Eric’s Trip, the charming indie queen Julie Doiron, and the legendary yet underrated Rick White

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 the 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. Very much so in fact. It might just be my favorite now.

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!

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Iron and wine, Dustin Tebbutt : thanks for reminding me that I’m “indie folk” above all else

It’s been about two years since I posted here! Time sure flies by fast. So how can I mark this glorious comeback? Maybe by going back to the roots.

I’ve been a music lover ever since I can remember. When I was ten, my parents bought me a radio-cassette player and it completely changed my life. I’d hear a song that I liked playing on the kitchen radio while my parents were making dinner, and I’d run upstairs to my room like a mad person to press the record button. The sound quality was awefull and I could hear the DJ’s voice over the first or last 10 seconds of the song… but it was soooo worth it. I made countless mixed tapes since then, which remain, in my view, the best compilations ever and I still listen to them, once in a while. As a teenager and young adult, I worked (if you can call it work 🙂 ) at the school’s, then the university’s radio station where I had access to local demo tapes (very bad audio, once again, but these local bands were intense, so it doesn’t matter, right?). I listened to so many songs, so many styles… “as long as it’s good” is what I used to say to people asking me what type of music I liked. Songs accompanied me always, through good times and bad times (especially bad times).

Ah, the good old days.

After having kids, while still listening to music, I slowed down and lowered the sound a little, to be able to hear their shy and cute baby voices. Work and everything else got more intense and I’d basically just crawl up to bed every night dead tired. That, coupled with the fact that I am utterly useless with technology (I concluded that IT hates me) so even the easiest thing nano Ipod or whatnot would die out on me after a while. And yet, lately, it’s been irritating me. It’s been getting under my skin. I want to listen to something new, something good. Something that will really catch my interest, like back then.

Now, thanks to those youtubers who post really great music compilations, out of the blue, I found a few wonderful indie bands that I had never heard of before.

Dustin Tebbutt is an australian singer-songwriter, who’s debut EP “The Breach” has met critically acclaim, and for good reason. The eponym song is haunting, in a good way. It flows smoothly… and endlessly, since I listen to it on repeat. It’s been a while since I’ve listened to something on repeat.

Iron and Wine is an american singer-songwriter who already released several albums, and some of them were extremely well-received by critics, notably the wonderful “Our endless numbered days”. This talented and charismatic bearded fellow has apparently lived though a difficult time in the bible belt where he was raised, but came out of it with a very open and mature philosophy, as quoted in the Telegraph : “That was a confusing time for me, but I don’t miss being misled. I’m not an atheist. There’s an undeniable unseen world that some people call God and think they know more about than other people. I try not to get hung up on the names.” Well said, my friend. In these days of uncertainty and fear, your openness is welcome. So is your music!

I’m adding these two to my list, and if I can make it through my mourning period following the death of Leonard Cohen, I’ll expand my musical research and listen to their other, more recent CDs, and share the results.

Greatings and salutations to all WordPress bloggers!

Fleetwood Mac: From Then Till Now

I have been listening a lot to Fleetwood Mac these days… perhaps because Christine McVie finally came back for their new tour, perhaps because Stevie Nicks released a new album, perhaps because for some reason I finally saw their 1997 live show “The dance” and I got totally into it and became a bit nostalgic… But perhaps, it’s mainly because I went back, way back, to their early years, back when this band was composed of only british people playing some pretty nice blues-rock tunes. Peter Green sounds SO great (both vocally and musically, on the guitar). Really, what a bluesman.

And then, many talented musicians came and went, and two fiery americans ended up completing this band, which then created history with their music, their intriguing and charismatic personas, and their bizarre (dare I say disfunctional?) yet very productive group dynamics.

So they are all in their sixties/seventies now, and they seem to be enjoying themselves and each other a lot more now that they’re older, wiser, sober, and that some of that famous heavy emotional bagage has disapeared or at least toned down. Indeed, the intensity and pain in Lindsey Buckingham’s 77 live performance of “Go your own way” is palpable.

