As hard as you work as an indie band, there are always certain elements that are beyond your control: Earthquakes, floods, thefts, fires. For Winnipeg’s Les Jupes, it was the latter, specifically, The Arcade Fire. Shortly after recording the bed tracks for Modern Myths, co-producer-engineer Marcus Paquin was drafted to work on the indie juggernaut’s third album, The Suburbs.
“I had zero clout,” admits Les Jupes songwriter and frontman Michael Petkau Falk, with a slight chuckle. As an experienced and well-regarded producer-engineer, Falk recognized the need for a second pair of ears on his own project. “Marcus was an old friend of mine who I really trusted,” he says. “I wanted to just be a musician and just worry about the creative stuff. I didn’t want to have to worry about mic positions or compressor settings.”
Paquin was out of the picture for a full year, but there was an upside to his departure. “It was nice to actually sit on the record and hash it out, to have a year-and-a-half to do that…. Each song has been sung a couple of times now and I’ve tried out several different arrangements on certain parts.”
Given Les Jupes’ stature and reputation, it almost seems surprising that Modern Myths is, in fact, its debut album.
Those lucky enough to have caught its set as a three piece at Sled Island in 2009 will discover a considerably fuller sound from an entirely new band. “We were between keyboard players for Sled Island,” explains Falk. While current keyboardist Kelly Beaton doesn’t actually play on the album, she does sing on several tracks — her clear, pretty voice contrasting beautifully with Falk’s dark baritone.
The result is a triumphant debut: dark, thoughtful, near epic songs with expansive themes, punctuated with soaring, sweeping melodic breaks. It is one of those rare records that grabs your ears firmly and immediately, yet still yields exponentially greater rewards upon repeated listens.
“Les Jupes live has been a bit of a rotating door, for a couple of years,” Falk admits. “We went for a really dense, thick sound. All the keyboard parts are tripled and all the guitar parts are quadrupled. Live, the drums are much more present and it’s really kind of pounding — much more of a rock band.”
When not fronting Les Jupes or producing other Winnipeg artists, Falk is the artistic director for Winnipeg’s West End Cultural Centre and runs Head in the Sand Records. Falk’s ambitious Record of the Week Club paired up two widely diverse artists in a studio, for one night, to conceive, produce and record a finished track. An impressive 16 songs were completed in 16 weeks. Although he has ideas for a Record of the Week Club sequel, it’s unlikely to happen in the near future. “I’m trying to stay away from that for a little while. I need to just focus on my stuff. I’ve given a lot of creativity to other people.”
Pressed to define a common esthetic thread that unites Prairie artists, Falk offers one word. “Patience. That spaciousness, the fact that it takes you six hours to drive to another city — you don’t have to get to the chorus right away,” he says thoughtfully. It’s rather fitting. The drive may have taken longer than was foreseen, but now, with the destination in plain sight, it all seems worthwhile.
“We finally have a stable band, oh my goodness,” Falk says. “It’s taken a long time to get to this point, where everybody’s on the same page, in the same room. Kelly was jumping up and down in rehearsal the other day, saying ‘I can’t wait to finally play these songs for people.’”