Whitehorse did not set out to write a political record.

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This article was published 10/10/2017 (1438 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Whitehorse did not set out to write a political record.

The husband-and-wife team of Luke Doucet and Melissa McClelland amassed a collection of about 50 songs, and when they sat down to choose the tracks that would go on the record, Panther in the Dollhouse, there was a collection of 10 that made the most sense — and these songs just happened to have a bit of a political throughline.

SUPPLIED</p><p>Melissa McClelland and Luke Doucet of Whitehorse play Wednesday at the Burton Cummings Theatre.</p>

SUPPLIED

Melissa McClelland and Luke Doucet of Whitehorse play Wednesday at the Burton Cummings Theatre.

It’s not the same type of capital "P" politics that has seeped into the majority of pop culture as of late, though; instead, they focus on themes of sexual agency, harm reduction and the conventions and assumptions about "normal" domestic life, mostly told through a series of fictitious characters and scenarios.

"When it comes to fiction, it’s easier in a fictional context to look at... like when you want to embellish a story outside of what you see happening in front of you, maybe it’s easier to infuse some of the stories around class or around sexual agency or around politics, I suppose," Doucet explains.

"It’s easier to infuse them into a story that’s fictional than it is to infuse them into your own narrative. It gets sanctimonious really quickly when you’re writing about yourself and then you get political, I think."

Doucet grew up in Winnipeg and though it’s been a number of years since he’s made the city his home base, it still pops up in his work. On this record, it comes in the form of Manitoba Death Star. Doucet had a lot to say about the song, even more than he expected, and far too much to print in its entirety.

But it all boils down to the fact he feels class is still at the epicentre of disparity.

"I feel like there’s a certain bleakness and desperation that settles into the city when it gets cold and grey — and, at the same time, this song is told somewhat through the eyes of the Sunshine House, which is a place that my mother built out of blood, sweat and tears," he says.

Doucet explains that he’s spent quite a bit of time at the community drop-in centre and the song was born out of his imagining the way the world looks through the eyes of the people who go there.

"It’s easy to dehumanize people and so I feel like there’s value in imagining... my mind goes to places that have nothing to do with my story as a people and a culture and I feel like sometimes we fail to think of people as actual humans with a degree of depth and complexity," he says. "When I was writing that song I was really trying to tell an imaginary story (of people) who might see themselves in the same way we might see ourselves when we’re being ridiculous. It’s just a question of trying to tell a story that isn’t a predictable one.

"And it’s a tough one, right? Because who’s entitled to tell what story? A story that represents a historical perspective or a socioeconomic perspective of the most disenfranchised people in Winnipeg — that is, Indigenous people. That’s certainly not my story to tell because I’m not one of them.

"So it’s also my story of observing people with whom I grew up, on Walnut Street in the 1980s, or lately on Logan and Sherbrook where the Sunshine House is," he says.

"I like to think (if) you look at the perspectives that I am presenting or look at the stories I have created or the people I have created or invented or the scenarios that I’m depicting... at the end of the day if you can’t find empathy in that perspective, then I haven’t done my job right. I’m pretty sure that the empathy is unmistakable."

The pair are running through a handful of dates in the United States before heading up to Canada to tour with a full band for the first time.

Before they headed out on the road, Doucet and McClelland had one large performance to get through: just two weeks ago, they played at Neil Young’s induction into the Canadian Songwriting Hall of Fame in front of a crowd of A-list Canadian musicians including k.d. lang, Bruce Cockburn and, of course, Young.

Doucet didn’t get to speak with Young that night, but recounts his first and only interaction with the legendary folk artist backstage at a festival a few years back. Doucet saw Young, Young’s wife Pegi (since divorced) and a member of Young’s band and decided to go over and introduce himself.

He forged a Winnipeg connection with Young, saying he went to the same high school (Kelvin), and then asked if the rumour about him was true: had Young ridden a horse through the hallways of the high school?

"He just got this really disappointed, almost disgusted look on his face and said, ‘How would I get it in there?’ and then he turned around and walked away and that was the end, I’ve never spoken to him since," Doucet says with a laugh.

"And since I’m a runner and I go back to Winnipeg all the time, I run by Kelvin and I see the two big doors where the football team comes out and I’m like, ‘That’s how you get the f----- horse in there!’"

erin.lebar@freepress.mb.ca Twitter: @NireRabel

Erin Lebar

Erin Lebar
Manager of audience engagement for news

Erin Lebar is a multimedia producer who spends most of her time writing music- and culture-related stories for the Arts & Life section. She also co-hosts the Winnipeg Free Press's weekly pop-culture podcast, Bury the Lede.

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