Through their seven full-length albums, the prolific Canadian duo Whitehorse of Melissa McClelland and Luke Doucet have left no emotional, personal, fantastical, or political stone unturned, and their new album “I’m Not Crying, You’re Crying”, is no different. Released on January 13, 2023, the album finds the multiple JUNO Award nominees venturing deeper into classic country music touchstones than ever before; a move that is both a homecoming and an evolution of their sound. A twist on the ever-present “pandemic album,” Whitehorse distilled and transcended the gloom and uncertainty of the time with a collection about heartbreak and loyalty; getting by and going crazy; and shaking things up and hunkering down. The resulting twelve-song collection is playful yet profound; masterfully simple and timeless. The duo visited London for UK Americana Music Week at the end of January where Melissa and Luke spent some time with Jamie in Hackney to fill us in on the record and this trip to the UK. “We’ve been over quite a bit before, but we realised that it has been maybe eight years since we have been here which is just crazy. We used to come here quite regularly but I don’t know, we put out some records that I think sonically didn’t make as much sense to come all the way here, where we focused more on Canada and in the States. With this record that we have just put out that is firmly in this Americana and country zone, suddenly this market is opening up to us again which is nice.” (M) “I think we are reemphasising our relationship with the Americana world because that is really where we come from. A lot has been made and maybe just amongst us and in our inner circle that this is a country record for lack of a better term for it but the second most country record that we ever made was probably our very first album. We started off in a very Americana sort of place and danced into different zones a little bit then now we are coming back, it is definitely more vintage or retro Nashville than previous records but in a lot of ways is coming back to the hearth with Americana which was our home to begin with.” (L)
To talk about genre, the JUNO’s for example seem to have recognised you guys in pretty much every single category at some point so like Melissa said you have jumped around sonically. When you are making a record and looking at “I’m Not Crying, You’re Crying” particularly did you set out to make a country slash Americana record when you started or was this where the writing took you through the course? “John Prine died in April of 2020 and that kind of shocked us a bit and jarred us. We are fans and we listened to a lot of his music, but it also made the pandemic seem real and wasn’t something that would be gone in the wind. It was the harbinger of a process, we started writing songs and I was writing a bunch of country songs but not knowing that we were making a record, so we just had songs. Our label Six Shooter heard them and said this is something that we should really do, because we made a couple of albums previously, we recorded four records during the pandemic. Six Shooter heard the stuff and said oh, oh, oh, wait a minute, let’s do this.” (L) “It’s interesting because we have a series of EP’s called “The Northern South” with a volume one and a volume two which was a focus on early 1950’s blues. In the beginning of Whitehorse, our whole live performance was based around looping, and we decided to take that into the studio to build these classic blues songs in a Whitehorse way. We had a lot of fun with that project, and we were thinking that maybe we would continue on with that but delve into seventies country because we love that zone, so we had already sort of planted the seed that we wanted to delve into that world. Then like Luke said, when John Prine passed away, we started absorbing all of that music in our house and all of these original songs started coming out then it very quickly became apparent that it wasn’t going to be an EP, a side project or cover songs and it would be a full-on Whitehorse album.” (M) “It turns out that the culmination of those recording sessions was a bit of a makeover, a psychological and metaphysical makeover of who we are. We didn’t know that’s what we were doing but it looks like maybe we were.”
