Sep. 26, 2012 - Issue #884: Strangelove
The glue that holds Whitehorse together
Thu, Oct 4 (7:30 pm)
Arden Theatre, sold out
The title of Whitehorse's new record seems self-evident if you've seen the couple that is the band in each other's presence. On stage or off, Melissa McClelland and Luke Doucet are like binary stars, with an inherent gravitational awareness of each other, no matter how elliptical their particular orbits may be, or how vast the distances between them. And they're basically two roiling fireballs hurtling around the universe together, throwing off heat. So it's a little unexpected that The Fate Of The World Depends On This Kiss was actually a piece of road poetry, a fitting shard of happenstance discovered in their near-continuous travels, appropriated for their follow-up to last year's self-titled debut.
"It came from this vintage Wonder Woman comic we found in a Vancouvver diner," McClelland recounts. "Under one of the tables, there's a bunch of old comics. This one had a strong, tall, strapping man embracing Wonder Woman, saying it in the caption. We loved the over-the-top drama and romance of it and knew right away we wanted it for our album."
She continues more softly. "It makes me think of that image, the one of the two people in Vancouver, in the riot, where they're on the ground holding each other and all this violence is going on all around them."
That tension between different kinds of intensities—the combustible entanglement of lovers and the explosive struggles of hard-pressed people worldwide—resonates throughout the record. There are songs about one or the other, but many fall into the Venn diagram middle where the two dramas meet, the fight for the socio-economic fairness and security we all deserve to shelter and nurture our impermanent lives, and the fragile refuge we find in a fellow traveller.
McClelland and Doucet spent much of the last year living in a New York City tenement building, a stones' throw from the Occupy stronghold. "It was a politically charged atmosphere," she acknowledges. "And the record has that apocalyptic feeling that mirrors the title; the feeling these are desperate, desperate times."
She laughs. "Anyway, the title also has personal meaning for us. We're locked up with each other now; our lives and music are bled together. If it crumbles, that's everything—there's desperation in that all-or-nothing quality."
Which lays bare the impulse behind Whitehorse. It was never "why?" but "why not sooner?" Before they were romantically linked, Doucet produced an album of McClelland's, and she's toured and recorded with him, but until recently they largely bright-lined each other's individual creative purviews. Whitehorse is the sound of their merged sensibilities. McClelland's solo music has slightly theatrical arrangements that jostle and shade her arty pop milieu. Doucet's scorching, expansive, guitar-stuffed pan-Americana is as if Tom Waits and the Allman Brothers got the Reese's peanut-butter-cup treatment.
"I learned guitar to write songs. With Luke, guitar was first, and he became a songwriter, so we came at it from different directions," McClelland explains. "He pushes me further, and I do that for him. He's influenced by blues, country and roots, and he passed that to me. When I first sang in that style, it woke something up in me. It changed my music."
Their collaboration—new songs as well as old solo ones, recreated together—has further enlarged their practices.
"The live show's been the biggest surprise," McClelland says "It's taken us in new directions. It's just us onstage, and that was important to us. Maybe one day we'll have a band, but not now. But we didn't want a folk show. We wanted something different. So we have a looping pedal onstage, kick drum, floor tom. I have this wooden box I stomp on. We have five guitars. Keyboard. Two telephone mics we sing into. We're building rhythmic, dynamic loops and working them into the arrangements, so it makes for a pretty exciting experience because anything can happen. Then for part of it, we move up front and there's a single condensation mic we both sing into. Half of the show is really intimate; and half is really rocking."
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