Luke Doucet

Thursday, 19 February 2009

The thought and popular image of those artists lucky enough to get to make music for a living is often greatly romanticized by those outside of the business. On the outside looking in, fans envision professional musicians as often leading a life of leisure as they're given time and space to cultivate their muse and so have the ability to work at their own rate with little concern for what might happen in the interim between recording sessions. With that image in hand, it's no wonder that musicians occupy an enviable position in the minds of the populace – who wouldn't want that kind of freedom? – but the fact of the matter is that musicians are not immune to the basic concerns of the human existence. Like anyone else, it's true that musicians have bills to pay and worries outside of the two hours per night that they spend on stage but, in addition to that, unlike the average factory worker or general laboring man, there is no benefits package or retirement pension offered to any member of the artistic community so, in addition to the expenditures that people have every day, they also have to think about what they're going to do later on. In addition to that, there is no such thing as a paid day off; while some musicians are able to go long periods of time between releases, most subscribe to a far more primal urge and labor process: as a guitarist from an unnamed Canadian band once said, “There's a reason people refer to the music business as shark infested waters. Everyone in the music industry is a shark in a way; like sharks, if people that work in the music industry don't keep moving, they don't eat.”

Singer/guitarist Luke Doucet is very aware of and agrees with that animalized impression of the business in which he works, but he has no complaints about it. Working in an area below which Doucet knows there is no safety net, rather than complain or change the situation, he has simply elected to play the game on its terms and keep active in a multitude of ways. “Right now I'm kind of moving around a lot before this tour starts,” says the guitarist with a laugh. “I was in Calgary  several nights ago doing a promo thing on TV and then I've been in BC for the last few days involved with a promotion to celebrate the upcoming Olympic games, then I'll be up in Ottawa to do a CMT television thing before I go to Memphis to do a workshop with James Burton and Albert Lee – two legendary guitar players who worked with Elvis and Emmylou Harris. After that, I go back to Toronto to rehearse with my band and start my tour which will be a completely different thing altogether.

“This one will be the first headlining tour that I've done behind Blood's Too Rich,” Doucet continues as he recounts the itinerary he's upheld so far. “I started the year of 2008 – right about when the record came out – touring with Blue Rodeo in Canada and the States before we came back to Canada and did some festivals in the summer before going out to support James Blunt in northern Canada, but I haven't done a proper headlining tour of this record yet which is why I'm doing this one.

“There are moments when it can feel pretty daunting,” concedes the singer. “I mean, I have my career as a songwriter and singer with my band and we tour and all and that's a full-time career in itself, and then I also play with my wife Melissa [singer-songwriter Melissa McClelland -ed] and work on her records and tours – she actually just finished a new album so after my our ends I'll be jumping on that – and also, whenever Sarah McLachlan gets out and tours, both Melissa and I play in her band as well. In addition to that, Melissa plays with Blue Rodeo and I play with the Jim Cuddy Band… we're both working constantly and it's an unending cycle.”

As far as the seemingly unending cycle behind Blood's Too Rich is concerned, it's very easy to understand why interest has yet to wane as new fans continue to discover the album en masse even a year after its release. This time out, Doucet discovers the path that led such venerable names as Neil Young and Joni Mitchell to create such classic albums as Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere, Rust Never Sleeps and Blue and runs along it; further developing his own blend of warhorse folk and raw rock n' roll with fantastic results. Tracks including “Long Haul Driver,” “The Comandante” and “Beacon On The Southpaw” all recapture the best vintage rock images – long roads traveled, hazy images of beloved places far away and the worry of an uncertain future – but, instead of simply revisiting them, Doucet proves that they still work so many years later by representing them in his own view that looks forward rather than back. In the spirit of that revolutionary bent as well, a cover of The Cure's “The Lovecats” appears much like “Personal Jesus” did for Johnny Cash: in the spirit of being a timeless song that will make purists on both sides of the generic line quiver a little at the perceived heresy of such an inclusion. That sort of unspoken rebellion has been long absent from rock n' roll (a genre that has made its name in making statements in recent years), but it is the cornerstone of Blood's Too Rich and, in its appearance, Luke Doucet allies himself with a select group of players that genuinely matter; they're the ones that know the rule book by rote but toss it out the window and play it in a straight-but-still-by their-own-rules fashion and let the audience mop up after them.

Is proof requisite that it's been a while since such a record caused confusion in the music institution? Doucet has some: “I thought it was a rock n' roll record while I was making it – I still do really – so it kind of threw me when it won the Contemporary Folk Album Of The Year award at the Canadian Folk Music Awards,” muses Doucet at Blood's Too Rich's uniformly positive but confusing reception. “That kind of made me laugh because I think it's rock n' roll but I guess when you slow rock n' roll down enough, people start to think of it as folk music even though there's lots of big sounds in it. To me, rock n' roll is country and blues played a little bit faster and a little bit dirtier. I don't think that represents the sounds that the vast majority of people who are making rock n' roll today, but the classic definition is certainly that and that's been the one I've used for a lot of the music I've made, and I think I probably always will.”

Even with that said however, as Doucet continues to tour while writing for his next release, one can tell in conversation with the singer that the nomination has strengthened his resolve to make the sound of his next album unmistakable and he's prepared to go to great lengths to illustrate his decidedly rock n' roll design. “I do usually think a lot about the sound and image I want to make with the record I'm working on beforehand but, having said that, you make certain choices about what you think you want to do and when it comes right down to it, you do some of that but also some other things that you didn't think you were going to do,” explains Doucet philosophically. “You can only premeditate so much but, in the end, there are influences beyond any artist's control that may end up changing it. For example, when I go to the studio this June, I like to think that my next record is going to be a rock n' roll record and, by that, I mean slightly shorter songs, they might be a bit faster and I'm going to try and keep at least half the songs in a major key and I will endeavor to write songs with a certain spirit that will conjure up The Kinks and The Who and late-Sixties Stones and things like that which I wouldn't mind co-opting or pillaging a little from but, having said that, it's entirely likely that none of what I'm describing is going to happen. Even though I think it is and I want it to, I've also hired a producer for the first time in almost a decade to produce this next record – I've hired Andrew Scott from Sloan – and hopefully he'll have a huge amount to contribute and things to say about how the record sounds.

“I'm a big fan of Sloan and I have been for a very long time – they have this unique and incredible sound that's really all their own and their own take on rock n' roll that's just so instantly recognizable,” gushes Doucet at the prospect of his next collaboration. “It's not that I want to try and steal that – I don't just want to make my own variation on a Sloan record – I'm just bored with me as a producer for my records; I think I've played myself out a little. I need someone else to take the reigns and I think Andrew's the guy to do it. I'm really hoping that we'll be able to make something great.”

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Blood's Too Rich is available for purchase now on Amazon .  

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