Interview: A Q&A with Corridor’s Dominic Berthiaume
Over the better part of the past year, I’ve written quite a bit about the rapidly rising Montreal-based indie rock act Corridor. The French Canadian act, currently featuring longtime friends and collaborators Dominic Berthiaume (vocals/bass) and Jonathan Robert (vocals/guitar/synths) along with Julian Perreault (guitar), Julien Bakvis (drums) and the band’s newest member Samuel Gougoux received attention across the Francophone world and elsewhere with 2017’s sophomore album Supermercado, which glowing received praise from NPR and Vice, who referred to the album as “the best French record of 2017, 2018, 2018, 2019, 2020 2021 and even 2022 . . . ”
The members of Corridor spent the following year touring across Europe with stops at London Calling Festival and La Villete Sonique Festival, and the States with appearances at SXSW and Northside Festival. They followed that up by touring with Crumb on a sold-out Stateside tour.
Building upon a growing profile, the band signed to Sub Pop Records, who released their third album, last year’s Junior, making the band the first Francophone act ever on the world renowned label. While continuing their ongoing and highly successful collaboration with their friend, producer (and occasional roommate) Emmanuel Ethier, the album found the band jettisoning the languorous creative process of its predecessors — out of inspired necessity. Although the members of the band had only just signed to their new label home at the time, they had firmly committed themselves to releasing a new album worth of material every two years. And the band fully intended on fulfilling their long-held commitment. Naturally, when the folks at Sub Pop were informed of this, they gently warned the band that if they wanted to release new material that fall, they needed to send the label a completed album by early early May.
With the ink barely dried on the finalized record contract, the band rushed into the studio and recorded Junior in an inspired and breakneck blitz, finishing the album in mid-April: Six of the album’s 10 songs were conceived in a single weekend — with the album closer “Bang” being written the night before they were to start recording sessions. Reportedly, Corridor’s Jonathan Robert wrote that song’s lyrics while panicking over the possibility of not being able to properly finished what they started.
Interestingly, because of the quickened nature of the Junior sessions, the album’s material features fewer expansive jams and less reliance on overdubs. Even the album’s artwork managed to come about in the nick of time. In spite of other more meticulous and gorgeous artwork they received as potential album art, Robert’s “shitty last minute” collage of an egg saying hello was the one his bandmates wound up approving. “Part of the beauty of the thing is that we didn’t have time to think about it,” the band’s Berthiaume says of the Junior recording sessions.
Album tracks like Topographe,” “Pow,” album title track “Junior” “Goldie” and Domino” manage to reveal a wide range of influences: a bit of post-punk here, a little bit of XTC over there, a little bit of The Beatles, a dash of The Beach Boys here and so on. And with some deft craftsmanship and musicianship, they manage to whimsically and mischievously create something novel out of the familiar.
Last year, I caught was luckily to catch the band live twice — a Union Pool set shortly after the release of Junior and a headlining M for Montreal set at Montreal’s Le National that was in my opinion one of the best live sets I caught that year. I recently caught up Corridor’s Dominic Berthiaume, as the band gears up for a headlining, Stateside tour that begins with a March 4, 2020 at Rough Trade, includes appearances at this year’s SXSW and their first ever shows in Florida. Adding to the growing buzz surrounding the band since the release of Junior, this tour finds the band playing at some larger venues.
In the meantime, with this Q&A with Corridor’s Berthiaume, we speak a bit about Montreal’s food and music scenes, the aforementioned Union Pool and M for Montreal sets, their influences, the upcoming tour and more. The interview is below the jump, as they say. I’ve personally been in some of the spots Berthiaume has mentioned — and they give you a unique taste of Montreal and its people. And some of them I’ll have to check out on a return trip.
For my fellow New Yorkers, if you’re interested in the upcoming Rough Trade Show, ticket information is here: https://www.roughtradenyc.com/shows/detail/389053-corridor. The rest of the tour dates are below.
