One of Canada’s top guitar ensembles, Montreal Guitar Trio, have been breaking down classical music conventions since the group formed 15 years ago.
“We try to do something original with three guitars,” said Sébastien Dufour, who formed the trio with Marc Morin and Glenn Levesque while they were studying classical guitar at the University of Montreal in the late ‘90s. “Since the beginning we’ve been experimenting a lot on the guitars, and doing a lot of different sounds.”
Expanding on their classical background, the threesome have evolved over the years to include a wide array of influences as diverse as California surf, Andean folk and Brazilian samba and recently started including vocals by Levesque.
While the trio, commonly referred to as MG3, typically play on nine-stringed guitars, they have started implementing other lute instruments into their shows like the mandolin, electric bass and even the centuries-old Bolivian charango, traditionally made with an armadillo shell. If that’s not enough, they’ve even taken to mimicking the sound of different instruments like the sitar or pear-shaped Arabian oud by tinkering with the tuning of their guitars.
“This is the purpose of our band,” said Dufour. “To try and be innovative and explore a new path with guitars.”
Having toured in dozens of countries around the world, the band is a musical sponge of sorts; drawing on influences from every new locale they visit before reflecting it back into their compositions.
“Our experimentation sessions are always going on during the tour, so our hotel rooms are the best place for us to compose, especially when we go to a more remote place that’s off the beaten path. Those kinds of places are a good source of inspiration for us,” said Dufour, highlighting two trips the band has made to Estonia throughout their careers. “Being there, on the spot, trying to recreate the essence of what’s surrounding you is a great way to bring some new ideas into the composition.”
Along with their original songs, which will make up the entirety of their forthcoming album, the follow up to last spring’s Cambria, MG3 have tackled many a cover over the years, including one of the most beloved songs of all time, The Beatles While My Guitar Gently Weeps.
“What you’re obligated to do when you play this kind of big hit like The Beatles is create something new. We really try to bring a new version, so there’s a lot of other influences mixed into that song,” said Dufour. The song rollicks from a psychedelic Pink Floyd-esque intro into a bouncy reggae style, said Dufour. “When you work with a masterpiece, there’s a lot of good material already in it, so it’s pretty easy to do something with it. It brings you a lot of ideas of arrangement and composition, because the basic material is really good.”
The trio’s evolution doesn’t stop at their music, with their live performances lauded by fans and critics alike. Harkening back to their classical education in Montreal, Dufour said they “felt there was something wrong with the formula of a classical concert” and strove to make their concerts more engaging and humorous for audiences.
“A good show is a communication between you and the audience,” said Dufour. The group will often reveal the origin of their songs, explain the composition process and detail the band’s history during their concerts. “If you just get onstage, play your music, say a few words and people are getting out of your show and don’t really know a bit about each of the personality’s of the guy, for us it’s not the concept of our show.”
Fans across the Western and Southern United States will get a taste of MG3’s live performances this year when they join the California Guitar Trio for an extensive tour. Dufour is also excited about MG3’s first trip to China this June, after which they plan to record their upcoming album.
Check out the Montreal Guitar Trio’s first performance in Whistler in over eight years at Millennium Place Saturday (Jan. 19) at 8 p.m. Tickets are $25 for adults, $23 for seniors and students and $21 for Whistler Arts Council members. They’re available at Millennium Place or at www.artswhistler.com.