Luke Doucet – Sept 2004
This is from September, 2004, just after the release of Broken (and other rogue states). Doucet’s first album, Aloha Manitoba, remains one of my all-time favourites and his work with Veal is well worth checking out (even if the first album’s a bit hit and miss).
There’s a long tradition of break-up albums in rock, dating back at least to Bob Dylan’s Blood On The Tracks. Were you at all intimidated by the idea of joining those ranks?
I think my personal life hijacked my artistic life in some ways. I got so all consumed by it, it’s pretty hard not to write about something like that for a couple reasons. One, because it’s such a classic theme. You find yourself thinking and writing things that have been thought and written before, and you realize where the impetus for all those break-up records comes from, it’s a real life experience. So I found myself going, whoah, I’m doing this thing that’s been done so many times before, can I put a new spin on it? So that was the challenge. I don’t have specific designs on being autobiographical, in fact I like to think that I’ll shy away from that at some point.
So it wasn’t really a conscious choice to make a ‘break-up album’?
It just made itself. I mean those are the songs I had, and all of a sudden I have this album that was all kind of based on a certain theme. Although having said that, it’s not all autobiographical, about half of the album is fiction, and two or three songs on the album have nothing to do with the stated theme. The theme of something being broken, that’s consistent, but it’s not always referring to my own heart or my own state of being.
When you were playing some of these songs (like the title track) live last year, it sounded much more bitter than the album does. What made you decide to pull back?
I think the vindictive elements are still there, I just think they’re a little more playful now that I’ve made the record than when I was wallowing in the midst of that state. I don’t want to make music that dark. I mean, sadness has its value in a musical context, but music should be a celebration, it’s fun. It’s supposed to make people feel good or feel something strongly, and once we went into the studio after the songs were all written, I was no longer in that dark headspace. Making music was a really fun and sort of cathartic experience, to get back into something more positive. So I think that the juxtaposition between the darkness of the lyrics and the positivity of some of the music, the feeling of optimism, that was somewhat deliberate. I think maybe what this record sounds like is the sound of somebody digging himself out of a hole instead of having the dirt trampled when he’s in it. I hope that comes across.
Vladivostok [off of Broken...] is one of the most blatant protest songs to come out in a long while. That used to be a country/roots tradition, but now the country ‘rebels’ all seem to be about pickup trucks and patriotism. What happened to country?
There’s two sides of the tracks in country music now, as always. I think that the rebels from 20, 40, 50 years ago, a lot of them got really successful and are now considered sort of the staples of country music, and a lot of them have a political angle. Unfortunately that’s not the case right now. I think that people like Steve Earle are still carrying the torch when it comes to making political country music, it still exists, but I think that question has as much to do with the world at large, certainly American culture or the state of the United Stated of America right now as opposed to how it was in the 60s, the country, socio-politically has moved so far to the right that mainstream country music is kind of republican music. It wasn’t always Republican music.
But now it seems that’s all it is.
It was of the people, it was sort of a proletariat voice. I don’t know what or why that is, I ask those questions all the time. I also think that when country music came into it’s own, like so many forms of pop culture or pop art, it was the voice of a generation and the voice of a people. Punk rock took the torch, and hip-hop took over. Things are relevant for a time, and later that relevance latches itself on to something else. Country music is not the voice of the working man the way it was in the 40s, 50s or 60s.
I was looking at some of the press from your UK tour, and your music is often called ‘Americana.’ I know that’s just another name for roots-influenced music, but as someone with so many Canadian themes in your songwriting, does that name ever bother you? Do you ever feel like you need to push the Canadian side of it?
I think there’s two different communities. There’s a large community in Britain and the UK that follows what they perceive to be Americana, and they would include me in that. I don’t think they differentiate so much between Canada and the United States, I think they sort of make jokes about it that it’s like Scotland and England, everybody recognizes the difference but it’s kind of like a dysfunctional little brother. Whereas I think in the indie-pop world, that distinction is far quicker made, because so many good things are coming out of Canada right now and the indie world is recognizing that first. Although Bob Harris of the BBC is a big fan of a lot of Canadian music, and he’s aware that the Canadian singer-songwriter set, like the roots Canadiana, Americana, whatever you want to call it, those songwriters are really strong right now.
