How does one manage to become a legend when one’s albums go so largely unnoticed? Or is that characteristic of indie legends?
This is a story that spans over 25 years. A story about music that, like so many, cannot be told without elaborating a bit on the personalities and dynamics of the interesting group of artists that created it.
It begins with a bunch of kids living and playing music in Moncton, New Brunswick, in the early 1990s. Young couple Julie Doiron and Rick White, along with friends Chris Thompson and Ed Vaughan are playing together in the alternative band Eric’s Trip, a name inspired by a Sonic Youth song. Like many of their peers in Moncton, they’re making a racket in their parents’ basement, recording some tapes, and playing energetically at small local shows, while the entire nation is listening to Michael Bolton and New Kids on the Block. Eventually, however, people started to notice that those lo-fi garage tapes from these unknown alternative bands were actually selling.
Three cassettes later, Vaughan was replaced by Marc Gaudet, a solid drummer used to playing in local punk bands. His fast drumming, Thompson’s melodic guitar, Doiron’s bass playing and soft vocal harmonies with White, the band’s main singer songwriter and undisputable leader, became Eric’s Trip final line-up.
Around that time, american label Subpop had already released Nirvana’s Bleach, the american grunge scene was making its way towards mainstream radio, and Sloan’s early successes were drawing attention to the Canadian east coast independant scene.
Eric’s Trip became the first Canadian band to be signed by Subpop. They refused Subpop’s first offer, afraid that they would lose out in the end, but the label then offered them full creative liberty (and a little more money) and they accepted. The band chose to keep recording at home with a four-track though, even after being signed. It was a good move. This raw sound fits them well, and many people in the public at that time were looking for honesty in music acts.
With people finally ready to listen, T-shirt&blue-jeans-wearing-long-haired Eric’s Trip was ready to take on the world. As you can see and hear from the performance below, their early live shows were pretty cacophonous (feeling nostalgic of the early 90s yet?), but their albums were always accessible.
In the midst of it all, Doiron and White’s relationship was getting rocky. The creative duo, who learned to play, write, and sing together, was a main force behing the band’s music, and their relationship troubles translated into their albums with bold authenticity. It translated most famously in their first album, Love Tara, released in 1993.
Love Tara is a record that is easy to love right away. The music shows impressive continuity and the stories being told are really engaging. Soft whispered love pleas blend in with loud cries of anguish. White was starting to get more into drugs around that time, and Doiron didn’t appear to be as interested in that scene, which threw a big wrench into their relationship. While on a break with Doiron, White started seeing Moncton’s Orange Glass member Tara Landry for a short time, in secret, a betrayal captured in the emotional song A secret for Julie. That would be a defining moment in the end, according to White who said Doiron never forgave him, but at the time, the two of them were not ready to let go yet. And all the while Eric’s Trip was getting more and more attention, and everyone was just trying to surf the wave and to keep afloat.
The Gordon Street Haunting was released a year later. It’s a short album comprising just a few songs that were strongly influenced by Doiron and White’s breakup, after a few months of being “on again off again” (at the end of the album, you can hear part of Doiron’s goodbye message on what seems to be White’s answering machine). Again, that transparency in documenting reality and the overall genuine quality struck a chord with Eric’s Trip young public. That being said, the moments of distress depicted in these songs were certainly mixed in with ordinary moments and days of chilling out and making music together without getting all worked up (otherwise it would be impossible to sing about the other person to the other person’s face and have him/her do the backvocals to boot!). Through it all, Doiron and White remained good musical partners.
Still, around that time, an saddened Doiron had begun writing her own songs under the name “Broken Girl”, and progressively withdrew from her band mates, spending time away with old friends including paintor Jon Claytor, whom she eventually started seeing. White was seeing Tara Landry again by then and had started a side project with her and Gaudet called Elevator. A little while later, Thompson began working on a side project as well, called Moonsocket.
Did Eric’s Trip lose momentum when the original inspirational couple separated? It would seem so, but to the outside world, Eric’s Trip was in full bloom and interest in the band was growing.
One night, Doiron announces to White that she’s pregnant, and it hits him very hard. His painful perspective of the event is immortalized in the song Forever again (among others), which is also, surely not by coincidence, the title of Eric’s Trip’s next album. With Doiron’s pregnancy, White and Doiron’s split now being definitive, and members of the band spending more and more time on their own projects, Eric’s Trip future seemed uncertain.
Forever again is a dramatic record, very introspective and with darker overtones. That album doesn’t have that perfect continuity that Love Tara had and, as I learned just recently, that disconnectednes was intentional. In these songs, just about everything seems to be collapsing, except inspiration! That album doesn’t necessarily have that “love at first sight” quality, but it definitely grew on me.
At this point, everyone’s side projects were evolving nicely, White and Doiron were getting married to their new significant others, Doiron gave birth to her first child, and Eric’s Trip released Purple Blue. However, the band seemed about ready to call it quits. The album cover is kind of eerie and appears to make reference to the growing distance between them. The songs are filled with loneliness, irritation, and sadness. But whatever’s going on doesn’t affect the album’s quality, the band is tighter than ever musically speaking. White’s new psychedelic inspiration is reflected in this album.
In the middle of a successful tour, White, suffering from panic attacks, announces he’s going home… An Exclaim! article quoted White saying that to him, the band was family, but with Doiron distancing herself from him “mentally”, and living in another city like Thompson and his girlfriend, White wanted to focus on Elevator. In 1996, Eric’s Trip is officially over, but not before the band plays a final show in Moncton, with, legend has it, none other than Sloan opening!
