(as published in Naked Underground Montreal February 10th, 2016)
Like the siren enchanting the sailor into the depths, Francesca Daoust’s voice may drown you, but what a sweet death it will be.
“It’s such an intuitive thing for me,” Daoust says of her music, “I don’t have any music theory background, and I’ve been playing alone for so long that [on this EP] it was a lot of work figuring out compositions and how to communicate what I was looking for.”
Daoust began jamming with stand-up bassist and Massachusetts import Matthew Dorfman in mid-2015. Shortly after, they were joined by ex-Brass Mob trumpeter Suzanne Stirling and classically trained Syrian violist Zafer Zephyr to form Ghostly Hounds.
Zephyr plays his viola much in the same way he speaks: with a humanity and sweetness perfectly attuned to those he’s working with. “One of my favourite things to do is find parallels in different genres or hear a melody being expressed in different modes,” Zephyr explains, “I try to incorporate Arabic or Klezmer tunes that I’ve played in the past, and I always find something that fits -in my humble opinion -into what Francesca’s singing.”
To talk of an entirely different style, Stirling’s trumpet brings a brassiness to the group that underlines both Dorfman and Daoust’s backgrounds, as the singer attests to: “Jazz has been a huge influence for me, even though what I play isn’t jazz. Before I started playing my own stuff, I always sang in jazz bands. I really love having horns.”
Indeed, Stirling plays with a targeted ease that gives the Witch Folk group a laidback quality that makes their shows a joy to watch. At one moment at Le Cagibi, the West Coast native jumped playfully beside Daoust’s mouth trumpeting to do a solo that electrified the crowd.
“It just feels so good to have the other sounds, and it inspires me,’ Daoust expresses, “There’ve been a few songs that I’d started writing and just given up on that have turned into full songs since jamming with these guys.”
Daoust will be the first to admit her songs can be dark, but she denies that they’re depressing: “All my songs have been written when I’ve been at my worst, but I write to uplift myself and get myself through [the difficulties].” The tracks, which she’s been performing and reworking for years as a solo artist, are more hopeful than tragic. On “I Pray” she laments, “This flame gives life and yet it also burns. How many times before my lesson’s learned?” but wonders, “If I continue will I lose my skin, or will I break through and find the answers I hold within?”
“I Pray”, along with “Crone,” “A Cliff” and “Month of Tears” were engineered and recorded by stand-up bassist Matthew Dorfman in theCapsule Sound Studio mere weeks after the band was fully formed. While the exceptionally adaptable musician supports Ghostly Hounds unique combination of instruments beautifully, he was less familiar with the recording process. “I’d never done that [work] before, so the technical skills were really interesting to learn,” he reveals, “When you listen to your own music, it’s a very different experience than playing it in the moment. You’re forced by the recording process into creating a product that’s concise and polished, and it makes you listen and think differently about how you then speak as a musician, and how everything fits together.”
Looking to the future, the band is open to all possibilities. “I feel like the Montréal music scene is so vast,’ Daoust points out, “It’s a city that really nurtures creative growth and collaboration; there are so many people that are looking to play, looking to put on shows, looking to discover new music. It’s a big part of why I moved here.”
While this summer’s Westcoast tour and festival shows are still in the works, this March you can catch Ghostly Hounds on tour in Montreal, Kingston, Toronto and Ottawa. For venues and schedules, visit them on Facebook or Bandcamp.