A year into the June in Siberia tour, Mark Berube and the Patriotic Few keep on keeping on
I first heard Mark Berube some five years ago. I was sitting in the kitchen of an old friend. She had on What the River Gave the Boat. By the time it reached its final track, Barber Shop, a spoken-word monologue accompanied by sad-bastard piano and strings, I found myself on the verge of tears. Soon after I picked up the album. A year or so later I saw Berube at Pop Montreal, in the intimacy of Cagibi. He was accompanied by his band, the Patriotic Few. They had just put out an LP, What the Boat Gave the River. I wondered then why they weren’t getting the attention that, say, Patrick Watson did.
Now Mark Berube and the Patriotic Few are set to play a concert at Théâtre Outremont, a year after releasing their latest album, June in Siberia. There’s that melancholy piano, those oh-so-moving strings, the same spirit, really. But also some different colours, unexpected rhythmic structures, new influences… Wonderful stuff. Once again I wonder: Why aren’t they recognized as one of the brightest lights in Montreal’s musical skies yet?
"We’ve kind of asked ourselves the same question!" admits Berube with a laugh. "But you know, Montreal’s a real hotbed, there’s a lot of music coming out of here, and the bar is high. So you just keep working…"
June in Siberia was recorded at Hotel 2 Tango, the mythic Mile End studio where everyone from Godspeed You! Black Emperor to Arcade Fire, The Dears and Wolf Parade has cut records. "When we went into Hotel and did a trial day with Howard [Bilerman] and saw the potential of the room, it just made so much sense. It doubly confirmed what we wanted to do," says the singer-songwriter, who wanted a more direct sound for this album. "For the other albums we always had a string quartet and horns, we tried to do the big thing. But for this one, outside of the guest vocalists [Dan Mangan, Emily Loizeau, C.R. Avery, Hattie Webb], it was just the four of us and what we could do. It was live off the floor; either we got it or we didn’t!"
"This album was kind of the first time I had a set group that I’d been on the road with," Berube goes on, referring to cellist Kristina Koropecki, bassist Amélie Mandeville and drummer Patrick Dugas. "For a good 70 percent of the songs, we tried them live before we recorded them. Everybody had time to kind of massage their parts… I gave a lot more liberty for the other three to come up with their own parts, and they really shined through."
Unlike the vast majority of rock and folk records, June in Siberia features absolutely no guitars. "Initially it started out as a bit of, ‘I’m gonna have a band without a guitar, ha ha.’ Then I just started realizing how much space you have when you take that out. When you take that colour out, there’s something interesting that happens."
THE ROAD GOES EVER ON
Mark Berube and the Patriotic Few spend a lot of time on the road, doing 75 to 200 shows a year throughout Quebec and the rest of Canada as well as Europe. The toll of touring is apparently one of the reasons why Patrick Dugas recently left the band to go to acupuncture school (Tonio Morin-Vargas has replaced him on drums). "When you get to your early 30s, it’s just how it goes; some people have different ideas of what they want to do with their lives, even if they love music," says the Manitoba-born, Swaziland-raised Berube, who himself might prefer not always being on the road.
"I’ve got a daughter now, she’s almost a year old, and being away for long stretches doesn’t interest me," he says, though he quickly adds that he really loves to perform. "It’s just that when you have a family, you want to see them too. It’s about finding a middle ground."
Mark Berube and the Patriotic Few
w/ Harvest Breed
At Théâtre Outremont
Free (or pay-what-you-can) downloads for the next 7 days at www.markberube.bandcamp.com