Lennon and McCartney kissing?

Melissa McClelland of Whitehorse talks about band names, songwriting and what life is like on the road with her husband

  • Acclaimed Canadian singer-songwriters Luke Doucet and Melissa McClelland are Whitehorse.

Luke Doucet and Melissa McClelland are both accomplished singer-songwriters in their own right. Now, the husband and wife have come together to form Whitehorse, a roots project that released its first album last summer.

Whitehorse stops at the West End Cultural Centre on Friday, April 20 for a sold out performance.

McClelland was kind enough to answer some questions from the road via email. This is what she had to say.

The Uniter: The name Whitehorse reminds me of the city in Yukon and a lot of your songs are about loneliness. Is there a correlation between the two? Is it intentional?

Melissa McClelland: Definitely intentional! We liked the idea of this beautiful, remote Canadian city that everybody knows, but may not ever have the chance to go to. The Yukon is a magical place and I guess we wanted to evoke the same kind of feeling with our band name and the music.

Was Whitehorse your first choice?

MM: Our first choice was Yellowknife. Maybe better for a hardcore band?

Given your reputation and the accolades you’ve earned, did you consider using your names for the project?

MM: It was a risk doing away with our “names” because we’ve both spent many years building a fan base and a reputation in the Canadian music scene, but there was something liberating about it. I’ve never been a “band” and sharing all the duties that I’ve always taken on myself has surprisingly given me a great sense of freedom. By giving ourselves a band name, we’re essentially making this thing bigger than just the two of us, and it really does feel that way.  Suddenly the creative output has doubled, the energy put into the live show has doubled, and instead of it feeling like two solo artists coming together, it really feels like an entity beyond the marrying of two careers.

Your music has a folk influence with a suggestive rock inflow - it’s the marrying of both your backgrounds. How has that been in the creative process? Does it come out raw and then get moulded into the music you create?

MM: Luke and I speak the same language musically, so we’re frequently on the same page when it comes to musical direction. Even though our solo records sound different, they actually draw from similar places. So, it never felt like we had to mash two things together.

Is there a set time you both have for creating your music? Is it more inspired in the moment and you need to stop everything and get the idea down before it’s gone?

MM: The writing happens in little bits and pieces. We tour so much and unfortunately we don’t really have time put aside for “writing”. It’s completely changed my relationship to the creative process and instead of having a song just flow out of me, it really is more like puzzle pieces that come together over time. The way we (write songs) together happens in that way too. Luke will be humming a guitar part for weeks and I’ll be tossing around some lyrics in my head.  Sometimes we finish songs in the studio as we’re recording them. There really is no rhyme or reason to it. (It) doesn’t matter how we get there, as long as we get there.

We came together because we have a great musical chemistry that was impossible for us to ignore.

Melissa McClelland

It’s easy to be pegged into genres and compared to other musical duos. Is that something that bothers you or does it even matter?

MM: It doesn’t bother me, but we didn’t form this group because we were inspired by a particular musical pairing of the past. We came together because we have a great musical chemistry that was impossible for us to ignore. We still draw our inspiration from the same places we always have, but I understand if other people want to compare us to other musical couplings.

Melissa, how has your experience touring with Sarah McLachlan opened your world musically? Has being on tour with her given you new aspirations and understanding with your music?

MM: Sarah is the coolest chick to work for. She’s so much fun and so kind to everyone she encounters. She doesn’t have a diva bone in her body. People also forget how truly talented she is because she’s had so many hits, and her music and sound have been with us for a while now, but when you’re standing in front of her as she’s trying something out on the piano or ripping some guitar chords out on her Les Paul, it’s a reminder of what a genius she really is. Touring with her and getting the chance to sing my songs on stage every night with her singing backups was thrilling and inspiring. It made me grow as a performer, I think.

The connection on stage you both have is obvious and electrifying. How has being on tour together as a married couple influenced the both of you? Is there a dynamic there that you have now realized is a wonderful addition?

MM: Luke and I tour great together. That’s not to say that it’s always easy. The way life is on tour is that the highs are high and lows are low. Thankfully we’ve had enough experience to handle the roller coaster, guide each other through it all and really embrace our existence as road warriors. Each day brings the unexpected and that’s what we love about it.

Before going on stage, what’s your routine?

MM: Every pre-show is different. Sometimes we’re in a nice dressing room, getting ready, listening to Beck and having a pre-show drink. Sometimes we’re in a stinky basement “band room” with too many penis drawings on the wall to count. Usually I’ll be trying to discreetly change as the bar staff walk by, putting my makeup on in a tiny compact mirror. In Europe we would be napping with our coats and scarfs on, trying to fight the debilitating jet lag and lack of indoor heating. Every pre-show depends on the venue, mood, how long we’ve been on the road for - those kinds of things. I guess before we hit the stage, the one consistent thing is we always lean in for a kiss and say, “Have a good show.”  I’m sure that’s what John Lennon and Paul McCartney did, right?

What are your plans for the rest of 2012 and beyond?

MM: After our April prairie tour, we’ll be heading back to Europe for a few weeks, symphony shows with Sarah McLachlan, Canadian summer festivals and then a new record in September.

Is there a specific impression or idea that you both like to leave with the fans when they go home after the show?

We want people to feel how much we care about what we’re doing up on the stage. We’ve put a lot of thought, work and passion into what we do up there. We’re taking risks on stage. We’re making ourselves vulnerable to the audience in a way and we always hope people are willing to dive right in there with us.

Whitehorse’s show at the West End Cultural Centre on Friday, April 20 is sold out. Visit www.whitehorsemusic.ca.

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