And if you watch interviews and documentaries like “Destiny rules” about the recording of their 2003 “Say you will” album, you can see that the lasting “tension”, especially between Stevie Nicks and Buckingham, is not just a gimmick for the fans. While it is obvious that the band and/or their managers like to exploit the Nicks/Buckingham so-called neverending soap opera, I personally don’t mind it because I think there is a genuine connection there that allows for some wonderful emotional performances, such as the ones on “The dance” live album/DVD, the band’s first live show in ten years (aside from the presidential campain of course). Buckingham once said that, as they wrote much of their songs about each other but never really reunited after their break up, Nicks and himself get to “live out their love affair on stage”. That’s the feeling I get while listening to “Silver springs” live : the ending is so intense on Nicks’ part, it’s almost scary. Scary, but great!

Lindsey Buckingham is underrated, he is a great musician (plus he gets points in my book for playing the old fashion way – no guitar pick!).

As good as “The dance” is (their vocal harmonies are better than ever), to me, the 70’s performances remain the greatest. They feature long versions of the songs we love, played and sung with fury and raw emotion, which pulls at the heartstrings.

That being said, I’m very glad I discovered the oldies too as I’m a big blues-rock fan, and I encourage you to check them out as well.

More Fleetwood Mac videos (“The Chain” and “Rihannon”) in this previous post: https://songsuneedtohear.wordpress.com/2013/11/12/a-few-70s-songs-by-fleetwood-mac/

Welcome the new year with La bottine souriante!

So long 2014! While preparing to welcome in 2015, I thought I’d share some wonderful festive music which we particularly enjoy here in Québec to ring in the new year.

“La bottine souriante” was created in 1976 and is mostly known for its wonderful rendition of Québec traditional music. Songs from the first few decades featured vocal harmonies, accordeons, guitars, pianos, harmonicas, mandolins, and crazy foot works! Indeed, in addition to Yves Lambert’s distinctive voice and accordeon playing, “La bottine souriante” included insane foot rythms by Michel Bordeleau, a great addition to this upbeat music which will have you dancing in no time.

Québec folk music is influenced among other things by old French songs and celtic music. In more recent years, the band explored some new sounds, widened their brass section and added some jazz elements and world beats. “La bottine souriante” is a hit here in the province, but the band also played in France and around the world. The group won several prizes including a BBC Folk Award in 1999.

I saw them live about 10 years ago and it was one of the best shows I had ever seen (and I have seen a few). It took perhaps two or three songs to get the crowd fired up to the point that there wasn’t anyone left sitting on their seat. Below is a live show from 1998, so dance the night away!

Happy new year to all!

Amazing Music Videos: March of the pigs by Nine Inch Nails

Sometimes, less is more. Directed by Peter Christospherson, this video features an intense live performance by industrial alternative rock band Nine Inch Nails, filmed apparently in one take, in a bare room with white walls. Quite simple, in fact, but in such a minimalist setting, you absolutely can not fake your way through. You HAVE to be that good and to give it your all. And what can I say, it turned out great. It’s genuine. It’s noisy. It’s raw. It’s perfect.

Again, clearly you don’t necessarily need bling bling or oversized budgets to make a great video. What you need is a good idea, and to remain authentic.

Trent Reznor is slamming all over the place, into fellow musicians, throwing his mic around… and crew members keep coming in at just the right time so that everything can go smoothly. Great vid. Seeing it again makes me want to listen to their 90’s classic album “The downward spiral”. I bet, contrary to what some may have thought back then, that it has aged very well. Trent Reznor is a great songwriter and deserves to be recognized as such. I encourage you to listen closely to the lyrics and see for yourself!

 

 

 

The Best of the “Best of”(s): The Cure (1986 and 2001)

Didn’t I say this was not going to happen again? After the one and only Leonard Cohen, I didn’t think there could be another artist/band that would inspire me a double “best of” post, about two “best of” compilations! And yet here I go again, this time, with The Cure.

