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Whitehorse Layers Complex Rhythms In 'Leave No Bridge'


You might think that Whitehorse is a 10-piece affair. The Canadian band plays complex melodies, its rhythms are layered, but Whitehorse is actually just a couple of people.


WHITEHORSE: (Singing) One, two - one, two, three four. Have you heard the crooked news?

SIMON: Melissa McClelland and Luke Doucet. They are a musical - and a married - couple. Their latest, "Leave No Bridge Unburned," was released this week. It's their second collaboration since they joined forces in 2010 after separate solo careers. Melissa McClelland and Luke Doucet join us now from the studios of the CBC in Toronto. Thanks so much for being with us.


SIMON: Let's start with the third track from this album, "Downtown."


SIMON: It begins with what sounds like kind of a regular rock beat.


SIMON: And then that twang comes in. What are you doing here?

LUKE DOUCET: Well, somebody referred to the guitar tones on this record as pre-Beatles, which, funny that it never occurred to me. But I think there's some truth to that.


WHITEHORSE: (Singing) I'm into downtown, and it's killing me.

DOUCET: We are big fans of the blues, big fans of sort of the noir, Spaghetti Western, early first-generation American country music and surf music.

SIMON: So you're trying to combine things you favor?

DOUCET: I guess so. We never really thought about it much. I mean, my only goal is - as a guitar player is that I want to have - I try and have a singular voice. I mean, I've spent a lot of my early musical life being a session musician, where I was trying to emulate lots of different things and cover lots of bases. And with Whitehorse, I feel like the job is to have one voice.

SIMON: May I ask, is that a big decision to take your solo careers and try and fuse them into one?

DOUCET: There was a fair bit of deliberation and sort of beard stroking to try and figure out...

SIMON: On your part, I should...

DOUCET: On my part.

SIMON: Yeah.

DOUCET: ...My part, yeah. Melissa doesn't - she never strokes her beard, strangely. We had our solo projects, made records under our own names and we were - you know, we've worked so hard to try and build the followings that we had that the thought of slapping a banner of a new name on top of the art me make seemed like kind of a risky thing - turns out that it wasn't. Turns out people were perfectly happy to re-imagine us as a new - a new entity.

MCCLELLAND: And, you know, I think even artistically speaking at the beginning, it was like two toddlers trying to share as well. And, you know, I'd write songs and I'd say well, I'm saving this for my next - like, this won't be for Whitehorse. This will be for my next record. And Luke was saying you can't do that. So it took both of us both of us a while to really get into the headspace of OK, this is a duo. This is a band. And I think as soon as we made that switch, there was no turning back for us.

SIMON: Let's listen to another track if we could. This one is "Sweet Disaster."


WHITEHORSE: (Singing) Galileo was bluffing. It's just a mess out here. There's no compass to guide us through the flashes of violence and fear.

SIMON: That's, by the way, a great lyric at the beginning - Galileo was bluffing. It's just a mess out here - order, what order?

MCCLELLAND: Exactly. And we have very little of that in our lives. This song is - actually it's a love song. You wouldn't think so, but it is. And it's...

SIMON: It's a passion song for sure. Oh, you will get the best of me, worlds collide. Wow.


WHITEHORSE: (Singing). You will get the best of me. Worlds collide, it's a recipe for disaster, sweet disaster.

MCCLELLAND: Many people said that, you know, when we formed Whitehorse that it was a recipe for disaster, you know, working with your spouse. And, you know, for us it's been the best of disasters.

SIMON: Let me ask you about another love song in here if we could, "Tame As The Wild Ones"


WHITEHORSE: (Singing). Tame, tame, tame as the wild ones who shout out from rooftops in small towns. We swoon and we sway and we make our way home. Oh, this love, it won't leave me alone.

SIMON: What I like so much about the kind of theme that develops from this album is we're not - you're not singing about first blush of love. You're singing about love for the long haul.

MCCLELLAND: Yeah, I - you know, there many ebbs and flows when it comes to love. And, you know, it can be mundane, but it can also be passionate and fiery. And this song was definitely an attempt at a sexy love song, I think.

SIMON: Yeah, yeah. Talk about fire, yeah, yeah.

DOUCET: From my perspective, it was a roaring success.

SIMON: Crackle, crackle indeed, yeah. We'll fight fire with fire. We'll struggle until it feels good. I gather you have a child, right?

MCCLELLAND: We have a 6-month-old son.

SIMON: Congratulations.

MCCLELLAND: Thank you.

SIMON: Right now, as you sit there, is there a song on this album that you hope is going to become particularly important to him?

DOUCET: Oh, that's a great question.


DOUCET: To him - well, one of the songs on the record is called "Oh Dolores." And it's not - you know, it's not going to be a focus track. It's not a single. It's none of that.

SIMON: Yeah.

DOUCET: But it's a song that I wrote kind of as a dedication to my daughter, who's 18, who just moved to Toronto from Vancouver. And she's going to come on tour as our tour nanny. It sort of chronicles the arrival of a young woman to a big foreign city. And it suggests a degree of optimism in the way that she would immerse herself in a new culture, in a new environment that might be intimidating.


WHITEHORSE: But I've got a feeling about you. The locals might take you in, hold you up like one of their own, treat you like the long-lost kin.

DOUCET: I think the spirit of that - of openness and of welcome - I hope that Jimmy gets that sense. I hope he hears that song and later on in life and thinks isn't that nice the thought that people who are fish out of water can find a safe haven?


WHITEHORSE: (Singing) Oh Dolores, the city's calling out your name. Oh Dolores, they're calling you the queen of game. Oh Dolores, the entire West End's got your name on it.

SIMON: Melissa McClelland and Luke Doucet. They are Whitehorse. Their latest album "Leave No Bridge Unburned," speaking with us from Toronto. Thanks so much for being with us.

MCCLELLAND: Oh, thanks so much for having us.

DOUCET: Thank you so much.


SIMON: This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.