Canadian Bands You Should Know: Whitehorse

It’s a marriage made in musical heaven. Luke Doucet and Melissa McClelland, the husband and wife team who comprise the folk roots group Whitehorse, each have lengthy solo careers and storied musical histories. Together, as Whitehorse, they blend their talents to reach new heights of sonic synergy. It's a musical marriage that functions like any good marriage should, bringing out the best of both partners.

Prior to and following their 2006 real-life marriage, the singer-songwriters worked together many times and shared overlapping collaborations with many other Canadian musicians. Doucet's work as a producer includes all of his own solo albums and three of McClelland's four solo recordings, in addition to production credits that span the Canadian musical landscape. The couple shared a stage together many times before forming Whitehorse, notably sharing a workshop stage with Doucet's daughter, Chloe, at the Calgary Folk Music Festival shortly after their marriage.

Luke Doucet began sharpening his acclaimed guitar skills as a young teenager, and by nineteen had left home to follow his musical dreams. As the former frontman for the Vancouver band Veal, he branched out with an acclaimed solo album, Aloha, Manitoba, in 2001, which had the honour of being the first official release from the then-fledgling Six Shooter Records. While simultaneously working as a session musician and producing albums for others, Doucet went on to release a string of self-produced solo albums. Broken (and Other Rogue States) was nominated for a 2006 Juno Award, while Steel City Trawler, Doucet's fifth studio album, was long-listed for a 2011 Polaris Music Prize.
(Luke Doucet instructs students at NMC during the 2012 Calgary Folk Festival Folk Boot Camps)

Known for his sizzling guitar chops, Luke Doucet is at his finest when wielding his iconic Gretsch White Falcon guitar. His daring virtuosity has gained him a reputation as one of Canada's finest young guitar wranglers. At last summer's Calgary Folk Festival Boot Camp, held at the National Music Centre, Doucet shared experiences of his craft and taught students in a three-day workshop to smoke some tasty twangs from their own guitars. Doucet is also the curator of the Sleepwalk Guitar Festival, held annually in Toronto.
Like her partner, Melissa McClelland has collaborated extensively throughout the Canadian music scene, including session work with Doucet's backing band, The White Falcon. Her eclectic style incorporates roots rock, blues and folk, and her penchant for laying down complex looping feedback instils her music with a distinctly experimental edge. Among her four solo albums, 2006's Thumbelina's One Night Stand best highlights that diversity in musical approach. The acclaimed album is a tasty melange of sultry blues, soulful gospel and wistful love songs. McClelland's most recent solo release, 2009's Victoria Day, features a distinctly vintage sensibility that showcases her clean evocative voice in an old-timey radio setting.

Whitehorse became a force on the Canadian music scene with the release of their self-titled debut album in 2011. A short album, clocking in at only 24 minutes, it showcased the duo's musical chemistry and paid tribute to the sonic building blocks on which the band was founded. Among the album's tracks were some of the pair's older songs – a reworking of McClelland's “Passenger 24” and a revamping of Doucet's “Broken” – as well as a cover of Bruce Springsteen's “I'm On Fire” that has become the band's signature encore number during live performances.
True to their promise to release a full-length record in quick succession, Whitehorse followed up in 2012 with The Fate of the World Depends on This Kiss. The album delivered a smouldering seductiveness only hinted at in the earlier recording. McClelland and Doucet play to one another's strengths, pairing her pure vocals and penchant for looping experimentation against his smoking guitar virtuosity. Their talents meld seamlessly into bluesy, surf-tinged and rockabilly-rinsed tracks that are equal parts melody and atmosphere.

In live performances, the musical and romantic chemistry of the pair takes centre stage. Often sharing a mic, guitar necks angled out to form a heart-shape around them as they stand cheek to cheek, their performance becomes a ritual dance. Duelling guitars are traded for turns laying down vocals and percussion for a layered feedback loop, and seemingly random licks are gathered into a complex dénouement as Whitehorse moves apart and merges together again. Their performances are truly a celebration of the complementary talents which Luke Doucet and Melissa McClelland have honed in their separate careers.

During their short history, Whitehorse has quickly established itself as a band that takes the considerable talents of its members and lifts them to unprecedented new heights. The musical synergy that exists between Melissa McClelland and Luke Doucet sizzles with a sonic intensity that only grows hotter as it burns. With their musical reputation increasingly blazing trails through tracts of critical acclaim, theirs is a fire that creates, rather than destroys.  

– Barbara Bruederlin

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