It’s been a pretty momentous year for Le Vent Du Nord. The 20th anniversary of the band’s founding has been marked not only by a rousing return to touring the world following the two years of Covid-19 lockdowns, but also by the release of their eleventh album: 20 Printemps (Twenty Springtimes) to commemorate this auspicious occasion.
It was in 2003 that Olivier Demers and Nicolas Boulerice founded the band. Other musicians rotated in and out over the first few years, including Bernard Simard and Benoît Bourque, but the current incarnation, with Simon Beaudry (2004), Réjean Brunet (2007) and André Brunet (2017) has been stable for some time, allowing the band to really develop their sound and style, and confirm their place as the premier and lighthouse folk/trad band from Québec. This is the band that everyone wants to see and hear; this is world music to people in places like Europe, Asia and Scandinavia; and these are the musicians you want to have to headline your music festival, no matter where in the world you are.
Over the years, Le Vent Du Nord has won every award going. They are no strangers to receiving accolades from the Juno Awards, Canadian Folk Music Awards, Opus Awards, ADISQ, Grand Prix Musique du Monde, or North American Folk Music & Dance Association. Just recently, they received the 2022 ADISQ nomination for Traditional Album of the Year for 20 Printemps. All this, while maintaining a relentless touring schedule around the world.
This past summer, I sat down with founders Olivier Demers and Nicolas Boulerice to reflect on their achievements.
Said Olivier: “Twenty years is a moment to just celebrate a step in something way longer. It’s not a time to look nostalgic because the band is still really crunching and creating, coming up with new artistic propositions. The date is a number to celebrate but in the longer term it is just one out of many anniversaries that will be there for Le Vent Du Nord.”
20 Printemps was a completely new creation for the band, which, Olivier said, unexpectedly resulted in two new “hit” songs that the audiences especially love (“Ma Louise” and “L’Auberge”). He described how it’s important to keep the band fresh.
“Each new CD results in a new concert that provides a change, a flip that puts us creatively on the edge for a while,” he said. “New albums are really important – we build a universe around each new album that we tour nearly 300 times. So… we need to be really fine and comfortable with the repertoire that we propose. With 20 Printemps we saw from the first show how well people engage with ‘Ma Louise,’ and that let us know that we had made the right decision with that piece.”
It’s an album that was deliberately designed to evoke positivity and joy, said Nicolas. “We wanted a CD with light and sunshine; we wanted balance between songs and reels, between the political and the historical, being open and joyful.”
It’s sometimes playful, sometimes poking fun or teasing, and yet evokes joy, even when the subject is death.
“Post-pandemic is not a time for being sad and serious,” said Nicolas. “It’s a time to celebrate being alive.”
Judging from the response the material is getting in live performance, those concert audiences are in complete agreement.
Reflecting on the 20 years the band has been together, Olivier noted that he and his fellow band members communicate really well. He and Nicolas have known each other since music college when they were 18 or 19 years old, so they have a long history, with the ups and downs that could be expected. But overall, he said, they have found that there is no topic that can’t be discussed. And, the other band members have the same values.
“There is no subject we can’t approach,” Olivier said. “Whether it be sovereignty or death, the joy and positivity is important to say that everything is possible.”
“It’s really something,” said Nicolas. “We survived 20 years together on tour, and we are much better now than at the start. We are really proud of what we’ve become. We had a dream, we trusted each other, and we built a team that has lasted for 20 years. And, we will be here for another 20 years, with any luck.”
“The anniversary is a good moment,” Nicolas added. “Over the years, we have had successes and failures. We have sometimes made some very bad decisions, but in the end, most of the decisions have been good ones. We have found that we are a very democratic band and that each of us has our own specialities and strengths.” It’s a good way to be, knowing that each band member can be sure the others are there for them.
Next year, Olivier said, the band will embark on a totally different approach to their repertoire. The plan is, he said, that the older songs that have become Le Vent du Nord classics will be revisited with just the five vocalists, feet, a string quartet and a classical pianist. Fans of those old, beloved songs, will hear them anew.
Fans love Le Vent du Nord, and some go to great lengths to hear them play live again and again. Truly, Olivier, Nicolas, Simon, Réjean and André have found their calling, not just as excellent musicians and proponents of traditional Québecois music, but as ambassadors of joy.