Nicolas Boulerice (Le Vent du Nord)

Interview by Sue Kavanagh

Kavanagh: Le Vent du Nord's first CD, Maudite moisson! (Summer 2003) won the 2004 JUNO award for Roots and Traditional Album of the Year/group, was nominated at ADISQ 2004 for Traditional Album of the Year award and also was one of the nominees for an OPUS 2004 award for show of the year in the category Jazz and World Music. Whew! Can you say which is greater or describe the range of emotion following that sort of success, ie. pressure versus a sense of confidence gained?

Boulerice: It surprised us a lot! We were very happy about the new CD and the new band but we didn't know how people will receive it. Of course we are proud of those prizes and nominations but the major thing for us was this little feeling that we finally have a band now. It was a " kick " to work more and harder. We never work to win prizes, we play music because we love it. We like to share the tradition of Québec music.

Kavanagh: How does your second CD, Les amants du Saint-Laurent, differ from the first one?

Boulerice: We have probably more arrangements, more vocal harmony. We took more time to prepare this record. So we played few tunes in concert before the recording. It changed a lot of the minding and the spirit. And, of course, we have a new member. Simon, from Lanaudière, who brings great voice and guitar playing. He brings with him a new source of inspiration for the young band. Also, I played a bit more of "vielle à roue " in the new CD. But the CD has, like the first one, compositions and traditional tunes from our families and from rare repertoire.

Kavanagh: Nicolas you play a hurdy gurdy (among other instruments). The ol' Donovan song, "Hurdy Gurdy Man" is one of my all time favorite songs (of many all time favorites of course) but I know absolutely nothing about the instrument. I am fascinated. Please educate me!

Boulerice: I think Donavan didn't know what was a hurdy gurdy! Hi hi hi. Maybe he was talking about the "other" gurdy. The one with crank in a box with a monkey on the top! I don't know why but those two different instruments have the same name in english... maybe we can change that now! I propose to call the vielle à roue (hurdy gurdy) a " wheel fiddle ". It’s close to a direct translation. So the wheel fiddle (or the vielle à roue) is, like is name say, a kind of fiddle with a wheel for the bow and a keyboard for the neck. The wheel rubs the strings to play different drones, melodies and percussions with a moving bridge to knock on the top of the instrument when we do a "coup de poignet". It is an old french instrument.

Kavanagh: And tell us about your hurdy gurdy.

Boulerice: Now I have a few at home. The first one I made with a friend, Henry Boucher, in 1997. I played on the two CD's of Le Vent du Nord with my soprano Bleton (from center France) and I just brought back last week end a new vielle à roue, also from center France. She is an alto electroacoustique vielle à roue. A big vielle à roue with 23 stings. I just start playing with that one. It is a dream!

Kavanagh: Between all of you, Benoit Bourque, Olivier Demers, Simon Beaudry and yourself, you play quite a number of instruments. How many of those can we hope to see and hear you play in Vancouver?

Boulerice: You’re going to hear, bones, many accordions, guitar, fiddle, foot tapping, bombarde québécoise, mandolin, step dance, snare, piano, vocals... and my new "wheel fiddle" !

Kavanagh: Simon was both born into a very musical family and is also formally schooled in music. Is it safe to say that he breathes music?

Boulerice: Totally. He played trad music since always and is still very close to the musicians of his family, like his brother who sings with La Bottine Souriante.

Kavanagh: Olivier once played with Musa Dieng Kala (Senegalese music - not something most of us hear of everyday) in Belgium. Would CD's showcasing this work still be available for anyone curious enough to want to seek them out?

Boulerice: I don't think Olivier recorded something with Musa. He just played with him for this tour. But for the curious, you can find a lot of CD's we did with other projects on the web site

Kavanagh: Your website says Benoit plays the bones. Bones from what creature?

Boulerice: ... from sake! Like he say sometime. No, it's mostly cow ribs or caribou ribs.

Kavanagh: The band is really getting around: on your schedule now is the U.S., Canada, France, Italy, Norway, Ireland, Spain, and Denmark. Whew! Are there other countries you've been to that I don't see on that list and are there other places you are just itching to get to?

