A strong indication that that could change occurred last fall when Karkwa, an experimental francophone rock quintet from Montreal surprised many when its album, Les Chemins de Verre (The Glass Paths), was awarded the Canadian music critic-selected Polaris Prize over other nominees that included Broken Social Scene, Shad, and Tegan & Sara.
What those English commentators who discounted Karkwa’s chances from the start failed to realize was that the band has had critical success both in Quebec and France for over a decade, frequently drawing (perhaps unfair) comparisons to Sigur Ros and Radiohead....
The fact is that, with four albums to its name, Karkwa’s music stands on its own, and now English Canada is finally getting a chance to hear it. Vocalist/guitarist Louis-Jean Cormier says that the lack of appreciation up until now has not bothered him. He and his band mates are just approaching their current string of Ontario dates with fellow Montrealers Plants & Animals as a great opportunity to reach new ears.
“We will have to adapt ourselves a little bit to this being our first real experience in front of English-speaking crowds,” Cormier says. “But musically, this tour will be the same as any other. It has been nearly one year since the release of Les Chemins de Verre; we’ve played these songs extensively in Quebec and in Europe, so we will be giving everyone in Ontario a finely tuned show.”
Karkwa’s dedication is reflected in how the group still consists of the same five guys that met in college and formed the band in 1998. Cormier says that the key has been giving space for each member to express himself. “Even though we are all different as people and have different visions when it comes to music, we find a path to work together. Being a band is all about making compromises. We’ve developed a strong relationship where everybody can share their opinions. I think it’s the recipe for keeping a band together for a very long time.”
The group’s notoriety in France played a big role in the success of Les Chemins de Verre from the outset. Karkwa largely recorded it over a three-week span in a Paris studio built into a 19th century manor house overlooking the Seine, the same studio where Feist recorded much of her acclaimed album, The Reminder. Cormier admits that the location was hugely inspiring, adding that the studio became the sixth member of the band.
Now, Karkwa is building on the Polaris breakthrough with upcoming showcases in Austin, Texas and London, England, which has put plans for their next album on hold. Still, with the world beckoning, Cormier is thrilled with the prospect of making so many new fans.
“I think music is a universal language and we have proof of that by the support we’ve received from all over the world recently,” he says. “It is very special to get a message of love from someone that doesn’t understand a word of what you say in your songs. But we really believe that our music in based on melodies, not language, so it’s nice to get affirmation of that.”