Before getting ready to enter the recording studio later this year to work on their next full-length effort, Halifax folk-rock band Quiet Parade has taken a linguistic leap of faith.
The band’s newest release, a four-song EP entitled Nous Étions Icitte, is the first Francophone effort from the group, offering fans the opportunity to take a glimpse at the band’s relationship with Canada’s other official language.
We recently had a thoughtful conversation with Quiet Parade’s Trevor Murphy:
When people think “French” and the Maritimes, New Brunswick is, arguably, often the first place that comes to mind. But both Nova Scotia and PEI have respectable Francophone populations of their own. What kind of exposure did you have to the French language when you were growing up? Was it primarily in school, or outside of school as well?
For a big chunk of my life, I lived in an Acadian community called Surette’s Island (Île Surette) – about 30 minutes outside the town of Yarmouth, NS. I went to a completely French school from the third grade through to high school graduation. We spoke French at home (mostly just my Mom & I because my father and stepfather are both English), out in the community, and with our family. It was always a big part of my life.
While New Brunswick certainly carries its ‘Frenchness’ with fervour – it is, after all, the only bilingual province in the country – the cradle of Acadian life historically begins in Nova Scotia. French settlers were here as early as 1605. It wasn’t really until Acadians returned from exile after the 1755 expulsion that the cultural epicenter solidified in New Brunswick. I was listening to a podcast recently calledThe Secret Life of Canada where, in an episode focused on New Brunswick, they briefly describe the origins of Acadian life and never once mention Nova Scotia. That’s almost 150 years of history getting lost in the current consciousness. It’s an apt metaphor for the Nova Scotian Acadian experience. I think a lot of people forget about us – both in an historical and contemporary context.
It’s part of the reason we chose to call this new EP Nous Étions Icitte (which translates to “we were here”). The title track is about memory and the perception of the past as defining your future. It’s about leaving clues for people to find in order to understand what has happened. We wanted this EP to be a clue, a push in a certain direction towards understanding that Acadian culture in Nova Scotia – and particularly in Par-en-Bas (the geographic region that encompasses a number of Acadian communities in Yarmouth county) – is different, dynamic, and present. We were here, yes, but we are still here too.
I’ve “lost” my French-speaking ability. I could get by if I had to, but would definitely struggle with recalling words, resulting in me being rather self-conscious about speaking it, but have zero trouble understanding a conversation or reading text. How have you kept pace with the French language all these years?
Well the truth is, I didn’t. When I moved to Halifax, NS is 2003, it was a fairly quick assimilation. For the better part of a decade – with the exception of talking to my family back home (particularly my grandmother) – I didn’t really speak French all that much. As a result, I lost my grasp on it. It wasn’t until I started making a concentrated effort to do it more and to regain those abilities that it started coming back to me. But it was hard work to get there. So hard, in fact, that I promised myself to never let myself get to the point where I’d be back at the bottom of that hill trying to figure out how to climb back up.
Being self-conscious about the way we speak is hyper real for me, and that’s part of the reason I think I was quick to let the language fall by the wayside. I always thought my accent was weird, anglicized, and not good enough. To this day, I have experiences where I’ll talk to someone in French and they’ll switch to English. That feeling fucking sucks. I used to cower and switch over myself, but these days I’ll just persist. It’s a kind of defiant stance against someone else telling me “you’re not speaking the language correctly.” We’re not in a place where we should be doing that. We need to encourage more people to speak French, to be proud of their heritage, and to nurture their culture.
What inspired the band to release a French-language EP at this point in its career?
It’s been a goal for Acadian Embassy (a boutique record label I run) to release a French-language recording since we began back in 2010. The name Acadian Embassy was the nickname for the house where myself and co-founder Josh “Pinky” Pothier were living, so the label began as a way to document what was happening under that roof. It was a simple premise, but then we also started to think about the label’s name more philosophically. For the first time, we were looking inward and asking ourselves: what does it mean to be Acadian? We wanted to use the label to explore that, and we wanted to talk about cultural identity on our own terms. See you later Évangeline and see you never, fiddles; here comes Kuato. In 2014, we released Kuato’s The Great Upheaval – an instrumental, post-rock album centered around the theme of the Acadian expulsion. That was our first musical foray into this cultural experiment.
With Kuato being an instrumental band, and the other acts on our current roster not being able to speak the language, I knew recording a record in French would probably fall to me. On top of that, I had tremendous support and nudges from a few key friends – Céleste Godin, patriotte Acadienne, and Jean-Étienne Sheehy, la voix de l’Acadie punk – who consistently encouraged me to move forward with the project.
I think the inspiration for this record was three-fold. First, I wanted to actually achieve the specific goal of releasing a French record. Second, I wanted to create something that would allow me to continue talking about Acadian identity, and about the Nova Scotian Acadian experience in particular, all while walking the walk – or I guess in this case, talking the talk. Third, we as a band also wanted to try to do something to set ourselves apart from the pack here at home. In the Nova Scotian music scene, there’s Acadian music that leans more on the traditional side, there are Acadian singer-songwriters, and there are some cool experimental and electro acts (the Tide School collective is really leading the charge there), but there’s not really an Acadian indie rock band. We’re trying to fill that gap and say “if you like Death Cab and you can speak French, here’s the band for you.” I think having a French record allows us to open up new opportunities to play in new places and presents us with the ability to reach a whole new audience.
When it came to lyrics and singing these songs in French, were you a little more self-conscious when it came to pronunciation and lyrics, or did it come to you easier than you might have expected?
By the time I actually worked up the nerve to dive into this project, any hesitations about my accent and pronunciation dissipated. In fact, I wanted to lean hard into both of those things. I wanted this record to be an artifact that represented a very specific slice of Acadian life in Nova Scotia. I wanted it to speak about and represent Par-en-Bas in a way I had not heard before and create something that represented our voice for once.
And there are good examples to follow. Lisa LeBlanc, Les Hay Babies, Les Hôtesses d’Hilaire, Radio Radio – these artists were fundamental to me understanding that there is a demand out there for songs tinged with an Acadian accent that tell Acadian stories in a new way.
To make this EP, we took four songs from our self-titled record and translated them to French. So not only did I have to translate the lyrics, I also had to match the existing melodies, meter, rhymes, etc. In all honesty, it was a bit more difficult than anticipated. From the outset, I made myself a deal that as long as the core messages and narratives came through at the end, I could swap some lyrical concepts if needed. That said, I don’t think they’re too far from the mark from the English versions.
What’s in the works for Quiet Parade over the rest of the year?
We’ll be looking to play some shows in support of this new EP – the first of which happens Friday, Feb. 16 in Halifax, NS at The Carleton. We’re also working on some new (English) songs right now that we’re all very excited about, and we’re hoping to hit the studio this summer to record a new album.
What: Quiet Parade
When: Friday Feb. 16, 7 p.m.
Where: The Carleton, 1685 Argyle St., Halifax
Further details are available online.