Boulerice: We also played in Finland and in Scotland and we’re going to play in the Reunion Island in next March. We are very lucky, it’s going to be different then our winter of -30 celsius!

Kavanagh: Do you get to look around much when you visit a town?

Boulerice: Not much, usually we don’t have enough time for that. But it's sad. We travel in a lot of beautiful places but it’s rare to have time to visit. We share music with people; It's our way to visit a town!

Kavanagh: What's your worst airplane, airport or performance story?

Boulerice: We played in northern Québec, in Nunavik, this winter. It was 5 hours of planes with a litle coucou without heat, which stopped in each village all the time! It was something!

Kavanagh: For you, what is the most annoying thing about travelling?

Boulerice: I'm not sure. I think traveling can be a routine thing and at the same time, a great feeling of liberty and a way to live.

Kavanagh: Somewhere, sometime, I heard of someone snitching a dinner roll from a room service tray outside a door. Have you ever returned to a hotel late at night after a show, ravenously hungry and been tempted by leftovers sitting outside someone's door?

Boulerice: What!!! We are french... we prefer gastronomie.

Kavanagh: What do you eat on the road?

Boulerice: Our secret is to find a small restaurant, a real local kitchen! And a good bottle of wine...

Kavanagh: You will be playing a lot of festivals over the next year or so. Though fairly new to the circuit, you must have observed a variety of moods backstage at such events or at least started to observe patterns of behavior in yourself or in your bandmates: Tension in some players still to perform, jubilation from others who just put on a good show, annoyance from another who broke a guitar string or flubbed something up. Can you talk a little bit about backstage ambience?

Boulerice: Can be so different. Usualy, the folk scene is relaxed. Some bands are a litle bit more anxious than other. We are quite relaxed. We like the moment before the show. This 10 minutes who look like a hour because we want to jump on the stage and make the party.

Kavanagh: What venues would you name as favorites?

Boulerice: We love outside Festivals and small rooms. When the public are crazy and the sound good... it's our favorite place!

Kavanagh: You sometimes perform in schools for (all ages) of children - the very best critics! This sort of event is a highlight in any school. Can you recount some of the best questions or reactions from the kids?

Boulerice: The usual questions is always how old we are, when we start and if it's hard to play music! But we have also very great questions about the oral transmission or the origin of our instruments.

Kavanagh: When forming Le Vent du Nord, what made you decide four was the right number?

Boulerice: We were 4 at the jam session. But also, we like small formation because to travel a lot, it is more easy. We all played with duo or trio before Le Vent. So it is a big band for us!

Kavanagh: If it will not offend any of you to say so, who is the baby of the band and who is the old guy? (!)

Boulerice: No problem, I am not on those extremity!! Benoit is the old guy and Simon the youngest.

Kavanagh: Please tell us a little tale about, or share some characteristics of each of your bandmates.

Boulerice: Benoit is very energetic and passionate, Olivier is always ready to play days and nights and Simon is so... cute!!! It not my personal point of view.

Kavanagh: What would your band-mates say about you?

Boulerice: It's my turn to pay the beers!

Kavanagh: If you were travelling on a bus together and there was discussion about what CD to put in and listen to on the drive, what music would you disagree about?

Boulerice: It's never happened. All of us like to listen new music of any style. It's like food.

Kavanagh: What music would you all agree you'd want to hear?

Boulerice: We like very much Scandivian, Breton, Irish and Québécois music.

Kavanagh: Your label, I believe is Borealis Records. Have you met a lot of the other label artists?

Boulerice: Not really, but I can tell you they work very hard for the music scene. It's a very good team.

Kavanagh: Do Le Vent du Nord members currently have solo projects in the works or are you just very content with working together for now?

Boulerice: We have a few other projects but our principal project is still LeVent du Nord. I am working with Olivier on a new duo CD. 12 guest artists are going to play with us. We also work on our label Roues et Archets and on our Festival in Québec Chants de Vielles. Simon’s working with his brother on another duo CD, also with a guest I think.