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Canada’s Whitehorse Pairs Theatricality With Twang

There’s a lot that’s cinematic about Luke Doucet and Melissa McClelland, something in a romantic indie-noir international caper kind of vein. They’re the only musical couple I can think of who are holding hands on not just one album cover but two (if you count the cartoon one). They’ve gone with album titles like The Fate of the World Depends on This Kiss and Leave No Bridge Unburned. And their music has texture, drama, white-line grooves, and sonic allusions to various eras of rock and roll, country and western.

Now, Canada’s coolest couple - more than 12 years into their joint venture called Whitehorse - went on a creative tear, releasing three albums in two years, all of which came with a portfolio of daring and whimsical graphic design, photography and video. The albums flow, from the zesty indie-rock leaning Modern Love in March 2021 to the psychedelic pop wonder whirl of Strike Me Down, which arrived six months later. Then in January of this year came I’m Not Crying You’re Crying, the most overtly country album yet from an indie-folk act that used country like seasoning salt up to this point. This burst of post-pandemic work is the centerpiece of a satisfying conversation for Episode 243, which we held by zoom from a recording studio in Winnipeg, Manitoba, where they’ve been on a sojourn from their home base in Hamilton Ontario.

Doucet and McClelland were both noted solo artists in the Canadian roots and rock world when they became collaborators and then romantic partners in the early 2000s. They worked on each others’ albums and for a spell became part of the touring band of Sarah McLachlan.

“I mean, we met in the studio,” Melissa says. “Luke produced three of my solo records. It started off in a professional sense. I mean, it got very unprofessional very quickly. But, you know, we established that part of our relationship right from the beginning. And that never went away.” After a bit, she says it was clear they needed to formally join forces and put a name to it. Luke adds that came with freedom and empowerment. “There's something that happens when you hang a banner of a name around it,” he says. “Because a band is like a gang. There's a cohesiveness and there's an identity, almost a tribal aspect. It enabled us to be way more creative with what we were doing.”

There’s a playfulness, but no condescension, to the way they approach country music on I’m Not Crying You’re Crying. Opener “If The Loneliness Don’t Kill Me” has a Bakersfield bite and a woebegone point of view. Things really settle in though on track 3 when Melissa lays her dreamy, slightly steamy voice into “The Road,” with a shapely melody and a yearning for freedom and motion. She also sounds spectacular on the heartsore “Leave Me As You Found Me.” Doucet’s sly humor plays well in “Division 5,” which references the Royal Canadian Mounted Police station where a hapless dude files a missing persons report because he’s been left by his love. It’s pure country fun across 12 well-crafted tracks.

Besides touching on the impetus for the duo, we talk about working on video and imaging with their friend the cinematographer Lyle Bell, about evolving their approach on stage and about the way the pandemic opened up the prospect of making a lot of music in a short stretch of time. Whitehorse tours across Canada this summer with plans for a US swing in the Fall.

Craig Havighurst is WMOT's editorial director and host of <i>The String, a weekly interview show airing Mondays at 8 pm, repeating Sundays at 7 am. He also co-hosts The Old Fashioned on Saturdays at 9 am and Tuesdays at 8 pm. Threads and Instagram: @chavighurst. Email: craig@wmot.org</i>