The Telepathic Butterflies

The Telepathic Butterflies
Réjean Ricard and Jacques Dubois have rehearsed in the spacious basement of the St. Norbert Roman Catholic Church for nearly 20 years. As impressive as that career-spanning residency may be, it pales in comparison to the history of the hallowed hall that the Telepathic Butterflies co-founders permeate with melodic psychedelic rock two or three times each week.

Located on the west bank of the Red River about a kilometre south of Winnipeg’s Perimeter Highway, the imposing edifice (better known to the community’s French-speaking majority as L’Église St. Norbert) was built in the mid-‘30s to replace a previous structure destroyed by fire. It was at the parish’s original church that Louis Riel’s provisional government, the Comite national des Métis, was elected in 1869. The following year saw the location play host to representatives of the government of Canada who, along with Riel and the church’s eminent pastor, Father Noël-Joseph Ritchot, signed documents ensuring the rights of the local populace upon Manitoba’s entry into confederation.

Although the church’s rich history may not be fully appreciated by most Manitobans, Ricard and Dubois are reminded of it every time they show up to practice. The pair literally shares the stage with the sacred remains of the province’s founding Father, Ritchot, who is interred right there in the hall. "It’s pretty wild,” says guitarist/vocalist Ricard of what is easily the space’s most mind-blowing feature. "He’s buried right beside the stage. While we jam we can open the door and there’s his room all encased in cement.”

Prior to the church’s basement becoming the Telepathic Butterflies’ musical sanctuary, both Ricard and drummer Dubois served upstairs as alter boys. Ricard’s earliest recollections of the downstairs hall (which can accommodate over 300 people) relate to Beaver Scout meetings and other community events geared towards neighbourhood kids. Years later, he twigged to the fact some of the older boys were using the space to play music.

"There were older guys who had managed to finagle the room and by being a guitar player I was able to make my way in there,” says Ricard, who debuted on the hall’s stage in 1986. Dubois, whose mother still serves as the church’s long-time organist, began playing there soon after.

Over the years, the hall has endured rehearsals by numerous St. Norbert area bands including the Headcleaners and the Groove, along with Telepathic Butterflies predecessor act Mayonnaise. For the past decade, though, the space — when not hosting parish and community-related functions — has been the exclusive domain of Ricard and Dubois. "We’re just the ones who never ended up leaving, I guess,” says Ricard.

Given what the space has to offer, it’s no wonder they’ve stayed. "You’re playing on a big stage, there’s no curfew and we don’t have to compete with other bands to play there,” says Ricard. The dark, wood-panelled walls and 12-foot high ceiling, along with the room’s generous dimensions make for an ambiance well suited to live a performance vibe. The raised stage area alone measures about 30 feet wide by 20 feet deep.

"We also have access to a full kitchen,” adds Ricard, "which has come in handy on some late night jams. And the rent is super cheap.” In fact, until a few years ago, Ricard and Dubois’ didn’t pay any rent at all. Instead, they bartered their talents as part of the annual Christmas music program accompanying Midnight Mass.

Given the inspired use Ricard and Dubois continue to get from the hall, the current monthly fee of $100 represents a substantial deal. Of late, the pair has even devoted some of its rehearsal time to recording material for the Telepathic Butterflies forthcoming third full-length CD. Although the band’s previous two releases (both of which were issued by U.S. psych-rock label Rainbow Quartz) were primarily recorded at home, Ricard says he was eager to capture some of the hall’s sonic elements.

"It’s a really lively room with a big, hot, open sound to it,” says Ricard, estimating a third of the guitar and bass tracks, along with three quarters of the drum tracks destined for the upcoming release were recorded at the church. The principal elements of the duo’s home studio were brought in for the recording sessions, including a Fostex B15 half-inch reel-to-reel, a 16-channel Dynamix 3000 board and numerous microphones and compressors. The pair’s familiarity with the space, combined with their home-recording savvy, makes the hall an ideal studio setting. Ricard says he’s even learned to fine-tune the room’s abundant natural reverb by adjusting the heavy, mustard-coloured drapes that surround the stage. Ultimately, he hopes to do some more extensive recording in the hall, if only to make an historic sonic document of the history-laden space that has served the pair as a second home.

"Someday we’d really like to do a full-on, guerrilla-style, live off-the-floor recording down there,” he says, "just to fully capture the sound of the room on tape.”