Bleu Pelouse – jazz, blues, folk, swing – it’s all in there

Bleu Pelouse – jazz, blues, folk, swing – it’s all in there

The recipe for Bleu Pelouse is a complicated and eclectic one. A heap of raw New Orleans jazz, a scoop of French gypsy jazz, a few dashes of Appalachian hillbilly folk, garnished with the eerie sound of a musical saw and the raw intensity of singers Mathieu Riopel and Mylène St-Amour, drawn straight off an old vinyl record.

Bleu Pelouse — Riopel, St-Amour, bassist Cédrik Dessureault and clarinetist Johannes Grün— got their start as buskers in Old Quebec before working their way into the bar and festival scenes across the region.

“We’re a mix of a bunch of influences,” says Riopel. “We were first inspired by jug band music, which was a folk style that came out of Memphis in the 1930s and evolved; that was our sound. Now it has swing and jazz influences, and it gives off sort of a New Orleans street music vibe. We got a lot more ‘swing’ when we added Johannes.”

“I’m a music-listening maniac,” says Riopel, who founded the original Bleu Pelouse in 2004 with St-Amour and two school friends who have since moved on. “I listened to all sorts of old folk and that touched me…listening to old jazz and swing really opened our eyes. There was a phase when we wanted to be the Carter Family.”

Their distinctive sound comes from an eclectic collection of instruments. Riopel plays guitar, ukelele, kazoo and harmonica, and St-Amour plays the saw, drawing melodic, whistling notes out of it with a violin bow.

“”The saw is an old instrument from the early 20th century,” St-Amour explained. “We were looking into new sounds and we got a saw at a flea market, and of course I had to teach myself because there are no courses. I’d be alone in my living room, and I would try sounds, and sounds would turn into melodies.”

Riopel’s guitar and ukelele are adorned with beaten-metal designs, which serve an unexpected purpose. “The metal guitars were developed in the 1920s, before there were amplifiers, to provide a louder sound so people could hear it, and since everything Hawaiian was in fashion at the time, they made Hawaiian patterns on the metal,” he says.

“We like using rudimentary instruments,” he says. “The first couple of years we had a washbasin instead of a bass…I really love these instruments, they have a lot of expressivity.”

Riopel and St-Amour are from Joliette, the cradle of Quebec’s folk music revival and the home of iconic groups like La Bottine Souriante and Les Charbonniers de l’Enfer. They see themselves as linked to that tradition. “In Joliette there’s a lot of [Québécois] folk and traditional music, and the jug band music that we play evolved from American folk,” St-Amour says.

Growing up, however, St-Amour was more drawn to classical piano and Riopel, to heavy metal. They feel that jazz-folk came looking for them.

“There’s so much intensity and truth in those old recordings, whether it’s Louis Armstrong singing or some guy playing the banjo on his farm,” says Riopel, People were not afraid to play and sing back then.”

The band came together on the streets of Quebec City and has never really left. “We just wanted to have fun and play music in Old Quebec; we started everything there,” says Riopel.

“The sound travels more when you’re playing in the street.” says St-Amour. “We started out as buskers and we’re still buskers. Playing in the street lets you practice and experiment. It’s also the best school for dealing with an audience because you deal with everything and everyone. Sometimes there are drunks that come and bother us, and sometimes we have these great experiences. Once a bunch of musicians from France got off their tour bus with a clarinet, a trumpet, a trombone and a washboard and came over and jammed with us. You meet all sorts of people. ”

“A lot of people like street bands,” Riopel adds. “When we play a blues festival, we say we’re blues with a bit of folk and jazz. When we play a jazz festival, we’re jazz with a bit of blues and folk. When we play a folk festival, we’re folk with a bit of jazz and blues. We were even at MondoKarnaval, which is a world music festival. Usually, people aren’t disappointed.”

All four musicians have other projects— Riopel is a physics teacher, St-Amour is a graphic artist and Grün and Dessureault are in other, more classic jazz bands. But Bleu Pelouse won’t fall by the wayside anytime soon. “The more we do it, the more we want to do it,” says St-Amour. “We’d love to take two weeks in the summer and go play in Europe, or even in New Orleans. I think it would work.”

Categories: Arts & Culture, Opinion

About Author

Ruby Pratka

Ruby Pratka grew up in Baltimore, Maryland, studied in Ottawa and took the roundabout way to Quebec City via Russia, Slovenia, France, Switzerland, Belgium and East Africa. In addition to writing for and Life in Québec Magazine, she also contributes to other media outlets in English and French. She enjoys keeping a close eye on international affairs, listening to good music and singing in large groups.

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