The group name may be new, but those of the two principals in Whitehorse are very familar. Individually, Luke Doucet and Melissa McClelland are two of Canada's most acclaimed roots-oriented singer-songwriters. They are now putting their individual recording careers on hold and reinventing themselves as Whitehorse, who are set to release their self-titled debut on Tuesday (August 30). But as Doucet and McClelland explain in a recent Exclaim! interview, their joint project is much more than a simple diversion from their day jobs.
"People waiting for our next solo albums are going to be waiting a long time," says Doucet. "This is not a side-project." McClelland adds, "Our new record is partly about bringing our two fan bases together. There is a lot of overlap already, but we thought bringing some of the old material [her hit 'Passenger 24' and Doucet favourite 'Broken'] and putting it in a new light, changing them around, would be a good way of introducing this new band."
The pair came up with most of the instrumentation on Whitehorse, with Doucet's former Veal bandmate Barry Mirochnick playing most of the drums. The bulk of the sessions took place at Hamilton, ON studio Catherine North, with Michael Chambers doing the engineering and mixing. Other recording was done at the pair's home studio and at Sarah McLachlan's house in Vancouver.
The result is eight songs totalling 24 minutes, but Doucet doesn't like the term EP. "That's a dirty word. This is a record, a short record, and we'll put out another record next year. We have enough material for a double album already, including tracks we built up with Andrew Scott, who did Steel City Trawler [Doucet's much-praised 2010 record]."
Doucet and McClelland, who are married, have worked together extensively prior to the creation of Whitehorse. Doucet has produced the last three McClelland albums, they frequently accompany each other on their individual gigs and both tour extensively as members of McLachlan's band.
But Doucet and McClelland acknowledge that working together as Whitehorse has brought some changes in their joint working methods. "This is the first time I've gone into the studio and I'm writing while we're tracking. I've never done that before. I actually like it this way," says McClelland. "On my previous records, Luke was definitely involved in giving his two cents on the songs and telling me honestly what he thinks isn't working. We've rearranged songs together, but not to the extent of Whitehorse, where we are actually bringing ideas to each other and finishing them for each other."
Doucet adds, "My being in the producer's role establishes a hierarchy in the studio. With this project, I actually think Melissa is more open to my input than ever before. We levelled the playing field.
"There is not a lot of rock'n'roll in Whitehorse at this point. Not a lot of vintage retro country ballads. That is not the thing we share the most. There is the common ground we share and I think that will define what Whitehorse is. Whitehorse has more of a sound than either of our solo careers ever have."
Whitehorse's debut is due out via Six Shooter Records. In support of the album, the duo have a string of tour dates set for the U.S. and Canada. You can see all the dates here.
For more of Exclaim!'s interview with Whitehorse, click here.