If, one day, you happen to be driving through the village of Neuville, the “Corn Capital” located on the north shore of the St. Lawrence River just west of Québec City, make sure you drop by Médé Langlois’ farm and visit his store, L’Économusée de la conserverie. As the name suggests, this is a cannery where you can buy traditional preserves made according to “150-year old recipes.” Vegetables have been growing on his land for the past 350 years, and the Langlois farm is one of the oldest still operating in Canada. Warning: Médé, whose family members have been proud vegetable and milk producers for eleven generations, is also a punk musician.
“Y’know, the ancestors who used to live around here in the old days played folk music,” says the lead singer and guitarist of the “punklore” group Carotté, who crushed it on the stage of L’Astral on June 9, 2017, as part of a FrancoFolies de Montréal double-bill, shared with the Orloge Simard “biological” band. “I just grew up surrounded by folk music. There has always been folk music here. The whole village used to gather here in the family home kitchen, and they all played folk music, at least once a week. But later on, in high school with my buddies, we used to listen to a lot of punk music.”
Médé had gotten up at 4:30 in the morning, as he does every day to milk the cows, work in the fields, and look after his store. But at the other end of the phone line, at noon, he still sounds full of vim and vigour, and willing to share lots of stories about music, his cows (“Do they like punk music? Well, they don’t have much choice, we practice in the barn!”) or the farming life. Here’s the story of the birth of Carotté and the release of their first album, Punklore et Trashdition (a musical “preserve,” as it were) back in 2015.
“After opening the Économusée store, I decided to get a spot in the new farmer’s market that had opened in Deschambault, not far from here,” says Langlois. “During the day, we sold vegetables while musicians entertained the customers – just a small traditional music group of three musicians. And then, at the end of the day, we would join the musicians for a glass of beer or rum, and at some point them, I asked them, ‘Why don’t we all form a band together?’ I’ve got two friends who play punk music. So the three of you and the three of us, half punk and half folk, we can blend it together. It’s not been done too often here – we remember Groovy Aardvark, who recorded ‘Boisson d’avril’ with Yves Lambert, but it’s also been done by Irish musicians (The Pogues) and bands from Brittany in the North of France (Soldat Louis, Matmatah, Les Ramoneurs de menhirs).”
That’s how Carotté and its original “punklore” repertoire were born. “We write all our lyrics together, otherwise, Étienne, our violinist, does it – he’s pretty good at it,” says Langlois. They also play traditional songs like Oscar Thiffault’s hugely famous “Tape la bizoune.” “Writing new material is fine, but what’s more important is to keep alive folk tunes and melodies such as this song that Madame Louise used to sing and that we’ve been performing,” says Langlois.
Old tunes, but played with today’s energy, and a sense of celebration. “It makes a great mix. We have to preserve those,“ he says, “because folklore is like our musical soil. It’s like when I’m sowing my cucumber seeds in Neuville – I think there may only be three or four [of us farmers] in the world owning these small seeds and sowing these particular cucumbers, so it’s important for me to keep this thing going.
“Because, you know, for me, music and agriculture go hand in hand,” the singing farmer insists. Really? “When I enter the field to plant [my vegetables], It’s like I am on my way to make new songs. And when we open the store each morning, it’s like we’re doing a soundcheck. And the minute the people, the customers come in, the show is on!”
Langlois also draws anthropological links between traditional and punk music, “two musical styles that were on the fringe of society and were forms of protest,” he says. “La Bolduc [Mary Travers], for instance, exposed things in her songs, and we’re doing it too.
“Because we farmers, we have lots of things to expose,” he adds, “but we’re putting in 100-hour weeks, seven days a week. I don’t have time to go to Parliament Hill to be part of a demonstration and denounce all that’s not working in agriculture – because Québec agriculture is really sick right now.” The farmer adds that he still finds the time to make music because it’s necessary. Vital. “If I don’t make music, I can’t be a farmer. And if there is no farming, there is no music.”
The band’s début album already contained a blend of moods, from the festive spirit of Oscar Thiffault’s irresistible song, to protest songs such as “Souffrance”: “I live in a country that’s pretty rotten… It reflects our concerns, stories like that of the small cheese-maker who’s getting trampled on.”
Langlois is particularly concerned about the path of the Energy East Pipeline, “which will pass through my land,” he says – land originally plowed by his family’s first North American ancestor, François Langlois, who sailed across the Atlantic to New France in 1667, settled in Neuville, and created a business that will be the topic of a major report this fall as part of Radio-Canada’s La Semaine verte television series. The idea of allowing oil to flow across this ancestral land is enough to stir up anybody’s inner punk. “There is so much to protest again in agriculture,” says Langlois, “and since most farmers don’t have access to a mic and a stage, we’re going to do it on their behalf.”
Carotté will perform in local festivals and agricultural fairs throughout the summer, with its own mixture of joyful and angry music. New songs will be added to the band’s repertoire in preparation for a new album to be released in 2018. The Ferme Langlois et Fils (Chez Médé) cannery is open from Wednesday to Sunday in June, and every day from July to October.