Despite being ground zero for Vancouver’s hyperinflated housing market, Expo 86 was also the launching pad for a lot of musical talent.
Few got such an early start as Marin Patenaude, however: the rising singer-songwriter first basked on the spotlit shores of False Creek when she was only three. Such is life when you’re part of a musical family, one that now seems destined to become a dynasty.
Patenaude’s Expo experience came when she joined her dad’s band on-stage, but she doesn’t rate it any higher than, say, playing the Lac La Hache Country Music Festival for several years in a row. Both were part of an idyllic childhood spent in the remote but musically fecund hamlet of Horsefly, in B.C.’s Cariboo region.
“I reflect on it as being the luckiest kid ever,” Patenaude says of her rustic upbringing, which she shared with three equally talented siblings. “We grew up in Horsefly, and it’s the Wild West out there, still. You can drive around in the back of a pickup truck, you can ride a motorcycle without a helmet on…
“You can just be wild, and I think growing up that way and having those freedoms and hurting yourself and learning more encouraged us to become really independent and really cautious people—just personally cautious. We learned to take care of ourselves, and that was a huge part of my upbringing.
“And then our parents put us in music lessons right away,” she continues. “We grew up singing with my father, who is a fabulous songwriter, and we did the whole von Trapp kind of thing.
“Like, Dad played his guitar with his three daughters singing backup harmony for him, and every once in a while we’d pick up an instrument and join the band that way. Music was always a joy; even practising for our lessons was something we didn’t resist.”
Patenaude graduated from Capilano University’s acclaimed jazz program a decade ago, but the singer, guitarist, and piano player didn’t consider music her vocation until recently. What changed her mind was a monthlong canoeing expedition down the Fraser River, during which her song “We Go Where We Belong” became the voyage’s unofficial anthem.
“It was a really introspective time,” she recalls. “We were all very encouraged to dig deep, and I think having my guitar with me definitely affirmed that I need to do this in order to maintain my happiness. And when people wanted that song so badly after doing the trip, that was it!”
Patenaude’s tribute to her grandmother wound up as the last track on her recently released debut, Marin Patenaude and the Follow Through. It’s a warm and comforting ending to an album that otherwise ranges from sinuously seductive earworms (opening track “Tall Thin Man in a Black Cheyenne”) to bleakly heartbroken balladry (“Only Mine”).
The record also features an all-star cast of Vancouver musicians, two of whom—cellist Peggy Lee and guitarist Cole Schmidt—will join her in concert next week.
Venturing further into improvisational terrain with Lee and Schmidt excites Patenaude, as does a possible return to the old homestead—sonically, at least—in the form of a family album with siblings Ciel, Cole, and Pharis. All are fine songwriters themselves—and the last, it should be noted, is half of the wonderful roots duo Pharis and Jason Romero.
There’s no timeline for the Patenaude family album, however; as Marin notes, “The other kids have to stop having children!” As with canoe trips and improvisational excursions, it’s all about going with the flow.
Marin Patenaude plays the WISE Hall next Thursday (January 19), with Handmade Blade and Thus Owls.