After parting ways with the others, White and Gaudet (and Landry) released several Elevator records and toured a lot. Elevator is a great psychedelic folk-rock band, a real enjoyable musical exploration which I am listening to relentlessly these days. And of course those trippy lyrics and sound are closely linked to the band’s heavy drug consumption. Staying true to himself, White changes the name of the band several times (Elevator to Hell, Elevator Through Hell, Elevator Through, Elevator) because it doesn’t seem quite right, even though Subpop people are losing their hair over it. Hooked on acid (notably), White entered a strange and relatively dark period, but he remained as prolific as ever.
Elevator is artistically interesting, like Eric’s Trip, but not playing by the industry’s rules has a price, and the band doesn’t make much money and that, over time, puts a strain on its members.
After a few years apart, former Eric’s Trip members started talking again and eventually got enthousiastic about a potential reunion tour. They tried it out in 2001. That reunion tour ended up being a great way for them to “bond” again as a band and to have fun as friends. White said in interviews that he was really glad to connect again, notably with Doiron whom he had not seen for years.
Since 2001, Eric’s Trip has reunited for several tours, and fans rejoiced. But that would only be the start of their renewed collaboration…
In 2004, White and Landry called it quits after becoming estranged. Elevator also separated, as conflicts emerged between the three members. At a loss, White went back to the roots. He stayed in his parents’ basement for a while and through reflection and art, got back on his feet and produced his first solo album intitled the RickWhiteAlbum. Afterwards, he moved to the countryside and released two more albums, Memoreaper and 137. He also released some demos in 2013.
All of White’s albums are great and got good reviews, but they kind of flew under the radar. The sound changes from album to album but White’s signature remains the same : personal, imagistic and highly symbolic lyrics, strong melodies, and a pleasant voice (a whisper at times) flowing over it all. The music he makes always seems to be closely related to his state of mind.
White is mindblowlingly creative, and capable : his inspiration is endless, he writes, he plays every instrument, he records and produces his own music, so he still doesn’t have to play by anyone else’s rules. Basically, he’s self-sufficient. In the end, the core similarities between Eric’s Trip, Elevator, and Rick White’s solo albums are a testament to White’s genius and dedication. I have no recollection of any former collaborator saying White was too controlling. Somehow, admirative of his talent and intrigued by his atypical nature, they chose to follow his direction (if you have 3D glasses laying around, check out his video below!).
Over the years, Doiron’s had a pretty successful solo career. Her songwriting always remained very personal, and unfiltered. It feels like reading an open book on her melancholic thoughts and her insecurities. On several records, especially the older ones, her voice is accompanied by a simple guitar melody, bringing the focus on the lyrics. She sings open heartedly about loneliness, longterm relationship difficulties, disappointments, feelings of incapacity, … Even so, her albums have a soft and warm quality. Daily life can appear gloomy at times, but here and there, you find hints of hope and joy. Her style is very influenced by the folk tradition and she has the perfect personnality for it : Julie Doiron might just be the most endearing person in music. The fact that she can play around with mellow acoustic sounds and heavier sounds is a real cool added value.
In 2005, Doiron and Claytor divorced as well, but they remained on good terms. With a few other people, they launched, in 2006, the independant music festival Sappyfest, a series of intimate shows which takes place annually in Sackville, NB (and it looks freaking awesome).
In 2006, Julie Doiron and Rick White teamed up again and made a critically acclaimed album “trilogy” together : White produced three of Doiron’s most recent albums (Woke Myself Up in 2007, I Can Wonder What You Did With Your Day in 2009, and So Many Days in 2012). Gaudet and Thompson collaborated on a few songs as well. It’s nice to see that fruitful connection between Doiron and White play out so well, after longtime friendship and collaboration (and they’re clearly having fun ; a few youtube videos posted by White shows them giggling all the time). Both are much more experienced, and confident I assume, than in the early days. Julie Doiron has certainly evolved a lot since Eric’s Trip and is now much more well-rounded as a performer, musician, and songwriter. She also spends her time promoting the balance of a healthy body and mind through the yoga classes she teaches.
After almost three decades of playing music that has undeniable artistic qualities (I’ve skipped over several other great CDs and collaborations), Julie Doiron and Rick White appear to me as being national treasures in the musical universe. While sunny folksy relatable Doiron has more visibility (she’s currently on tour with The Wrong Guys), behind the scenes miracle worker and psychedelic influenced Rick White remains little known, although I read a few times that he’s becoming somewhat of a legend. White reveals himself in his songs just as much as Doiron, if not more, but the way he expresses himself is less accessible for most people. But at the heart of the forest where he is still happily living, he’s as intrepid as ever when it comes musical creations, as we can see from his youtube channel, bandcamp and other websites. Over the years, White has demonstrated that he has that rare level of sensitivity that allows him to bring out the best in his own performances as well as other people’s (friends’) performances.
So is White and Doiron’s music groundbreaking per se? Maybe not, but their contribution to the music industry is great, and part of this greatness comes for the “purity” of their creative process. stephen1001 recently told me about a quote from Tragically Hip’s Gord Downie : “I played Love Tara by Eric’s Trip on the day that you were born. I had to find the cuteness in the unadorned.” That quote works perfectly for their early years. And as they evolved as artists, their musical integrity was never compromised.
I’ve lost track of Thompson and Gaudet, but I’m sure they’re rocking it out somewhere. In Doiron and White’s case, hopefully, I’ll get to catch them live once, so I can testify that the legends are alive!