A FEW MINUTES WITH… Béatrix Méthé of Les Poules a Colin
By Don Wilcock
Les Poules a Colin is only slightly closer to their Quebecois musical traditions than the Jefferson Airplane were to their Appalachian folk origins half a century ago. Appearing at Caffe Lena in Saratoga Springs on Thursday evening (September 6), this French-Canadian band pushes the extremes of both old and new sounds, using traditional Celtic music as a jumping off point for their “wondertrad” sound. They apply as much editorial license to their origins as you might expect from the sons and daughters of Canadian folksingers who started out as a garage band 10 years ago when Béatrix Méthé, the youngest of the five-piece group, was just 10 years old.
“I feel there’s a new magical world that we move along in that could be called ‘wondertrad,’ like wonderland or something like that, which fits pretty well our aesthetic and our atmosphere,” explains Méthé, who claims my mentioning the term “wondertrad” used by their publicist was the first time she’d heard the expression.
“Introduction,” the opening number on their 2017 album Morose, features a jaw harp with special effects that mimic an Aborigine digeridoo in a wash of moody trip music. While the five principals in the group play on standard instruments including fiddle, guitar, lap steel, banjo, mandolin, piano, bass and foot percussion, they also travel with a soundman critical to their overall sound.
“It’s actually pretty important because we feel like Felix is a sixth member of the band. It’s really important to us to travel with someone we trust like that,” says Méthé. “It’s awfully hard to create music and perform it live when we have another person taking care of the music upfront. It’s important to have someone who really
understands what we do to have our sound be as really true to what we want it to be. So, it’s teamwork.”
In 2017 Les Poules a Colin did a nine-week tour of Australia plus they toured Sweden, USA, Canada, Italy, Germany, Belgium, and the UK and participated in the Games of La Francophonie in Abidjan in Ivory Coast.
Their album Morose lives up to its title with cover art that features an almost spectral figure in a yellow parka photographed on a dark snowy mountaintop. “Yeah, we wanted to create an image that is strong and that could elevate these morose and dark sounds of our album, and that’s why we decided to create this character that symbolizes this darkness, but who’s also a normal person because a normal Quebecois in the winter dresses like that because it’s so cold. They’re used to wearing coats and sweaters and mittens, hat and big boots. So, we kind wanted to symbolize a normal, average Quebecois person that’s full of darkness who is just in the middle of the winter.”
The music, sung all in French, carries the noir humor of the Quebecois culture. “One of the songs on the album is a perversion of a song that is quite well known in the trad scene. There are probably 10 versions of it, probably more. It’s ‘Belle Exodina,’ and it’s the story of a mother who is jealous of her son’s girlfriend. The
son obeys his mother’s wishes and goes to his lover’s house, knocks on the door and says, ‘Hey, come with me if you love me.’ He brings her under a tree and breaks her arms, and this gets very gory. He takes a sword and pierces her heart and cuts her tongue off and brings all of that to the mother and says, ‘Here, mom. I’ve brought you proof I’ve done what you told me to do. I killed my lover.’ And she says, ‘I don’t believe you. I think you’re fooling me. This is a sheep’s heart. This is not your lover’s heart,’ and that’s how the song ends.”
This group doesn’t just push the envelope. It rips it open and lets more than just old traditions fall out.