall in Manchester, and they were kind enough to take take time out of their (what can only be described as) packed schedule to answer our questions.
We first speak with world record holding reel and jig composer, violoneux and tapeux de pied, Olo Demers.
Le Vent du Nord have fantastic longevity; you are here celebrating your twentieth anniversary! how has your sound evolved over time and what has inspired these changes?
Olo: Your question suggests a part of the answer : longevity! If you add the intense touring schedule of the band (around 120 shows per year), and numerous special projects that challenge the band members to push themselves further, you get the ingredients for a slow and constant evolution in the sound of Le Vent du Nord. The musicians gain in confidence, we know better where to push the machine and where to contain ourself. We can see it a bit like erosion, in the most positive way to figure that. Water shapes the rock with time, it is the same for us. The more we play, the more the musical cohesion exist.
How has the music industry changed since you started out as a band twenty years ago and how has the band adapted to these changes?
Olo: I think there’s some good and some bad sides in the changes in the music world. There’s definitely less naivete in the music, and in the music industry. Bands are more normalised…I mean less specific regional styles. Sometimes, you cannot even know from which country the band is from! Touring is also more difficult ; crossing the borders, paperwork, renting vans is double-triple the price now, even taking a plane needs more energy and brings more stress than some 20 years ago. What I can see is that more and more have a hard time to be full-time musicians. It also comes with the fact that musicians agreed on taking a 25% cut in salary by putting their music on streaming platforms. We are part of the problem. By chance with LVDN, our fans are faithful and respectful and they know what it means for us to keep selling music, so they still buy our CDs in concerts, I would say more than ever. On a positive angle, bands that tour are more organised, musicians needs to know better some aspect of business, which is good!
Next we catch up with Nicolas Boulerice, pianist and viella a roue (the more romantic way to say ‘Hurdy Gurdy’).
Looking back at your time together, is there anything you would have done differently?
Nicolas: Hee hee! Not a lot…I don’t have any regrets as such. I should have worked harder at times, I could have avoided this or that. In the end, the thing that is certain is that we all tried to make the best decisions, tried to be the best person for this group. I can imagine that we all have, more or less, this same reading of the time spent together for more than 20 years now!
Please will you share your creative process as a band and how you collaborate and create new songs and arrangements
Nicolas: Oh ! Big question ! Creation is a somewhat strange, mysterious thing. We have all, over time, found our places in the process of creating a record or a show. We are; I believe, all more aware of our strengths and weaknesses. In general, some of us submit traditional pieces as well as compositions. Often, I myself have 2 or 3 songs composed for the occasion that I offer to the guys. In all cases, we take the time to listen to everything, through an online sharing system, then together, on tour or with one of the other members. First, a selection is made with our favourites. Afterwards, we find a place to work together, with our instruments. Then, the group creation begins. The song that one of us had found in a book or among tradition bearers is revisited. If Olivier has started a score, we start by reading this first proposal. We take a melody from an air composed by André, for example, then we add it to the song that Simon had learned from a singer from St-Côme. Then there is a tone, a speed, an arrangement. Réjean jams on the bass, then on the accordion, finally, we discover that the piano would be perfect and I pick up the hurdy-gurdy so that Réjean stays at the piano. So on, we also find out who would be the best singer for this piece. We do the same work for every composition. In the end, it has to be a piece of the group where everyone recognises themselves, regardless of the level of involvement of the piece in question. We do that for 15 or 16 titles, then we subtract the pieces that double the words to create an album, not just songs that follow one another, but a record. You need a common thread, an idea that generates images, you need a balance. So sometimes it’s simple, sometimes it’s complicated! Hee hee!
André Brunet; violoneux and tapeux de pied, steps up for the next stage of the inquisition.
You blend traditional Québécois music with contemporary influences, how do you balance respecting traditions whilst also pushing new boundaries?
André: We like to bring traditional Quebec music and songs back to life by adding our ideas to push the boundaries. We also like to create songs and music to leave to future generations a repertoire that tells the present time, just as we do today singing the songs of yesterday. In this spirit, we keep a nice balance between traditional and contemporary.
Your live shows are incredibly energetic and engaging, does one of you lead on the ideas or is it a collaborative process?
André: The process of creating a new show is a collective one. Since the band will play the show around 250-350 times in 3-4 years, It’s really important to have everyone involved in the implementation phase of the project. We like to take people on a journey through our songs so that they can discover our history and our music, which is why we work hard to create a show that is as lively as it is melancholic.
Is there a venue in the UK that you haven’t yet performed at, that you would really like to?
André: In the last 20 years we have been to many amazing venues in the UK already like Kings Place in London, Glasgow Royal Concert Hall, legendary festivals like Cambridge Folk Festival, Celtic Connections, and so many others, but each tour we discover new places. There are always new presenters, new concert halls, or new events that want to present live and happy music to. Our music is able to reach a large audience from all ages and no matter the size or location of the venue, we enjoy watching new fans discover our music for the first time and to talk with long-time fans that welcome us like old friends.
Finally we chat with Réjean Brunet; André’s big brother, pianist, accordéon and bassiste.
Apart from the incredible music what is the best reason to visit Québec?”
Réjean: To start, Québec has an immense territory (1.5m km2 compared to the UK’s 0.2m km2) Keep in mind that this is just Quebec and not the larger country of Canada. Quebec has a rich culture of year-round activities, especially outdoors activities in all the seasons, even with temperatures that range from 40 degrees Celsius to -40 degrees Celsius which exhibits the hardiness of the northern people who make their lives here!
Stunning landscapes and unique regional particularities of Quebec brings you a different experience as you travel from the Atlantic Ocean to the great Saint Lawrence River to the mountains filled with wildlife. The large centres of Quebec City and Montreal offer you exciting local and international cuisines, arts and music scenes second-to-none, and a metropolitan modern vibe mixed with the 400 year old historical birthplace of the New World. All of the regions are bound together by the pride of their Québécois culture, including holding tight to the French language. With a population of around 8 million people, it allows for a welcoming and warm reception to visitors. Come and visit and you will experience a uniquely Quebecois vacation which will leave you wanting to come back before you even leave!
Gentlemen, thank you for taking the time to talk with us and for another great set of shows! Le Vent du Nord may be heading home for now, but they will be back in the UK in late July for a series of festival appearances.