You mentioned that this project was starting to flow at the start of the pandemic, but you released a couple of records through 2021 then so were they finished before you began on “I’m Not Crying, You’re Crying” rather than them being other Covid records as some people would term releases during that time? “The first two records: “Modern Love” and “Strike Me Down” we had started before the pandemic, and we really just finished them up at the beginning and released them. This record “I’m Not Crying, You’re Crying” had all of the writing and recording during the first six months of lockdown, so it really feels thematically of that time and place where we were writing about our experience of that time and place. Of course, it takes on universal thoughts and ideas but that is kind of the core of what we were dealing with. We finished this record about two years ago, so we’ve been sitting on it a little while and are excited to put it out there.” (M) Looking at Canada as an overall market, from things that I have picked up from various people and depending on their specific style of country or Americana is that the scene varies a lot across such a big country. Do you guys feel that there is a difference from the scene in Toronto or Calgary where things would appear more commercial compared to right through the middle. Are there markets that feel more folk driven? “I don’t know. I wouldn’t necessarily make that generalisation. We’re not part of the mainstream country world, that whole pop-country thing that is going on, we’re not part of that and we don’t necessarily want to be as we don’t feel a great connection to it, obviously we will take whatever fans that we can get, whoever wants to hear us play is fine with us. There are really good rootsy or Americana venues in most cities, we spent a year living in Winnipeg and there’s a place called Times Change(d) High & Lonesome Club which is the greatest. You’re not going to find a place any better in Austin or Nashville, you’ll find other places that are equally as good but nothing better. Then Toronto has got a few venues, there’s a place called The Dakota Tavern so there’s a real resurgence of roots Americana music. I heard somebody say recently, sort of in a disparaging way that when indie folk rockers run out of runway and they don’t know what to do or where to go, they all end up making a quasi-pretend country album which I can see how annoying that can be for some people that are steeped in the real stuff. Somebody paid us a real compliment saying you sound like you guys deserve to be here and you play this music real sincerely, which it is because it is very sincere to us.” (L)
“I think there is a real affection, like this club I was talking about in Winnipeg, I used to play there when I was fifteen years old in the late eighties where I used to play blues gigs with my dad. It was a blues venue at the time and there aren’t really blues venues anymore, what they are now are like roots Americana Honky Tonks. Sometimes on a Sunday night they will have a blues jam but other nights they do other things so the whole umbrella of roots music or maybe it is best referred to as Americana is a big tent with lots of people all across the country. It’s true that once you get to the more rural parts of Canada people get more likely to be listening to more conservative pop-country as people would be generally more conservative as I imagine it would be here. You are right though that Canada is weird because it’s such a huge country.” (L) “Wherever you find the industry, those cities where the industry exists is where you will find more of the slick sounding machine, and we were saying that being in Manitoba is literally being in the middle of nowhere. I mean you can drive for seventeen hours in either direction and not hit another city.” (M) “Well, the nearest cities to Winnipeg are Thunder Bay, which is seven hundred kilometres to the east, Regina in Saskatchewan is 700 hundred kilometres to the west or Minneapolis-St Paul seven hundred kilometres south.” (L) “Yeah, we are surrounded by nothing.” (M) “The joke is that if your dog runs away, you can watch it running for three days because there is nothing around.” (L) “It’s very flat too but I think there is something that happens to the art being created when you are in a place like that and when the industry doesn’t really exist there you really are in a world unto yourself, so it’s been nice to spend a year there and see the kind of art and music that is being made.” (M)
On listening to this record, it really is one of the most genuine and authentic country records that well and truly is a country record that I have heard for a long time which is really cool especially as you had said that sometimes you leant towards country or Americana and sometimes you are not rather than more of the Nashville machine that markets making country albums. “I was actually just saying to someone that this actually might be the most focused record that we have ever made because typically we are stylistically all over the map within one record and trying a bunch of different things with layers of things happening sonically.” (M) “You justify that by flicking through your Neil Young records and think well he does that on his records where he goes from walls to walls of fuzzed out guitars to folk music to country in one record so why can’t we do that? Well, the answer is because you’re not f#cking Neil Young, get over yourself.” (L) “It should be an experimentation. We’ve always approached music that way and it should be fun in the studio, and we shouldn’t limit ourselves, but we did do something different on this record. We did kind of limit ourselves.” (M) “We did, we tied one arm behind our backs. We said no, we are not having any keyboards, not having any overdub, no stacked vocal harmonies and no extra percussion, we’re recording four-piece band and two vocals.” (L) “Yep, it was about the songs, about the vocals, the guitar and everything else that’s there is just simply support.” (M) “If it doesn’t need it, it doesn’t need it and it doesn’t happen. Also, we produced it ourselves, we didn’t go and find some fancy country producer, so there was really only one way for this record to turn out which was the only kind of country we knew how to make. If we were going to make another record in six months and it was a country record that would be a dramatic departure, I would have to do some studying literally. I would have to listen to those records and see oh, that’s what you do with a piano on a country record or there should be some fiddle, maybe a mandolin for what goes in and maybe we’d have a Bluegrass record. Those are things that maybe in the future for us, but we just did what we knew to do.” (L)
Melissa had said it had been about eight years since you were last over and you guys had said you were hoping to be here this time last year but hopefully, you’re not going to leave it that long again. “Definitely not! We will be back, and I predict frequently!” (M) “Hopefully this coming fall or before the new year, we will be back again for a proper tour.” (L) The latest album “I’m Not Crying, You’re Crying” from Whitehorse is out now and available HERE whilst you can find out all of their upcoming tour dates on their WEBSITE or keep up with Melissa and Luke socially via FacebookInstagram & Twitter.
True country music is honesty, sincerity, and real life to the hilt. Garth Brooks