“I won’t apply a genre to [my music] ’cause then immediately you’re talking about it in its relationship to something else and not in terms of just its relationship with you and the moment that you’re experiencing it,” said Stetson.
“I haven’t heard anybody having any issue with what I do. But I’m sure I can imagine that happening. I mean, you’re gonna hear sometimes from people about how this doesn’t sound like a saxophone the way they would know what a saxophone sounds like, and so they don’t like it.”
Regardless of what category his work fits into, critics are receptive of his work. The Los Angeles Times praised his last album as “undeniably compelling.” The New York Times, for its part, described it as varying from “fluttery, funky” to “unexpectedly serene.”
After studying music at the University of Michigan, Stetson moved to Brooklyn to pursue his musical career. There, he crossed paths with Arcade Fire, and after recording with them for a bit, he started playing with the Montreal band during their Neon Bible tour.
Stetson also encountered Justin Vernon, his current Bon Iver bandmate, in the Big Apple. They met at a show one night, performed another gig together, and then started to collaborate.
“That was what sealed the deal: us working together,” said Stetson. “I played my solo set, he played his solo set, which I loved, and then he contacted me about coming out to Wisconsin for the new record.”
Stetson has lent his talents to performances by other musical heavy hitters like TV on the Radio, The National, Feist, Tom Waits and LCD Soundsystem.
In 2007, Stetson travelled to Montreal, fell in love with the city, and stayed.
“Montreal is a great town for music,” said Stetson. “It has allowed me to work on a lot of ideas that would’ve taken me longer to get to if I was still in the constant hustle of New York.”
A year later, Stetson released his debut solo record New History Warfare Vol. 1. It showcased his skills on saxophone and clarinet, but its reach was limited. By contrast, his followup, New History Warfare Vol. 2: Judges, released last February, succeeded in touching a broader audience.
“I was surprised that so many people in a more mainstream context were even listening to it because whatever type of music that I make usually ends up being something that inhabits a more avant-garde or experimental music.”
Vol. 2: Judges was nominated for the 2011 Polaris Music Prize, and made the album shortlist alongside Arcade Fire’s The Suburbs and Braids’ Native Speaker.
“It’s a pretty spectacular honour to be recognized on that level,” said Stetson. “I think for me it worked on a couple of other levels more being that I recently moved [to Canada], so it’s like the welcoming into the community of musicians on a whole that is really special to me.”
Colin Stetson performs Sept. 2 at Il Motore , 179 Jean-Talon St. W.