Melissa McClelland and Luke Doucet are a prolific partnership
The husband and wife songwriting team of Melissa McClelland and Luke Doucet are used to making beautiful music together.
Lately, they are churning out new tunes at a breakneck pace as Whitehorse — a folk/pop duo that’s released two critically acclaimed full-length albums in as many years, including the latest, The Fate of the World Depends on This Kiss.
McClelland admitted it’s easier coming up with new material as part of a songwriting partnership with Doucet than when each were trying to produce songs as individual artists.
The benefit comes from being able to bounce ideas back and forth, added the singer, who performs in Whitehorse on Sunday, Feb. 3, at The Hideout, south of Red Deer.
“We work well together — but not in the way people expect, with us both sitting down with two guitars and a bottle of wine.”
Each songwriter usually starts the process in isolation. McClelland said it’s only when a snippet of verse or melody has been established that she or Doucet will run it by each other.
“We’re good at editing each other’s work, tearing it to bits and throwing it back.”
If that sounds a tad cold-blooded, McClelland later qualifies this by adding that she and Doucet trust each other enough to be brutally frank. “There are tense moments, but generally we’re pretty good and we have the freedom to say things honestly.”
She said both of them also have enough confidence to turn down a suggestion or change if they truly feel it won’t work.
This musical to-ing and fro-ing worked well on the atmospheric Devil’s Got a Gun from the latest Whitehorse album. McClelland said Doucet had the song’s bare melody line going through his head for a long time and would sometimes hum along to it on his guitar.
Once all the other tracks had been laid down for their last album, “We said, ‘OK, let’s turn that tune into something,’ ” she recalled.
They were then living in New York City in the midst of the U.S. recession, and a few blocks from where Occupy Movement protests were going on. They were also reading newspaper articles about the Arab Spring pro-democracy marches in the Middle East.
“The mood of the song was sparked by all this unrest or shift we were feeling,” said the singer. Devil’s Got a Gun — with verses written by Doucet and chorus by McClelland — reflects that “polarization, or sense of good and evil,” making it one of the most popular tunes on the CD.
McClelland originated the quieter Out Like a Lion and Cold July. The latter came from the emotional space she was in. “I’m a slave to the seasons,” she said, preferring the warm summer to the bitter winter, “when my mood is low, my immune system is crappy and I’m low energy.”
Going through a spring that constantly fell back into winter “is the hardest,” said the singer, who drew on her mood of discontent for the beautiful and introspective song.
These days, she and Doucet are officially homeless, renting out their Ontario residence and giving up their New York flat, where they spent a total of seven weeks between tours last year.
They now usually sleep at hotels or in their touring van. But “it’s been really fun for us to live this way. We were finding it more stressful to go home for three or four days and not even have time to unpack,” said McClelland.
While they are about to embark on another frozen tour of Canada in January, there will be warm reprieves. McClelland said they are using the money saved from rent to jet to places they want to be on their days off, such as Los Angeles, where the weather is “25 degrees and sunny.”
For ticket information about the 8 p.m. show at The Hideout in Gasoline Alley, call 403-348-5319.