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You might think Quebec’s Les Poules à Colin (translation: Colin’s Hens) got their name because they’re a five-piece outfit consisting of four girls and a teenage multi-instrumentalist called Colin. But that’s only part of it. “La Poule à Colin” is a popular song about a chicken that wanders into the neighbour’s yard, has its kidneys broken, gets cooked, and miraculously feeds the entire parish; this includes the priest who likes the sauce so much he dips his hands in it—and so forgets to say mass, to the chagrin of the old ladies “who really need it”.
“All of us knew it well,” says fiddler Béa Méthé, reached at a band practice in Joliette. “We’ve been good friends since we were really young because our parents are active in the folk scene here. We’ve jammed for a long time, but the idea for a group came four years ago.”
The band’s multi-talented main threat, Colin Savoie-Levac, adds: “Our music is really a mix. We all bring influences from what we’ve learned and liked. Béa has a background in classical music, Eléonore [Pitre], Sarah [Marchand], and my older sister Marie all studied jazz. I’m more tradition-oriented but am studying jazz-pop guitar at college.”
On Les Poules à Colin’s 2010 debut, Hébertisme Nocturne, the inspiration comes primarily from Québécois folk, but there’s a strong influence from other forms of North American roots music.
“The first song we did was a cover of ‘Annabel’ by the Duhks, one of our favourite bands,” Méthé says. “My mother’s American, and she introduces quite a lot of songs and tunes to me, some of her own—like ‘The Ballad of Mary and Margaret’, which is on our album.”
The family links get tighter. Both Méthé—who’s still in high school—and Savoie-Levac play in the group Dentdelion, along with the latter’s mom, Denise Savoie-Levac, on flute and the former’s parents, Dana Whittle on guitar and Claude Méthé (also on fiddle).
“The two bands are really distinct—though Béa and I can’t completely change the way we play, of course,” Savoie-Levac says. “Both of them play music that’s almost entirely original, but Dentdelion takes a more traditional approach, and there’s that shared understanding you only really get in a family. The material Les Poules do is more arranged and complex, as we all work together on everything to develop our own sound and make it all cohere.”
All five members of Les Poules compose—mostly alone, which has led to some odd suggestions for titles by Savoie-Levac.
“He never has proper names for what he writes because he doesn’t know where his ideas come from,” Méthé says with a laugh. “So he comes up with any old thing. Sometimes it can be really bizarre, and the rest of us have decided we need to approve all names before they’re used.”
“Ode to a Green Plant” and the like may relate to Savoie-Levac’s grip on things at the time inspiration strikes—usually late evening or when nodding off. “Tunes often suggest themselves when I’m tired,” he explains. “Sometimes I play music as a way of getting myself to sleep. One time I came up with a tune that was so strong it woke me right up.”
Les Poules à Colin and Dentdelion perform at the Festival du Bois, which takes place in Coquitlam’s Mackin Park from Friday to Sunday (March 1 to 3).