Musical rover Luke Doucet has been on the road since he was a kid, but his internal compass always points him back to Canada.
If you were to compile a list of all the things Canadians wanted for Christmas, there would be the video-game consoles, the iPods, the power tools, the outdoor gear, maybe some pyjamas, slippers, and socks. But it's quite possible that singer-songwriter Luke Doucet is the only person in the nation who was genuinely overjoyed when he opened a gift (from his wife, fellow musician Melissa McClelland) and discovered something that would throw many kids into a full-blown fit: an electronic geography game.
"It's probably for precocious 11-year-olds. But I tend to get stressed-out, especially when I'm working a lot. And when I work myself up, Melissa immediately launches into this spontaneous trivia thing where she starts asking me random geographical questions. She says she can see my heart rate drop within seconds," Doucet says with a laugh, on the phone while taking a break from holiday festivities with his in-laws just outside of Toronto. "So she bought me this game and it's amazing. I opened it up and immediately wore out the battery."
It's no real surprise that geography is an elixir for Doucet's occasionally frayed nerves. After all, he has been travelling on his own since he was a kid: at 11, he took a six-week solo train journey from Winnipeg to Halifax; at 13, he went from Winnipeg to Vancouver by bus; and by the time he was old enough to drink, he was already a seasoned touring musician. In the past 18 months alone, his van has logged more than 100,000 kilometres.
Then last winter, after having called Vancouver, Winnipeg, and Toronto home (not to mention countless motel rooms and living-room couches), Doucet and McClelland decided to escape the northern climes and spend six months in Nashville. But although Doucet enjoyed much of his stay in the southern music hub, his internal compass was pointing him back home.
"There were times when I thought, 'Maybe I am going to feel like Nashville is really great. And maybe I'll be all chummy with Emmylou Harris and Gillian Welch and Patty Griffin and Steve Earle and Lucinda Williams, and we'll have barbecues, and our kids will play with each other, and I'll feel like I can never leave,'" Doucet says. "But in fact, the opposite happened. I was longing to be back in Canada."
Doucet and McClelland did return home in April 2007, and settled back in Toronto. Still, Nashville is very present on Doucet's new album, Blood's Too Rich, which is being released on Tuesday (January 8).
The opener, "Long Haul Driver", is a haunting homage to the road marked by a dusty country twang; "The Day Rick Danko Died" offers a bluesy tale of a meeting between two musicians in a bar; and "The Comandante" contains tastes of horn-lined Tex-Mex. Even Doucet's cover of the Cure hit "The Lovecats" has a southern tint to it.
But unlike 2005's Broken (and other rogue states)–a critically acclaimed album about romantic breakups–Blood's Too Rich is neither a theme album nor an attempt by Doucet to break into the country market. Many of the songs, including the Neil Young–sounding "It's Only Tuesday", the rootsy "First Day (In the New Hometown)", and the beautifully melodic "Take You Home", are blissfully–and unapologetically–heavy on guitar. In fact, he has even christened his band the White Falcon after his instrument of choice.
"This record is kind of a love letter to the guitar. I didn't censor myself, and there are some songs that are six or seven minutes long and they're full of guitar," says Doucet, who counts players from Robert Johnson to J Mascis as inspirations. "Certain musical eras have wreaked havoc on that instrument, and there was a time when I thought, 'It's dead.' Now I think that was wrong. It's okay to play a guitar solo as if you're in the Kinks again. So for this record, I thought, 'I'm just going to have fun with it and see if it holds up.'"
However, fun is not the word he would use to describe much of the process behind Blood's Too Rich. With more than three dozen songs to choose from, Doucet, who opted to produce the album, enlisted the help of four trusted musical colleagues–Shauna de Cartier and Helen Britton of Six Shooter Records, Neville Quinlan of NQ Arbuckle, and McClelland–in choosing which songs to keep and which to shelve. He assumed that seven or eight favourites would naturally emerge, as well as a few other popular options, and that those would go on the new record. Unfortunately, the best-laid plans of mice and musicians often go awry.
"As it turned out, there was no consensus whatsoever," Doucet recounts. "Shauna's favourite song was Neville's least favourite, and Melissa's favourite song was Helen's least favourite. I got nothing that I was hoping to get out of it, and instead, I got a huge amount of criticism. I got 'Your lyrics are shitty.' 'This song is dumb.' 'I don't like the way you're singing.' But that's what I asked for. I think the record is better for it, but I really took it on the chin."
Now fully recovered and gearing up for a tour with Blue Rodeo (coming to the Orpheum on January 14 and 15), Doucet isn't spending much time looking back at 2007–although a Neil Young concert at Massey Hall, a honeymoon in Cuba, and his daughter's 11th birthday were among the high-water marks. Instead, he's fully focused on the year to come, which will undoubtedly involve a few more firsthand lessons in geography.
"Two weeks ago, what I really wanted was a month off," Doucet says. "But now I'm just really excited to get back out there and play music again."
Luke Doucet plays the Orpheum on January 14 and 15.