Genre: Alt-Country, Songwriter
Li’l Andy was born in Wakefield, Quebec, a small town on the Gatineau River famous for its old-fashioned steam train that runs along the village’s main street. “My mom used to let me jump on it when it was moving, ride it for around a kilometer, and then pick me up at the other end of town,” says the Montreal-based country songwriter. “It wasn’t exactly the safest thing, but I got to pretend I was a hobo riding the rails at a young age.” That early obsession with trains and the mythic West is in full evidence on While the Engines Burn, albeit now with a dark twist. The album is suffused with a gothic country atmosphere, inspired by stories of 19th-century North America—accounts of the hardship and violence done during Canada’s settlement and expansion westward. “Growing up listening to country music, I always loved the train songs,” says the 31-year-old singer. “Hank Williams, Johnny Cash—they all have their songs about jumping on boxcars or hearing lonesome whistles. But I began to wonder about the dark side of that big story. So the album became about trains, factories, cars and all the engines of Progress. And all the beautiful things that get railroaded out of the way on our big march forward.”
The album builds on the mysterious, brooding country sound Andy perfected on 2011’s, All Who Thirst Come to the Waters, which lead The Village Voice to proclaim: “This is Roots-based Americana that actually deserves to be made.” But the harsh stories that the songs tell meant that a more rugged and rocking sound was needed, which led Andy to collaborate for the first time with a producer, Plants and Animals frontman, Warren C. Spicer.
Backed by his regular band of pedal steel virtuoso Joe Grass (Patrick Watson, Marie-Pierre Arthur), drummer Ben Caissie (Daniel Bélanger), bassist Hans Bernhard (Leif Vollebekk, Colin Stetson), and avant-garde composer and violinist Joshua Zubot (Sam Shalabi, Ratchet Orchestra), the group spent 10 dizzying days in the studio, recording in Andy’s insisted-upon antiquated method: live-off-the-floor without even vocal overdubs, all the musicians crowded into one room, to two-inch tape—a set up more commonly associated with record production of the 1940s to today’s studio trickery.
“It just seemed fitting that a bunch of songs warning against destructive technology be recorded in such a way that thumbs its nose at modern technology itself. This is music. It’s not about being in total control; it’s about the joy of letting things get out of control.”
Li’l Andy has earned a reputation as Canada’s foremost practitioner of country music for the thinking man, having released four full-length albums of his dark and often witty songwriting in the past eight years. 2011’s All Who Thirst Come to the Waters was nominated for both Best Folk/Country album at the Quebec Independent Music Awards (GAMIQ) and Best Album at the Montreal Independent Music Awards. He has appeared at CMJ, the Edmonton Folk Festival, SXSW, Canadian Music Week, and the Halifax Pop Explosion, performing on bills with Steve Earle, Neko Case, Nick Cave, Calexico and Ramblin’ Jack Elliott.