When Karkwa won the 2010 Polaris Music Prize, an annual award for best Canadian album, they were “stunned,” said Louis-Jean Cormier, the band’s vocalist and guitarist.
“It was kind of funny — we were holding a cheque for 20 grand and didn’t understand anything. We were more stressed by the fact that we had to speak in English,” Cormier said.
He went on to explain that beating out more mainstream contenders, such as Broken Social Scene, was “a big surprise” yet also “a big honour.”
The Polaris Prize is based on jury-decided merit as opposed to sales, like other awards such as the Juno’s....
[BY: ILANA BELFER, CHARLATAN.CA POST DATE: WED, 09/03/2011]
Originating in Montreal, the band formed in 1998 when five students at Cégep de Saint-Laurent – vocalist/singer Cormier, drummer Stéphane Bergeron, keyboardist François Lanfontaine, bassist Martin Lamontagne and percussionist/singer Julien Sagot – decided to participate in a music contest called “Cégep en Spectacle.”
As a result, they were invited to perform at the “Printemps Du Québec” Cultural Expo in Paris.
“We were babies,” Cormier said. “We were 18 and more into the sex, drugs, rock ‘n’ roll way, but we were serious too.”
In the beginning, Karkwa used a “mash” of multiple influences, Cormier explained, describing their music as a “mess”.
“Every song had a reggae part, a jazz part and a rock part . . . we had to work,” he said.
In 2003, the band independently released their debut album, Le Pensionnat des Etablis.
After listening to “simple, unidirectional” albums by folk singers like Bob Dylan and Neil Young for “homogenic” influence, and signing with the record label Audiogram, Les Tremblements S’immobilisent came out in 2006.
Their third album, Le Volume du Vent, was released in 2008, followed by the Polaris-winning fourth album Les Chemins de Verre, released last year.
“I think we’ve found our sound,” Cormier declared. “We didn’t find [our sound] one day like ‘Yeah! I know it!’ It was more natural.”
Cormier explained that initially, the band didn’t have any expectations or big hopes in terms of their career and where it would take them.
However, as Karkwa’s sound progressed, so did their dreams.
Their first dream was to make a little money, just enough to live off of their music. Secondly, they wanted to play in front of an anglophone audience, even if they didn’t understand the lyrics.
Twelve years later, it’s safe to say these dreams have been achieved. To date, Karkwa has performed hundreds of times around Canada, France, Switzerland, Belgium, England, the United States, and even Lebanon, brushing on audiences that speak a myriad of languages.
“It doesn’t matter if we speak in another language,” Cormier said, commenting on the lack of a language barrier.
“It’s more like when you have a musical language; everybody can dance or groove on the beat.”
This year, Karkwa has been nominated for two Juno Awards: Francophone Album of the Year and Alternative Album of the Year. The awards are set to take place on March 27.
It’s the first time a francophone band has been nominated in the Alternative Album category.
“It sounds pretentious, but we have a little feeling of representing the francophone community,” he said. “It’s good for every other francophone artist and for us to just tell the world, or at least Canada, that there’s a lot of talent in this community,” Cormier said.
When asked about their unusual name, Cormier explained the sporadic origin: “We chose the name Karkwa the way you close your eyes and put your finger on a page in the dictionary.”
The actual word “carquois” in French means ‘a quiver to hold arrows.’