Mar. 04 – Brooklyn, NY – Rough Trade NYC *
Mar. 07 – Orlando, FL – Will’s Pub *
Mar. 08 – Tampa, FL – Hooch and Hive *
Mar. 09 – Miami, FL – Shirley’s at Gramps *
Mar. 13 – San Antonio, TX – Paper Tiger *
Mar. 14 – Houston, TX – Satellite Bar *
Mar. 16 – Austin, TX – SXSW
Mar. 17 – Austin, TX – SXSW
Mar. 18 – Austin, TX – SXSW
Mar. 19 – Austin, TX – SXSW
Mar. 20 – Dallas, TX – Nasher Sculpture
Mar. 21 – Austin, TX – SXSW
Mar. 22 – Hot Springs, AR – VOV Festival *
Mar. 23 – Nashville, TN – DRKMTTR *
Mar. 24 – Atlanta, GA – 529 *
Mar. 26 – Richmond, VA – Poor Boys *
WRH: I understand that this is a hotly debated question around Montreal, but who has the best poutine and why?
Dominic Berthiaume: Well, I’m not a poutine expert, but the “Patatine” at Patati Patata is pretty bonkers. They just add few veggies and a single kalamata olive in it (lol). Close to my place there’s Le Nouveau Système restaurant that is a landmark, its poutine and hot dogs are really legit. The most famous would be La Banquise, a bit overrated, but it’s opened 24 hours. I know for fact that the best pho is at Pho Tay Ho and the best pizza at Pizza Bouquet.
WRH A lot of my readers are based in the US – an overwhelming portion of them, are based in New York. What’s one spot that New Yorkers should go to get a real taste of Montreal?
DB: It always depends of what you’re interested in. The Mile End used to have a lot of soul, like Williamsburg in Brooklyn, but recent gentrification/rent increases took most of it. Though, some places are still worth it. Fairmount or St. Viateur bagels, Kem CoBa (I’m not really into ice scream but everyone loves it), Lester’s smoked meat deli (actually better than Schwartz’s), Drawn & Quarterly Bookstore, Phonopolis Records, Casa del Popolo (bar & venue) and Snack’n Blues Bar.
WRH: Where’s your favorite place in Montreal to catch live music? Why?
DB: I guess my favorite would be Brasserie Beaubien. It’s literally a 1 min walk from my place. Great place to see up and coming bands. Service is great. Slot machines at the back. Cheap ATM fees. It’s “divey” and low key, I love it. Order a tall Laurentideand you should fit in.
WRH: Montreal has a very vibrant and interesting music scene. Is there an act from the city that should be getting more attention and love that isn’t at the moment?
DB: I think Cindy Lee are now based in Montreal. They move every 4 months lol, but their brand- new album What’s Tonight to Eternity is mind blowing. Our dear friends Chocolat released Jazz engagé last year, huge piece of rock. We just played a show with Reviews, they’re great too. You’ll hear about Population II pretty soon since they will release an album on an American label later this year, be sure to check them out. The list could go on and on.
WRH: For a band who sings and writes completely in French, Corridor has received quite a bit of attention in the States and elsewhere. How does that feel? Do you feel any pressure to start writing songs in English?
DB: It’s special to see that our band is getting this attention in the States, quite unusual I’d say. It’s cool though. If we ever write in English it will most probably suck, so we won’t go there.
WRH: A musician couple I know saw you in Philadelphia during your Stateside tour last year. They raved about that set, at one point saying that it was the best show they saw all year. I saw the and for the first time, the following night at Union Pool. After the show, I had a spirited conversation about the show, and it got into this argument about the influences we thought we heard in your sound. They mentioned Stereolab and Slowdive. I mentioned XTC and The Beatles. We went back and forth on it for a while. So, we need this debate settled: Who are your influences?
DB: All of the above and none of them at the same time. We started this band after listening to too much Sonic Youth and Women. Then we moved on finding our own sound. I think Supermercado and Junior sound like Corridor records. I personally didn’t know Stereolab, Slowdive and XTC back when we started to write songs, so none of you were right in the argument ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
WRH: Last November, I caught the band play what was the one of the best sets of M for Montreal, and one of the best sets I caught all year. The Le National set just had a much different energy than the Brooklyn one. Some of being that it was a hometown show in front of longtime fans, friends and family, which gave it this triumphant, local heroes have finally come home sort of feel to me. Everyone in the audience knew every single song and they were desperate for more in a way that doesn’t seem to happen much in New York. There’s something about the building, too; it has an important place in the city’s culture and historical and you can feel it everywhere. How did it feel to one of the headlining acts of M for Montreal? And how was it like to play at Le National in front of the hometown crowd?
