Photo courtesy of Les Jupes
The recent hype surrounding Winnipeg band Les Jupes is what every aspiring indie band dreams of. Labeled "Canada's next great band," "a hidden gem," and "set to become one of Canada's most intriguing and complex acts" by numberous publications, Les Jupes certainly have the critics on their side. But who is this band from Winnipeg that people keep raving about, and are the positive reviews accurate? Well, the answer is a bit complicated. The current lineup includes drummer Jordon Ottenson and keyboardist Adam Fuhr who are also members of the indie band Yes, We Mystic. David Schellenberg was Les Jupes' previous bassist, but was replaced after the completion of the band's sophmore album Some Kind of Family by Darcy Penner. Hailey Primrose provided backing vocals on the album and is referred to as the unofficial fifth member of Les Jupes. The only steadfast member is front man Michael P. Falk whose baritone voice has sparked comparisons to Nick Cave and The National's Matt Berninger—both of whom he calls "miracle animals."
Falk is one hell of an interesting dude. Not only is he the lead guitarist and vocalist in Les Jupes, he is also a songwriter, recording engineer, producer, label head and studio owner. He taught himself how to play guitar by writing his own songs at age 17 and formal rules came second to creativity, with Smashing Pumpkins, The Cure, R.E.M. and Britpop acting as his teachers. After attending recording school in London, Ontario, he eventually moved back to Winnipeg where he opened a recording studio and started the record label Head In The Sand, which prides itself on releasing only two to four albums a year with extreme care. Falk has currently released nine albums to date including Royal Canoe's 2010 breakout album CO OP Mode. To produce Some Kind of Family, Falk invited his longtime friend, producer Marcus Paquin, to once again join Les Jupes in the studio (he also produced their debut album Modern Myths in 2011). Paquin—whose credits include albums by Arcade Fire, Stars, and The National—took their 30 demos and began to help shape what would become Some Kind of Family. While he's proud of the finished album, Falk calls the process of making Some Kind of Family "a teeth pulling." Scheduling conflicts that caused months of delays, a depressing Winnipeg winter, and the loss of their bassist led to the album taking a year and a half to complete.
Some Kind of Family is an experience of immediate intrigue. The opening track, "When Will They Dig Us Up", is like an aural vignette of the overall spirit of the album. The first notes of bright electric guitar, covered in fuzz and bursting with pop energy, sets the perfect trap for Falk's baritone to creep right up and shock you. The impact of his vocals are heightened both by the rapid pounding of Ottenson's drums and the contrast of Primrose's airy backing vocals. Fuhr's flurry of synthy keys appears in time to ride the peak of the song and then morph into its grooving backbone. Falk's dark, introspective and often mysterious lyrics repel the glossy shine of pop from taking over Some Kind of Family's identity and the album is all the more compelling because of it.So why don't Les Jupes stand a chance? Well, in the new video for the first single off the album, there's more than one hint. Noisey has the exclusive premiere of Les Jupes' video for their single "Everything Has Changed" directed by Ben Clarkson. As the song progresses, it becomes apparent that Falk's lyrics have turned out to be an eerie foreshadowing of the band's fate, as he repeatedly proclaims, "I know everything will change / My name, my name isn't what it was." Also, the band is nowhere to be seen.
In an exclusive interview with Noisey, Falk confirms that Les Jupes have officially disbanded. While the public has been praising the album, Falk has been mourning the death of Les Jupes. There will be no tour for the album that is consistently earning rave reviews, or a chance for the tracks to be experienced live. For an indie band with a growing fan base to fall apart on the verge of national success is just a damn shame. So what the hell happened, anyway?
Noisey: Can you tell me about the breakup?
Michael P. Falk: We were coming back from [touring in] New York and Toronto last fall and Jordon, the drummer, started saying that this wasn't really what he wanted to be doing with his life. When we got back home, we thought we could keep him roped along for a while until he bailed, but a couple weeks later Adam shocked us and quit and everything obviously fell apart from there. Adam and Jordon both play in Yes, We Mystic which is another band. I just want to be clear, Jordon didn't explicitly quit as much as he said, "This isn't what I want to be doing with my life." So when Adam quit, that's when Jordon unraveled.
We just didn't have the tools to go through yet another lineup. I've run out of options in Winnipeg. I've gone through everyone that could play this music and that would also want to be in a band that does what you have to do to make a real go out of it. It was either, well we're done or I need to move to a bigger city. That move isn't possible right now so, here we are.
Yes, We Mystic is on your label, right?
Uh, was on my label.
Did that change before Les Jupes broke up or after?
Yeah, since the band… when Adam left, we separated.
What is your relationship like with the other band members right now? Have you talked to each other recently?
Adam and I are not on good terms. He's the first person in a really long time that I had a strong and immediate musical kinship with. It's the kind of thing that I really valued a lot. Jordon texted me the other day and said congratulations on the record coming out. He still feels connected to the record and hopes it goes well. Darcy and I run into each other every now and then and have the best relationship still just because, you know, he didn't quit.
Darcy just recently joined the band after David Schellenberg left. How did he react to the breakup?
I think Darcy was pretty letdown and frustrated because he had come onboard thinking he was the final piece of the puzzle, and then both Adam and Jordon revealed that they were not in it for the haul. I'm not going to speak for Darcy, but if it had been me, I would have felt pretty letdown and lied to. I feel really bad for Darcy. He came onboard swinging and showed up to rehearsals with music transcribed and worked really hard on tour. He was a really great band mate.
How did you feel when the breakup happened? How do you feel now?
Now it feels like a slightly less angry version of [how I felt] then. I felt really abandoned and that my trust had been broken. It's like a breakup. You've invested a lot in these friendships and these people and this music and now that they're pulling away, it's hard. It's hard to take as a person. And then there's the business side of it all. Here we have this big record and what do you do with it? So it's been sad and frustrating. Those would be the words around it. The record coming out is bittersweet for me because honestly we should have been able to do a lot more with it, but I am really glad that people are excited about it.
You've done a solo record in the past, would you go that route again so you wouldn't have to worry about commitments being broken?
I don't really know yet. I feel like collaboration is where I find inspiration. My guess is what will happen is that I will find some new people to collaborate with, and we'll see what kind of music we make and go from there. I'm not going to open any doors or close any doors. We'll see what happens.
How have you reacted to all of the good press for the album knowing that you have no control over the band no longer being together?
[Sighs] it feels like a really big let down. I'm really honoured and glad that people are loving the music because that was always the intention - to make something that people connect to, you know? In the back of my mind there's a hope that people will remember this record.
Stephanie Horak is a writer living in Canada - @SBTSongs