See Quebec’s best kept secret, tonight only

It’s the first time Quebec-based band Karkwa has toured western Canada in its 13 years together and its members have seen sold-out audiences almost everywhere they’ve performed.

Louis-Jean Cormier is halfway out of the shower when we begin our interview.

He only has 15 minutes to chat before he runs out the door with his four bandmates to play a show at Calgary’s SAIT campus bar.

These days the singer is in high demand.

It’s the first time Quebec-based band Karkwa has toured western Canada in its 13 years together and its members have seen sold-out audiences almost everywhere they’ve performed.

It’s something that came as a surprise to Cormier considering the band sings entirely in French.

“It wasn’t like that two years ago when we toured Ontario,” said Cormier.

Then again, two years ago, Karkwa hadn’t snagged the prestigious Polaris Prize yet, the equivalent of the Stanley Cup to Canadian musicians.

That came last September.

Since the band’s win, they’ve been profiled in magazines and newspapers across Canada and have toured extensively through Europe and Canada. They’ve also won a Juno and a Felix award for alternative album of the year in Quebec.

Thursday, they left their tour midway to play a free show in Montreal to a crowd of 100,000 fans who had gathered to see both them and Arcade Fire, the Canadian band who scored this year’s Polaris Prize, at Place des Festivals.

It’s a big change for the band considering their relative obscurity outside of the francophone community only a year ago.

“We have rules now about touring,” said Cormier explaining all the bandmembers are fathers.

“Five years ago no one was a father. Now the rock is at home.”

It’s one reason why the band chose to isolate itself in a palatial house in France to record their Polaris Prize-winning album, Les Chemins de Verre (The Glass Pathways).

The dreamy, experimental rock album was recorded in just three weeks.

The group showed up to the 21-room house that doubles as a recording studio without any clue of what their final recording would sound like.

For their previous three records they had practiced exactly how they were going to play each song before they recorded it.

“For us it sounded a bit fake,” said Cormier.

“(This recent album) was very spontaneous … it was the real shit.”

The band was given free reign to record in all 21 rooms at La Frette Studios including the bathrooms and kitchen.

They even dropped a microphone from the third floor down the staircase and recorded.

The result is an eerie, haunting sound, like in the song, Le Vrai Bonheur which opens with the sharp notes of a violin that have been run through a synthesizer and layered beneath hushed, poetic verses.

“It was a great honour for us to record there,” said Cormier explaining that French greats Serge Gainsbourg and Brigitte Fontaine have also cut records at La Frette, as well as Feist and Patrick Watson.

It’s a place the band never expected to be when they were thrown together for a college music contest in Montreal 13 years ago where they were students.

Pressed for a name for their band, they flipped the pages of a dictionary and chose whatever word their fingers landed on.

In this case it was carquois, French for the quiver on an archer’s arrow.

“It doesn’t mean anything,” said Cormier.

But when spelled phonetically, it sounded like a band name, he said.

Their first show was so successful that they were invited by the Quebec government to perform at a cultural Expo in Paris that year.

It was no surprise. The Radiohead-esque band has talent.

The fact the band has been selling out shows on its recent Western tour makes sense.

What’s surprising is that it took so long for the rest of Canada to notice its existence.

Karkwa plays the Yukon Arts Centre Monday night at 8 p.m. Tickets are $32

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