As far as my acting as an ambassador of Canada, I’m reluctant to embrace that kind of patriotism. I tell people you should come and visit this country, spend a month in Winnipeg, I dare you, but I don’t know. I’m more of a regional patriot. I’d wave that flag before I’d wave the Canadian one. I talk about Halifax, or how much I dig Toronto, how much I like cities or little places. For some reason that seems more special to me.
As you mention, though, a lot more people are recognizing Canada’s role in–or even dominance of–the indie music scene. It seems a bit odd for such a small country.
I think it’s a combination of a few things. I think for one, the underdog status that Canada has suffered from on a lot of different levels tends to make people work a little harder. The fact that we have a Federal board that issues money to support the arts, I mention that to my American friends and they’re shocked. They can’t believe that we get that. You look at how many bands are all coming into their own right now and communities that are coming into fruition, and you look at how long Factor has been funding people’s work, you realize that eventually it’s going to start to influence the caliber of work, because it’s giving people the opportunity to focus on their work. Because of Factor, people like myself and a lot of the sort of broke young independent musicians that I know, they get to spend an extra two months a year being musicians instead of being cab drivers, and that’s really important.
A lot of the songs you’ve written, especially in Veal, deal with sort of hedonistic issues–sex, drugs and rock and roll, really. Now you have voicemails from your daughter on the new album, and a more subdued sound… is this a sign of adulthood?
I was an adult when I was ten, I skipped childhood largely. I’m not bragging about that, I think it’s in some ways kind of a shame. I was always preoccupied with things that I didn’t necessarily need to, and I might have benefited from relaxing a bit. People would say that I still might. So there’s always been an air of that, when I force myself to be a juvenile, which often I have to do for my music, I have a rock and roll band and there’s my excuse to act like a teenager, which I did and that was really fun. I don’t know, I’m ok with adulthood, I always have been, and that’s fine. I hope that my daughter has a proper childhood and can be a juvenile delinquent for at least a few months, so she can get that off her chest.
Still, you see a lot of musicians who refuse to age gracefully. It’s never been an issue for you?
The only time I’m conscious of it from a social angle, I’m in the music industry which places a premium on youth. There comes a time when you start to be conscious of who you are and how you fit into an industry that is really style conscious and really youth based. Fortunately, I think I make music that might be able to age gracefully, that’s what I hope. If Green Day weren’t huge rock stars, they wouldn’t be able to keep making scrappy punk rock songs the way they were in the 80s, driving in a van up and down the west coast. Eventually they’d be like, ok, I’ve got kids, I’ve got to pay my rent, so I’m going to have to pack this up. If you make music that can age gracefully, then I think you can age gracefully with it.
One last thing that I’ve been curious about for a while. A lot of your songs refer to very specific people in unflattering ways. Has anyone ever reacted to that? Does the ‘junkie from LeDuc’ in the song “Spiderman” know that there’s a song about her?
The woman I wrote that song for, she said that every guy she’s ever dated – she’s only dated musicians, clearly – but that every guy she’s ever dated has written a song like that about her. So that was her response.
I’ve never been very good about masking the protagonists in my songs. It’s something I should do at some point, because eventually someone’s going to get pissed off and take me to task over it.
Most songwriters either write about themselves, or at least try to disguise who they’re talking about. Up until this album, you haven’t really done either.
I don’t know why that is… sometimes I feel like is there something gratuitous or self-aggrandizing about being autobiographical? I worry that maybe there is. Why do people mask their subjects? Is it because they have respect for them that I don’t? Maybe. I worry about that sometimes, maybe I’m cavalier in exposing people’s lives and maybe I shouldn’t be that way. And who knows, maybe I won’t in the future.