Montreal folk-rock band explores American literature through their lyrics
“You’ve got to shed your skin on the road of existence,” is The Great Novel’s mantra of their new album, Skins. The Montreal folk-rock band released the record on March 3 at La Sala Rossa. The lineup consists of Endrick Tremblay on lead vocals, guitar and harmonica, Marc Olivier Tremblay Drapeau on double bass and vocals, and Gabrièle Côté on vocals and percussion. The album explores new tones and narrative styles in the songs, breaking free from country/folk tracks and entering the realm of rock and roll. Skins has a vintage Americana feel to it—it’s the ideal soundtrack for an escapade to California’s Big Sur.
It’s been four years since the band’s inception, and The Great Novel is continuously jamming, performing and touring together. Originally, Tremblay began this band with a solo project in mind. “At first I wanted to write songs on my own,” he said. “The idea was to have a backup band, then it became a collaborative project where everyone gives their ideas.I’ve been a musician for a long time, mostly doing covers, bluesy stuff. At that time, I was obsessed with Robert Plant’s album, Raising Sand. It’s a folk album that has a rock vibe—I love how that sounds together,” Tremblay said.
Then Tremblay met Côté. “She had a good voice, so we tried to make some songs together,” he said. Drapeau eventually joined the picture alongside their former drummer, Tristan Forget. According to Tremblay, initially, there were no drums and their music was much more smooth. “We then decided to add drums. Turned out the drummer was so good that we asked him to join the band,” he said.The band then started to write more music together. “I chose these members because I was looking for that type of instrumentation,” Tremblay said. The band then traded their upright bass and acoustic guitar for the electric bass. “That’s when we became more rock. Our tones are much more classic rock than in our first album,” Tremblay said.
According to Tremblay, their lyrics are influenced by legendary authors in American literature, such as Mark Twain, Charles Bukowski, Jack Kerouac and J.D Salinger. “I was at a point of my life where I discovered a passion for books, especially American literature,” he said. As a French-Canadian, he said he didn’t get a chance to read the classics, such as How to Kill a Mockingbird, in elementary or high school. He read them later on in life and was fascinated. “These books have a particular quality about them. Since they are American, the writing has a street style. It has more action and rhythm,” Tremblay said. With his passion for American books and the band searching for an original name, the expression “The great American novel” came to mind. “So why not call us The Great Novel,” said Tremblay.
However, The Great Novel has also been inspired by a Canadian book, The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz by Mordecai Richler. It takes place in Montreal in the 1930s.“It’s about a Jewish man who wanted to get rich and would do anything for it,” Tremblay said. “I live a bohemian lifestyle and my life goals aren’t money-oriented. I thought it would be interesting to write in the skin of a character who has different values than myself.” Overall, Skins explores a variety of characters through storytelling. Its lyrics touch subjects of youth, eroticism, hard work and poverty.
Their new record took the band over a year to prepare. “We just wanted to do something unique, to experiment with sound texture and tonality,” Tremblay said. The album was recorded in just 10 days. “Those days were intense emotionally. It was 10 days of us just being together. It was a moment in time that we will never forget,” Tremblay said.
The Great Novel’s music video for their single “Get Me Some Land” explores retro-American cinematography. It feels as if you are watching a short thriller film, and the song just blends in seamlessly with the narrative. “As I described our lyrics to Pablo, our video producer, our song made him think of the American film Barfly, written by Charles Bukowski,” Tremblay said.The main actors of the music video are The Great Novel band members themselves. “I wanted to have that experience of being an actor for fun,” Tremblay said. “It turned out to be an intense and hard experience. They had to change my style. They gave me a moustache.” In the video, Côté plays the bartender and Drapeau plays the man who beats up Tremblay. “My brother played the motorcycle club guy, someone from our hometown passed us his truck—we had a small budget and had to do the whole thing in two nights,” Tremblay said.
The band has been on the road recently touring across Ontario and through the Maritimes. “People love to enjoy and party to our music, especially in the countryside. We were once booked for a one-hour show and ended up playing for four hours,” Tremblay said. The band is curious to see how people will react to their new rock album. They are headed to France in the spring for a European tour.
According to Tremblay, The Great Novel is a band that has family spirit. “We have been through so many things together, personal issues, so many hours on the road, but we are always there for each other. They are going to be part of my life for as long as I live,” Tremblay said.