First off, let’s talk about the classic album “Staring at the sea: the singles”, released in 1986 and comprising The Cure’s biggest hits ranging from the 1970’s to the first half of the 80’s. This album is a must. I won’t even start naming songs on that album because I’ll just keep adding title after title as they’re all good. It’s also a wonderful album to get to know this band by listening to some of their coolest songs, with their typical introspective and dark lyrics, their minimalist, hypnotic, and ultra-catchy sound, combined with the clear and mysterious voice of Robert Smith. Ok, that’s enough, I’m putting on the CD right now. There you go. Nice little background music.

Next: “The Greatest Hits” album from 2001 is a double-CD set, including one CD with 18 songs, and one CD with acoustic versions of these songs. The latter is what’s really cool here. The guitar-lovin’ me likes this little feature. Personally, I wouldn’t have thought of The Cure’s songs as good acoustic songs, but I like it. It just goes to show once again that when you have good melodies and lyrics – and a charismatic and intense frontman, as well as great musicians, of course – then it’s probably worthwhile to try to go acoustic, whatever the genre. I also appreciate the fact that this best of compilation, in addition to several songs which also appear on “Staring at the sea”, comprises songs from 1986+ albums such as “Lullaby” and “Love song”. Those two songs, by the way, sound wonderful in their acoustic versions.

Incidentally, I invite you to listen to a great live performance of “Love song” here: https://songsuneedtohear.wordpress.com/2013/10/17/robert-smith-of-the-cure-50-years-old-and-the-voice-is-still-perfect/

When I was younger, a lot of guys used to have the Robert Smith’s haircut… But who among them ever bothered to read “L’étranger”, the classic French litterature novel from Albert Camus which inspired “Killing an Arab”? That’s an unfair question, I know. Was I even close myself to reading classic litterature novels in my early teenage years?… Do I dare quote South Park again? “Robert Smith of the Cure is the coolest person that ever lived!”.

Jolene: Dolly Parton vs The White Stripes

This is a heartbreaking song about an ordinary woman who watches helplessly as her lover is slipping away, talking about another woman in his sleep: the stunning Jolene, with her flaming locks of auburn hair, ivory skin, emerald green eyes, smile like a breath of spring, and voice like summer rain… That’s a bit discouraging, indeed. So the desperate lovesick protagonist begs Jolene, who she knows she can’t compete with: “please don’t take my man… even though you can”. The song ends with this endless melancholic plea, leaving the audience wondering and hoping that this goddess Jolene chose another man, a single man. Well, what we really want might be for the protagonist to find the self-confidence to leave this guy who might already be cheating on her! But somehow, the strenght of the lyrics, the despair and sadness, end up making you feel for (and perhaps even relate to) this brokenhearted woman and her cruel fate. There’s a deep feeling of loneliness conveyed in both versions which will be the object of discussion today: Dolly Parton’s original country-folk version from the 1970’s and The White Stripes’ slow-garage-rock 2000 version.

Everyone knows Dolly Parton as the energetic charismatic blond country star with a southern charm and lots of personality. She is first and foremost an acclaimed songwriter. Coming from humble beginnings, she slowly but surely became an immensely popular star in the US, where she now has her own theme park! “Jolene” is one of her signature hits. Legend has it that she was inspired to write a song about a woman named “Jolene” after meeting a young fan named Jolene. And then Dolly added in the dramatic overtones, inspired by the fact that her husband was spending a lot of time with a pretty redhead who worked at the bank when they first got married. But they’ve been married for decades so it turned out well after all.

The White Stripes are one of many bands/artists to cover this song, but their version is rather unique and was well-received. It might be a bit strange to hear a man singing this song, but the feelings conveyed are so profoundly human at the core that you quickly forget and get into Jack’s intense desperate pleading (especially in this live version). Personally, I really like the slower rythm, which I think fits better with the suffering portrayed in this song. The White Stripes sound is harder than Dolly’s version, obviously, and Dolly’s clear voice differs from Jack’s raw husky voice. These are two very different sounds, but again, as is often the case with my original vs cover battles, maybe it’s the powerful lyrics that make the song in the end.