Despite The Brooks’ growing reputation, it still wouldn’t be unfair to qualify the band as “Montréal’s best kept secret”.
Founded by renowned musicians with eclectic backgrounds – over the years, the band’s eight members have played with the likes of Yann Perreau, Fred Fortin, Yanick Rieu, Kroy and… Michael Jackson! – their soul-funk roots are rapidly becoming a very serious endeavour, one whose musical identity is like a breath of fresh air over the city.
“It’s been many, many years now that Montréal has renowned for its indie-folk-rock bands; but for everyone else, who need a break from that, there’s The Brooks,” laughs Alexandre Lapointe, bass player and unofficial leader of the gang of merry pranksters.
The best way to discover The Brooks is during one of their “Soul Therapy” events at Dièze Onze. This small Plateau Mont-Royal club is the band’s birthplace, and the place where they’re re-born each week, playing on Wednesdays for a capacity, pumped-up crowd that keeps on growing. Their success has caused them to look for another, bigger venue, but The Brooks still prefer the unique intimacy of Dièze Onze. “Initially, the idea was a three-month residency with a revolving cast of singers, but I think we ended up having a little too much fun doing what we do ourselves, because we’re going to celebrate our third anniversary, soon!” says Lapointe.
Being on stage also had a transformative effect on the original project, which was much more modest and anonymous. “We’re all session musicians working on a ton of different projects, so it’s not always easy to get everyone together,” Lapointe admits. “Initially, we thought we’d go into the studio and concentrate on instrumental tracks for the movies (the band has notably scored Stéphane Lapointe’s Maîtres du suspense) or videogames. Even recording an album wasn’t part of the plan.” But the pieces of the puzzle slowly fell into place. The band took to the stage, until they comprised eight pieces, including a groovy, charismatic character that naturally ended up on the mic.
Among the many vocalists with whom The Brooks shared the Dièze Onze stage in the early days was Alan Prater – who, besides being a solid singer, has played trumpet and trombone in Michael Jackson’s live band. A frequent collaborator at first, Prater became a full-fledged member of the band and a crucial component of their most recent album, the contagiously funky Pain and Bliss. And although he’s collaborated with Valaire on their recent Oobopopop, his loyalty to The Brooks is total. “At first, Alan was mainly supposed to do brass, but he quickly started singing melodies, and it clicked immediately,” says Lapointe. “He brings so much to the table through his energy, his stories of the good ol’ days, but also with his lyrics that are sometimes very personal. ‘Mama,’ for example, really is inspired by his mom.”
The maternity theme – omnipresent in the band’s day-to-day dealings, since three of the members recently became fathers – is also reflected on the album cover, which depicts a mother and child. The drawing style of the cover illustration is reminiscent of certain Afrobeat albums of the ‘70s; The Brooks tapped Nigerian artist Lemi Ghariokwu, who was behind many Fela Kuti album covers – and also a musician whose influence on the band rests side by side with Stax and Motown.
“You know, we’re not just a bunch of musicians, we’re also music-loving friends; we have vinyl evenings where each of us brings two or three records and we spend hours playing music for each other,” Lapointe explains. “Even though we do all kinds of musical styles professionally, we never had to discuss the kind of music we were going to do together; we just started jamming and that’s what came out, as naturally as can be.”