If you choose to interpret the title of Mark Berube’s new CD, June in Siberia, as an indication that his creativity’s blooming in a cold climate, that’s just fine by him.
“I love Montreal,” says the former Vancouverite, reached by phone as he and his band, the Patriotic Few, traverse the Canadian steppes en route to a show in Edmonton. Berube moved to Canada’s current indie-rock capital a couple of years ago, and so far he’s found a warm reception on the Montreal scene. And, as he notes, there are other reasons why he’s comfortable in Quebec.
“My dad’s from there, so the French side of my family are all around Montreal and that area,” he explains. “It’s been really nice to connect with the Québécois side of my family on a personal note, and then just artistically it’s such a rich city.”
Probe deeper, though, and June in Siberia takes on a few other dimensions. The title just might be, Berube suggests, a metaphor for life itself.
“I remember when I was doing my lit degree at SFU, and I had this great prof who was saying 33 percent of the meaning from a book is what the author intended, and 33 percent is what the academics make of it, and the rest is just magic,” says the singer, pianist, and accordion player. “I always liked that definition of interpretation. But, anyway, with June in Siberia the songs had a very dark quality, but lyrically it’s a very satisfied album—satisfied in the sense that while you know things are always going to go up and down, you can take both of those strands of life and feel pretty good about everything.
“So that’s the ”˜June’, and ”˜Siberia’ is the darkness,” he adds. “It’s like the way Siberia, as a metaphor, exists in the western mind: you think of the gulags, and you think of Russian history, and you think of those long roads built through the forests. They’re built on bones, some of them.”
June in Siberia, on the other hand, is built on elements drawn from Berube’s two previous albums, 2007’s What the River Gave the Boat, which he describes as “pop folk with a string quartet”, and the following year’s What the Boat Gave the River, a more indie-rock-influenced effort.
“With this album, we really kind of went for halfway between those,” he says. “And sometimes, you know, you’ve just got to take an album and completely finish it to realize what you wouldn’t do the next time.”
New to the mix, however, are the overtly African elements that emerge on the hypnotic, driving “Me My Lady”. Berube comes by that sound honestly: he went to grade school in Swaziland, where his father taught at the university, and absorbed everything from the sweet choral harmonies of Ladysmith Black Mambazo to the ineffably funky beats of Fela Anikulapo Kuti.
“That stuff has always been there and, if anything, I want to explore it even more,” he says. “My dream, one day, is to do an album halfway between Paul Simon’s Graceland and Ry Cooder and Ali Farka Touré’s Talking Timbuktu. Something in the middle, there.”
Suddenly, Siberia sounds a whole lot warmer.
Mark Berube and the Patriotic Few play the Cultch on Friday (March 18).