Saturday, 11 May 2013

Harvest Breed at La Sala Rossa

Harvest Breed  |  La Sala Rossa

                     PHOTOS  |  VALERIA VEGA

“When composing the music for our songs, I like to create little films,” says Harvest Breed’s lead singer C-Antoine Gosselin. “There is an intro, then something happens, then it goes somewhere else. Finally, it comes back, and ends.”

Inspiring, is it not?

For the length of three albums, Gosselin’s and Philippe Custeau’s project was called Jake and the Leprechauns. They frequently invited the men who are now permanent band members to join them, but it seems like the status of everyone involved was loosely defined. With the name switch, a shift in attitude also came about. It marked the six musicians’ desire to take things seriously, to form a steady unit of artists committed to the excellence of their craft. In a way, they changed name to instigate a fresh start.

That, and to avoid weird misunderstandings: “Some people thought we were making traditional Celtic music!” bassist (and C-Antoine’s brother) Marco Gosselin laughs.

Well, the least one could say is that Harvest Breed is off to a good start. Evolution-wise, the band’s first LP, titled Everything Changes, could very well be Jake and the Leprechauns’ fourth album. Musically, the band remains in the same ballpark. However, this one is a true homerun, for a few reasons.

First, Custeau’s lyrics are beautifully written; they seem to get better from one record to the next. They tell stories of longing, of things changing, they evoke a fantastic range of human emotions. They are infused with subtle and casual poetry, and the sheer extent of their quality is a good demonstration of the importance given to lyrics in the band’s oeuvre.

Second, C-Antoine’s take on composition serves as an amplifier for the lyrical content. “The whole creation always starts with the lyrics,” he explains. “I leave as much space as I can to the lyrics, and above all, I attempt to support them through the music. Every single note has its place because it supports a word, or an idea.”

Third, Grammy winner Mark Lawson, who happens to be Arcade Fire’s audio engineer, recorded the album with them. He helped the band fulfilling its very old school ambition of laying the entirety of the LP on magnetic tape, using a 70s-style analog tape recorder. They played live, together, all in the same room, and did only a few takes of every song. In four days, all was set and done.

Predictably, with so many tasteful ingredients, the recipe proves stunning. Everything Changes is a mind-blowing piece of work, it is, in the crew’s very words, “the work of a band at the height of its creative powers.” It is a smooth-flowing album, one that underlines the band’s desire to create a wholesome record, that is, an album that should be taken as one multi-layered work, rather than a mere collection of completely different songs. What they perceive as the oeuvre is the album as an entity not Needless to say, after giving such a great LP a few listens, I was expecting Harvest Breed’s performance at Sala Rossa on April 25th with excitement.

I was not wrong.

It was a band named Elliot Maginot who kicked the night off. In front of a crowd sitting down at tables, or squatting on the floor, this folky rock act delivered a few of its mind-comforting songs. Frontman Gabriel Hélie-Harvey fingerpicked the strings of his guitar along Francis Ledoux’s mellow beats, thus launching high-pitch little melodies in the quiet atmosphere. He muttered his poems softly and decisively, often joined by everyone else in the band in astonishing harmonies.

Such moments were magical; it felt like Hélie-Harvey’s voice merged with those of his unit; Sarah Bourdon displayed an especially stunning mastery of her vocal chords. Something must also be mentioned about Jesse Mac Cormack’s multiple talents: it seemed effortless for him to switch between guitar, keyboard, and banjo, as well as to contribute to the band’s harmonies. At the end of Elliot Maginot’s performance, the applauses were warm, rightfully so. It would be a pretty safe bet to claim most audience members had come to hear Harvest Breed. Given that fact, no wonder they were all thrilled to be introduced to another group with such musical depth.

The stage had not been empty for very long when the headlining six-piece proceeded to fill it with its cozy presence. Smiling and cracking jokes, the band members grabbed their respective instruments, plugged some wires, tuned some chords.

And began.

The little films started rolling. Showing just how experienced and seriously talented they are, the two Gosselins, Custeau, Maxime Rouleau, Sylvain Lussier and Gabriel Lemieux-Maillé played their folky songs with great ease. As the pieces progressed, the cinematic storylines on which they are based unfolded slowly, eventually leading to magnificent audio peaks of epic proportions. C-Antoine’s breathtaking vocals gave life to the songs’ characters, as did the nifty little guitar or banjo riffs thrown in the mix. This band is so wonderfully tight that it proved hard to even tell the instruments apart when I closed my eyes. It just sounded like one big film score.

If Harvest Breed sounds great on record, thanks to its healthy work ethic and its very sharp professional collaborators, it is during a live show that one can really grasp the extent of its greatness. It is easy to tell that these gentlemen hold an almost spiritual belief in the importance of the live musical performance. They showed just that when they swung by Toronto for Canadian Music Week. How? Get this: at a fan’s request, they accepted to play in the parking lot of the venue at which they had just performed, in front of that sole fan. Why? She had gotten to the show too late, and had missed her favourite song. I bet she is thanking karma now. “It made our week!” Marco Gosselin ecstatically recalls.

Great bands are sometimes composed of great humans beings, it seems. At the end of the show, I was thus not surprised to see every band member unplug their instrument, step down from the stage, and play the encore in the midst of the crowd, inviting everyone to sing along. It was gleeful. It felt like a family dinner.

If I told you a new album is already in the works, and that there were talks of unveiling it before the end of the year, how would you react?

I figured. I’m pretty pumped too.

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