For more than a decade, the award-winning husband and wife duo behind Whitehorse were solitary writers. Luke Doucet and Melissa McClelland would retreat to different corners of the house to work on a song, humming, strumming, and perfecting each chord.
After 20 years of playing together, COVID’s mandatory lockdown realigned their marital and creative partnership in a way that was liberating for both. They sat down together and wrote enough material for four albums. The prolific couple released Modern Love and Strike Me Down in 2021 while I’m Not Crying, You’re Crying has a planned release date for Jan. 13, 2023.
Now on a 13-stop tour of Canada’s four western provinces, Whitehorse will share their broad musical catalogue at the Arden Theatre on Saturday, Oct. 1.
Throughout Whitehorse’s eight studio albums, they’ve proclaimed deep Canadian roots and sung songs about people, places, and events important to them.
Modern Love is an album full of warm tones, love, and commitment, while its follow-up, Strike Me Down, explores bitter themes of relationship ultimatums and consequences.
“Modern Love was the first record ever written in the way it should be — with candlelight, bottles of wine, and two acoustic guitars," Doucet said. "We wrote the songs together, and it feels very personal because it’s the most intimate. It was romantic. Our alter egos love and get their hearts broken, and we wrote about the things couples experience.”
Despite the couple’s satisfaction derived from this intimate exploration of romance, the record was difficult to market. Their label, Six Shooter, asked for something more commercial with a bouncy tempo. The result was a more explosive Strike Me Down.
“This album has a dark, dystopian theme and is a counterpoint to Modern Love. Modern Love was gentle. Strike Me Down was aggressive and hard-hitting.”
Doucet explains that Whitehorse’s music style is all over the map and difficult to market. Reviewers' descriptions range from roots, folk, alt-country, and roots-rock to folk-pop, bluegrass, R&B, and blues.
In a departure from past albums, the upcoming I’m Not Crying, You’re Crying leans into the twangy guitars of 1970s country music. The record's 12 songs touch on “heartbreak and loyalty, getting by and going crazy, and shaking things up and hunkering down.”
Doucet grew up listening to the voices of Emmylou Harris, Dolly Parton, Anne Murray, Willie Nelson, Tom Petty, and Paul Simon.
“I love the '70s era. You would cram people in a room and record the tracks together. It wasn’t perfect and that’s why it was so beautiful. It was understood you only recorded what you could play and sing. Technology has evolved so much you don’t have to be good. Your computer can fix it.”
Doucet contacted Canadian record producer Brian Ahern, an acclaimed Canadian country music producer who was a key figure in the careers of Emmylou Harris and Anne Murray. He produced more than 40 gold and platinum records for Johnny Cash, George Jones, Rodney Crowell, Roy Orbison, and Willie Nelson. Ahern’s trophy case also features four Juno Awards and one Grammy Award.
Whitehorse has already released two singles from I’m Not Crying. There is the gentle, guitar-driven Division 5, a story about a man trying to find his lost love with assistance from the RCMP. And the pedal-steel infused Leave Me as You Found Me was triggered by Dan Savage, a sex advice columnist who recommends if you date someone younger, leave them better than you found them.
“When we come to the Arden, Melissa and I will have a planned set list and we’ll have a section called Bluegrass. The band leaves the stage and it’s just Melissa and I around the mic and it’s very intimate. We’ll have lots of storytelling and bantering, and I’ll make lots of noise on my guitar, which I enjoy.”
The concert is Oct. 1 at 7:30 p.m. at the Arden Theatre, 5 St. Anne St. Tickets are $50. Call 780-459-1542 or online at tickets.stalbert.ca