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At the heart of English folk
Les Poules à Colin

Exclusive interview: Les Poules à Colin

Next month we're looking forward to hosting three strikingly different Canadian folk acts in one week. Les Poules à Colin are one of these bands and we caught up with composer and fiddle player Béatrix Méthé to find out more about them...

You take your name from a traditional song. Could you tell us about it?

There’s a song in the quebecois tradition named “La Poule à Colin” that was popularized by the renowned group La Bottine Souriante in the late 80s. Most people who don’t know much about trad music could probably sing the first line of this silly call and response song. “Colin a une poule qui pond tous les matins” (Colin has a hen that lays eggs every morning). It tells the story of a hen that is at the wrong place at the wrong time and gets murdered and put into a delicious soup which the whole town can’t get enough of, the priest even misses mass to have more of it. Being of part of the trad music community in Quebec, we grew up hearing and singing this song, and when we were looking for a band name over 10 years ago we thought the pun of our Colin (Colin Savoie-Levac) and his 4 best friends (one of which is his big sister!) was just too funny. So we became Les Poules à Colin. We’d like to inform everyone that our humour has really evolved since 2008. 

Quebec’s famous for its folk traditions. Can you describe what this heritage means to each of you, personally?

I think I speak for each of us when I say that this music is for us a true tradition. Our parents are that generation that took part in the folk revival. My father Claude Méthé for example is the founder of Le Rêve Du Diable, the first band to ever make a record of trad music the way that we listen to it today, they were touring and selling a huge amount of records. Then came a lot of bands like La Bottine Souriante who really paved the path of what we do today. Reappropriating what theses old songs mean. All of us grew up watching our parents be so passionate about this old craft, but also wanting to bring it forward and really resemble them. And I think we’ve learned from that process, to appreciate the past but not hold on to it. It’s what we conserve from this tradition of old songs that travel through time and space that consists of our roots. We don’t want all of that to stay in the past, we want to show the world that it’s still accurate in the present.

What was it like growing up with direct access to these rich traditions?

It was really special. We were lucky enough to have music in our homes pretty much everyday. To this day my father still sits on the couch and plays fiddle at least 12 hours a day. We learned to be the musicians we are today because of all the wonderful musicians that surrounded us. I mean, it’s pretty special when your biggest idol is your parent’s friend or neighbour. Whatever success we have today has a lot to do with how generous people were at our beginnings as a band. There were so many resources around us, so much information. And some of the first big festivals we ever played were in Quebec. The trad scene over here is just a big family and we are so grateful of the beautiful environment we got to grow up in, as people and also as a band. It really did give us a good push so start our career.

Could you say if there’s any one thing that makes Quebec’s music particularly special?

I think that it’s the fact that people here have the urge to get together to play music. It’s the most important thing. Get together, drink something good, eat something comforting and play music with each other. I think you can really hear that in quebecois music. They can’t get enough, that’s why music parties just can never end. There’s something very nostalgic in that idea, like you don’t want it to stop ‘cause you’ll know you’ll miss it. 

What sorts of music do you draw on for your own repertoire - both when you’re reworking traditional tunes and when you’re creating your own ones?

I’d say that the 5 of us a truly attracted by emotional music. Music that has an emotional landscape. That keeps changing within itself. Music that you can listen to over and over but that makes you feel something different every time. We are all very sensitive to atmospheres  and we really bond that way. We most of the time always agree on the vibe of a song or a tune when we are writing or working on a something.

When you’re performing traditional tunes, do you treat them differently in any way depending on where they’ve come from originally?

For the tunes, we actually mostly perform originals. I think I got really influenced by my parents when it comes to writing, both of them are composers and doing your own original stuff was always encouraged in my upbringing. I think my dad just had too much going on in his brain and body that he just had to let everything out and he would write like a tune a day. I really think that I inherited that part of their personality. In Les Poules we like to mess around with spontaneous ideas, and change each others ideas. There is a lot of transformation involved in our musical process. For songs, it’s the same, we combine versions that come from different communities, we we write some melodies or words as well sometimes. We don’t really give ourselves rules. We just go with our feelings. We don’t consider ourselves historians, that’s not why we play this kind of music. We just happen to love the stories we find, and the beautiful imaginary that these folk songs have. And we want to play them in a way that resembles us, so we can reach out to people who also resemble us. 

Les Poules à Colin will be performing at Cecil Sharp House on Tuesday 20 August. 

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