A&E » Music

'Fooling the time' with Le Vent du Nord

Traditional Quebec folk band brings their award-winning sounds to Millennium Place



I apologize in advance for anything I say in French because it will sound bad," I say.

"Ha-ha! No problem!"

Olivier Demers is a gracious interviewee. Singer, fiddle player and "foot-tapper" of the traditional Quebecois folk band Le Vent du Nord, Demers has arrived on the west coast for a short tour with the rest of the band.

Straight off a red-eye flight from Montreal to Victoria, Demers and the rest of Le Vent du Nord — Nicolas Boulerice (hurdy gurdy, piano, piano accordion), Simon Beaudry (guitar, Irish bouzouki) and Rejean Brunet (button accordion, acoustic bass guitar, jaw harp) — are preparing for three concerts with the Victoria Symphony Orchestra.

Demers says they are about to go into a "big" sound check with dozens of classical musicians they have never met before.

"We will spend the whole day, until 4:30 with them and then tomorrow we have another. Then tomorrow night is the show," Demers says.

"It's such a huge sound and so great. All the contra-melodies and the arrangements for the orchestra... after three shows we will be hearing them when we play in Whistler!"

Their complex folk sound comes from la belle province and is heavily influenced by Celtic music from Ireland and Brittany, France. American music arranger Tom Myron has taken their back catalogue and rewritten it for violins and clarinets and all those other non-folk instruments.

"It's a wonderful experience. There arrangements are totally awesome, not like a pop series that can go a bit too cheesy. It was arranged to give a challenge for the musicians... they blend with the music from the people, the folklore, the traditional sound. It's an incredible mix," Demers says.

"It is good selling, we have 700 or 800 per show. We like to play the symphonic show because it's a great way to present the traditional music and put it outside of its regular boundaries and fan base. We will read new people."

Victoria is the fourth major symphony orchestra to take to the stage with Le Vent du Nord. The Portland Symphony Orchestra came first, followed by the Quebec Symphony and L'Orchestre Saguenay Symphonique. They have worked with youth symphonies as well, Demers says.

"If it was a Quebec arranger it would be totally different. We're glad Tom is from outside who arranged those tunes (as a fusion of traditions)," he adds.

They play at Millennium Place in Whistler on Saturday, March 15 at 8 p.m. This is their first concert in the resort in about six years.

Musically, Le Vent du Nord mixes traditional music and lyrics with their own writing.

"We like history and we like to compose. We feel we know enough of the tradition to bring something new... we have confidence to compose some new songs. It's a blend..." Demers says, adding that the band would be very happy for their original work to be considered traditional one day.

"We hope that one day our compositions will be part of the global knowledge of the folk scene in Quebec, and outside, too."

Whistler will get 15 of Le Vent du Nord songs taken from seven albums made since the band formed in 2003. Le Vent du Nord has won two Juno Awards and took home a Grand Prix Musique de Monde from the annual Academie Charles-Cros awards in Paris. To win the latter, they beat other musical groups from the French-speaking world with their most recent album Tromper le Temps (2012).

"It meant France, Switzerland, Belgium, Africa were the other competitors... We were very, very surprised. It was a big prize for us. Every time we win it's a surprise and sometimes we don't know how to react," Demers says. "It's just us trying to continue and we believe people are enjoying our work. It is an encouragement."

Demers adds the show in Whistler is going to be the Le Vent du Nord's regular show in support of Tromper le Temps.

"It is based on the last album but also all of the others. What we call 'Fooling the Time' is the guideline (we follow). We are playing old music in 2014, it fools the time a little bit... it's a miracle that those songs and pieces are still alive," he says.

"We couple this with 'new-old songs.' Made like it's old music but we made it. Fooling time for us also means being Francophones in North America it is also a way to fool time — it is particular (unique) in the bigger portrait (of the continent)."

A new record is a year away, Demers says, but the band will be touring steadily for the next year as they always have.