Call & Response: Will Currie & The Country French
Will Currie & The Country French are a six-piece band from Waterloo, who just released their debut album Awake, You Sleepers! Led by the bold vocals of Will Currie, along with an ambitious and rich orchestration, the album bursts with upbeat pop sing-a-longs and a stream of ballads, demonstrating the band's openness to unfamiliar sounds and genre acrobatics.
Awake, You Sleepers! showcases Currie's song-writing gift, steeped with detail and motifs, a little theatricality, wildness and - best of all - playful, emotional storytelling.
What's the idea behind the title of your album Awake, You Sleepers? What new things can fans expect from this record (since your EP)?
The title Awake, You Sleepers! comes from Bach's Cantata No. 140. A lot of the lyrics in the title song are taken from the English translation of that libretto. I love that Cantata because it feels like a big long sunrise and a new beginning and it sort of acts as the final theme for the record which has taken some weird turns but ends on a very hopeful and warm note. Also, our original title "James Brown: Live at the Apollo" was deemed misleading by our label.
You seem to go the whole range with sound and use of instruments - from the upbeat and soulful "Arise, Take Up Your Arms", the waltzing "Railroad" to the slow-jam "Portland". How would you describe the feeling behind the album?
I think it's definitely a pop record at its core, but we do try and give as much variety as we can while maintaining the overall feel of the album. The songs don't all sound the same but many of them share common musical phrases and themes that tie the 14 tracks together. It was very important to us that they sounded like they belong with one another, and not just thrown on as a mixed bag.
Which musicians and artists influence you?
I think 70's Elton John is a big influence in terms of arrangement, and he's so good at mixing really good pop and R&B with a stellar melody. I think my biggest influence is probably Rufus Wainwright. He's the best as it gets when it comes to pure song-writing, and he can go right from pop jam to a gorgeous orchestral ballad so naturally. I really admire that.
How happy are you with Awake, You Sleepers? The band is relatively new, so what have you learned from the experience of making the record?
We're all thrilled with the record. It's been getting such great reviews and that really means so much to us. I'm not really sure what we've learned from the experience. Maybe we have a better idea of what our band's direction is musically. Our EP was pretty sunny, which was fine and people really loved it, but I think this one is a little more broad and interesting, which is appealing to us as musicians.
Reflecting on the album now that it's complete, are there particular or obvious things you wish you could change or add?
I can honestly say that I wouldn't change anything about it. It's not a perfect record, and there are some production elements to it that are quite intentionally rough around the edges. I don't think our goal was ever to make a polished, radio record. I think it sounds very pure and true and not too fancy, so that makes me very happy.
If you had to choose, which would you say are your favourite songs from the album and why?
I love "John Denver Haircut." It's always in my head and it's just a good, fun song, I think it represents us very well. My absolute favourite would have t be the song "Awake, You Sleepers!" Little motifs and themes from that song are revealed gradually throughout the record, and it's so gratifying when at the end of the album all of those bits converge to form the final track. Also, I should mention that we are the kind of nerds who would hide musical motifs in a record.
Can you talk about the song "Ontario" and the lyric, "They don't take kindly to strangers in Ontario"?
It's just a bit of a joke really. The whole song is just describing a very plain and wholesome place for the most part, but the thought is that as soon as an outsider comes in, everyone is watching you and secretly hates you. I don't think people in Ontario are like that; they were just blessed with the correct number of syllables to fit my lyrical requirements.
There's a very beautiful flow to this album, like a sun rising, the varied orchestration mixed with bright vocals pull it together from the opening to the last song. Why does such a gentle-sounding concluding song have a commanding title?
Well the title is literally directly translated from a Bach Cantata. I don't mean to sound too commanding when I say, "Awake, You Sleepers!" But if you ask me, Wach auf, ihr Schl채fer! sounds much more intense.
What will it be like for those going to the show tonight at The Music Gallery? What's next for Will Currie & The Country French?
I'm very excited for this concert. It will be the first time we've had the chance to perform the record with a full brass and strings section to accompany the band. Even when the record was being made, those parts were all recorded separately so it will be a first for everyone. The absolute next thing on the docket for us is to record a song for Ryerson University this month that they'll be using as part of a fundraising effort for War Child Canada. I suppose the next thing for me would be to write song for that.
Catch Will Currie & The Country French tonight at The Music Gallery (197 John St.). Check the band's website for more info on any upcoming shows and record releases.
Photo by Matthew Braga
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