‘Instrumental’ is a new series on Amplify that explores the relationship between Canadian musicians and their beloved instruments.
In 1997, Seattle’s Sub Pop Records was gearing up to put out Loneliest in the Morning, Julie Doiron’s second album for the label since going solo in the wake of her band, Eric’s Trip, breaking up. The label wanted Doiron to put together a band, so she reached out to The Wooden Stars’ Michael Feuerstack to see whether a couple of them might be interested. Turns out the whole band was on board. At the time, Doiron had been playing a beautiful ‘60s hollow body Mosrite she’d picked up in Vermont for $325 USD on a 1992 tour with Eric’s Trip. But when everyone got together, the band became frustrated with the Mosrite—its original tuning pegs weren’t doing their jobs anymore, causing the guitar to fall flat or go sharp sometimes before they’d even made their way through a song. So Feuerstack encouraged Doiron to use his Hagstrom Super Swede instead.
“He let me use it for the tour, and then I used it for the next tour, and then I used it for quite a few tours, and Mike was just like, ‘You know what? That guitar works really well for you and your sound, and you can just keep using it as long as you want,’” Doiron says, sitting at a small table in her home in Sackville, New Brunswick. “At a certain point he offered, ‘When you get the money, you can just buy it from me.’ So I kept using it and then eventually I ended up selling my Mosrite to someone in Sloan for exactly $500, which was exactly what Mike wanted for this guitar. So I sold the Mosrite so I could buy this guitar and finally own it.”
And the guitar—a steal of a deal considering it’s been more or less the only electric guitar she’s used for live shows in over 20 years—was just one thing that came out of Doiron’s collaboration with The Wooden Stars. In 2000, she and the band took home the 2000 Juno Award for Alternative Album of the Year (the record was aptly titled Julie Doiron and The Wooden Stars). She’s got a beauty of a hollow body Crest (made by Kay) six-string under her couch, too, nabbed in Bloomington, Indiana in 2007. But she hasn’t really been able to bring herself to use it in place of the Super Swede. She knows the neck so well at this point, she says, that it plays itself. It’s solid, it travels well, she can be hard on it, and it always sounds good. It also weighs 10 pounds, though, and Doiron says with a laugh that it required, “a lot of massages at one point.”
(The first song in this video, “Heavy Snow,” reveals the Super Swede’s clean and grittier tones.)
“I’m super terrified of commitment—I get really scared of things like getting married. I can’t commit, I get scared of that idea. And yet, I’m so committed to this guitar that I can’t even conceive of… I actually don’t like the idea of all of a sudden touring with a different guitar. I feel like it would be unfaithful.”
Looking at the Super Swede, it’s hard not to think of Neil Young’s 1953 Gibson Les Paul Goldtop, affectionately named ‘Old Black.’ Similar to Young, Doiron’s delicate, finger-picked arrangements are well-known, but she’s also a master of that same dense, overdriven, grungy squall, the evidence for which is maybe most easily accessed via her work as Julie & The Wrong Guys (the band—rounded out by Eamon McGrath and Cancer Bats Mike Peters and Jaye Schwarzer—put out their first album just last year).
Besides helping to define Doiron’s sound over the last two decades, the Super Swede is also responsible for one of her most significant musical relationships. In 1999, on a stop in Chicago supporting Songs: Ohia shortly after the release of her Will You Still Love Me? EP, a 19-year-old David-Ivar Herman Dune. The French musician was studying architecture in the Windy City at the time, and approached Doiron after her set to talk about her Hagstrom. Turns out, his mother was Swedish, and the family had spent a lot of time not far from the Hagstrom factory when he was younger. They exchanged addresses, and eventually Doiron got the first Herman Dune (David-Ivar’s band with—at the time—his brother André and their friend Néman) 7-inch in the mail. They ran into each other at SXSW in 2001 and hung out the whole time. “I saw them play, and I immediately fell in love with the band,” Doiron says. “I was so excited. It was like being a teenager discovering your, like… they were so cool.” The friendship led to Herman Dune inviting Doiron to France. She played on Herman Dune records, and vice versa. When she went to Europe, they were her backing band, and she toured playing bass with them as well. If they end up in the same venue, they’ll still do a tune together.
“It wasn’t as banged up as when I got it,” Doiron says, looking at the guitar. “I think I’ve been a little bit rough with it.” It doesn’t even take a trained eye to see the Super Swede’s been through quite a bit. The tone knobs are cracked, there are a couple scars and chips, sometimes it’s got bloodstains on it, and she warns me to watch myself picking it up, as the toggle switch, now gone, is sharp enough to cut you. But, played through her Fender Blues Junior, it still has the real rich tone she loves, deep and resonant, as it sounds on the songs she plays me that are to come out later this year for her Spanish language album series. As she points out, somewhat astonished, that nothing bad has happened to it—no thefts, no snapped neck even though she always forgets to detune when she flies with it—she knocks on the wooden table so as not to jinx her good fortune.
“I have so much to thank that guitar for, honestly.”