Taking a short break from a dozen years of relentless touring, the Montreal Guitar Trio holed up in a little church north of Montreal to write and record their fourth studio album, Cambria, last spring.
"We went there and locked ourselves in this wooden church by the lake and we spent a couple weeks there," says Marc Morin, one third of the group. "Every album, we always record it a different way."
The record — named after the main street in the town where Morin lives near the church-turned-studio — features six original songs and three covers, including George Harrison's "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" and "The Mexican" by Babe Ruth.
While the original tracks are usually arranged by the trio's Sébastien Dufour and Glenn Lévesque, the group collectively seems to stumble upon their diverse roster of cover songs, Morin says.
"We were touring (Western Canada) many years ago and we got together in a hotel in Banff and sat down and arranged 'While My Guitar Gently Weeps' bare, just for no reason," he says. "We just worked on that one and played it that night. (Covers) always happen like that: something pops up."
Over the last 15 years the group has moved from exclusively covers to a more even split. Still, it's anyone's guess what tracks will appear live. Morin says they don't have a preference for original or cover songs. "There's not a big difference for us because the covers we decide to play, it becomes our music too," he says. "There's a lot of freedom in that band. The show has to be fun. It has to be fun for us. If there's a song we don't want to play anymore, we stop playing it."
That carefree approach, along with their evolving sound incorporating varying genres like Spaghetti Western music, rock and jazz, has consistently attracted audiences from around the globe to their shows. The fact that they're largely instrumental also helps bypass any potential language barriers.
"There's not much difference (in audiences in different countries)," Morin says. "They have their personalities, but it's a good thing. Where we are in Canada or Quebec, you can't go fulltime with an instrumental music project. You need a bigger audience because you can't survive on just that."
To that end, the group is playing a few dates through Western Canada — including a stop in Whistler at Millennium Place Jan. 19 — before heading south for a tour with their California counterparts. They will play as a sextet with the California Guitar Trio through that band's home state and Florida. "There's lots of snow here, so it's a good thing," Morin says.
Despite the white stuff, he adds they're also looking forward to returning to Whistler for the first time in nearly a decade. "The show we're going to perform in Whistler is (eclectic)," he says. "There's classical music, world music, jazz and rock. It's a fun show... It's always really exciting when we go back to a place we haven't been in awhile. We just feel like we have lots of stories to tell since the last time we were there."