DB: The Union Pool show was a little bit tricky. It was the second time we were actually playing the new Junior material live, so we were all focused on playing the right thing. It was less spontaneous than what it became by the time we played at Le National. Playing in that venue was kinda insane. I saw Deerhunter, Ariel Pink, Thee Oh Sees and so many other great acts perform there. It felt like we’ve accomplished something. I think that it was the fifth time we played M for Montreal, being one of the “headlining acts” felt good too. After all, we’re starting to become some kind of “veteran band” in our hometown, which I don’t know if it’s good or bad because old bands usually suck.
WRH: Your latest album Junior found the band adopting a completely different creative processor – out of necessity. According to press notes, you signed to Sub Pop and you had every intention of continuing your commitment of releasing a new album worth of material every two years. And in order to do so, your new label told that in order for you to continue that commitment, you needed to submit a completed album by May. The ink’s barely dried on the contract and you run into the studio to furiously write and record material. Was there any point in which you felt like maybe you weren’t going to make your deadline – or where you maybe regretted being so firm in your commitment?
DB: I think our biggest regret is that we toured for two weeks in the U.S while we were in the middle of the recording/editing/mixing process. The tour was fun, but kinda exhausting and frustrating because all we had in mind was finishing that album. When we came back from this tour, we had a very short amount of time to actually finish it. Now I feel that we should’ve taken this “tour time” to work on the album instead. Still happy with what came out of it, but I don’t know. The first six months of 2019 were very intense. Being in a band is a constant “hit or miss” experience, gotta live with your good and bad decisions and move forward.
WRH: With the time crunch involved in the writing and recording of Junior, when did you know that you had finished material? Would you return to such a creative process?
DB: By the time the Sub Pop contract was inked, we had four finished song and a lot of incomplete ideas. We took a month to write new songs, practice and fine tune them. Then we just played all of the finished and “almost” finished songs to our producer Emmanuel Ethier and he helped us select which ones we would record in the studio the next month. Not sure if we would return to such creative process. We like to try new things. I don’t know what we’ll do next, but I’m pretty sure we’ll take more time to write the fourth album and return with something fresh.
The band features longtime best friends Dominic Berthiaume (vocals, bass) and Jonathan Robert (vocals, guitar, synths). To me Junior’s material and your live show seems to reflect that sort of deep and abiding closeness – that sort of unwritten and unspoken connection really shines between the duo and the rest of the band. How is like to write, record and perform with your best friend?
DB: We’ve had punk and hardcore bands together. I think some of the live energy still come from there. Performing live is all about fun, I think the moment we won’t be enjoying ourselves on stage we’ll just stop playing shows. I personally never had a band without Jonathan, so writing, recording and performing music with my best friend is kinda all I know. It’s been great, I’d say we agree on most of the things, when we don’t, the other guys settle it. Corridor is democratic, the majority always wins.
WRH: Corridor is about to embark on a Stateside tour, that will include a March 4th stop at Rough Trade. You’re starting to play larger venues on this run, and it feels like there’s some serious momentum surrounding the band. How does that feel? And what should we expect on this run?
DB: Since last fall we’ve added new live member Samuel Gougoux, it’s been great to rework some of the older songs with him. Hopefully we will play a different set from what we played at Union Pool; I should keep track of what we play in the cities we tour lol. I guess playing in larger venues is cool, sound systems are usually better quality and it makes Miguel (our sound engineer) happy. I like when Miguel is happy. We’ll tour Florida for the first time, I’m always excited when we play places we’ve never been before. Escaping to the south from a winter month in Montreal is pretty awesome too.
WRH: After you finish this run of tour dates, what’s next?
DB: Some rest in April. More runs of tour dates in May, June, July and August and maybe more in the fall. 2020 will be a touring year. Hopefully we’ll write some new stuff between tours. We’ll see how it goes.