LeMeow’s Busting Out

By Chrissy Steinbock — Thu, 23/06/2016 - 17:47

If you like your tunes full of sass and soul, snappy backbeat grooves and choruses you want to belt like no one’s listening, it’s time to check out LeMeow, the freshest new soul band out of Ottawa.

LeMeow is the creation of powerhouse vocalist Gin Bourgeois and groove-savvy bassist about town James Rooke. On Friday June 24, LeMeow is set to release their first full-length titled York St., at the Rainbow Bistro. The show kicks off of a full summer of high profile gigs including appearances at the Ottawa Jazz Festival, Bluesfest and the Blacksheep Inn.

We got a preview of York St. and the official word is LeMeow is a band that belongs on your summer playlist. It’s an impressive debut featuring sweet hooks, solid grooves, and slick radio-ready production. Standout tracks include the very sassy “That’s my man” with its infectious backbeat and wink to the Beatles, the breezy sing along “I got you,” and the sticky catchy chorus of “Beg, borrow or steal.” There’s some nice moody cuts too like "Evening Blues" and “Baddest Dream.” And I’d be remiss not to shout out “Mr. Caulfield” just because I’d never expect to hear such a sing-able take on Catcher in the Rye.

I got in touch with James Rooke to learn more about LeMeow, the new record and secret weapons of the musical kind.

The first thing that catches your ear is Gin’s one-of-a-kind vocals that glide from buttery smooth to gutsy swagger with ease. More than technical chops though it’s her clear-eyed conviction and heaps of soul that’ll pull you in. “My big thing when I met her was oh my god, this is my secret weapon. Everybody has to hear her sing now,” James says. “She always sang old jazz, like Peggy Lee and all those really traditional thirties and forties female singers. She used to do blues jams and jazz standards. That was some of the stuff we were singing eight years ago and I remember even then being like whoa, I’ve never heard anyone sing like that.”

Asked about their influences James mentions the Beatles and Motown though they also bring their years of playing in blues circles to the table. Gin and James met through a Craiglist ad - musicians seeking musicians. She had been singing in blues circles and he was playing full-time as a session bassist with various acts. They met up at James’ York st. apartment with various musicians just to play for the hell of it, some Motown covers here, a few Blues standards there, and though the band never launched, there was a spark. Years went by as they do until one day Gin and James re-connected. She’d just got a grant  for some demos and reached out to see if he’d be interested in playing on them. One thing lead to another and LeMeow was born.

From their FACTOR-funded full length to the string of high-profile shows they’ve lined up in the coming months, it might be tempting to call their early success some kind of beginners’ luck but in truth, it was just a whole lot of talent, hustle and hard-won lessons. “You learn a lot from mistakes over the years. I’ve been indie bands now for about ten years and each one dissolves from a power struggle or whatever and we both learned a lot of stuff so I feel like the trial and error shaves years off the process.” Even the decision to work with producer Eric Eggleston (Johnny Hall Productions) was something that came from experience on the local scene. James knew Eggleston from working with him in his other bands Ilveykyo and Dang Guilty.

Below is an excerpt from our conversation (edited for length and clarity)

Couch Assassin: What’s the story behind the band name?
James Rooke: Gin and I, when we reconnected she had a couple of demos of songs she wrote and she actually got a Factor grant and she reached out to me and said ‘Hey, I got this grant and I’ve got these songs. Can you help me out?’ We did three songs and then it’s like well, what are going to call this? She proposed a partnership and we were brainstorming and drinking beers and coming up with all these band names and then eventually I just said LeMeow. It’s from the Peppy Lepew skits in Looney Tunes. I sort of said it jokingly but Gin really liked it and talked me into it. It feels natural now.

CA: It’s a very sassy sound. What do you do to get into that kind of mood?
JR: For Gin I think the sass just comes naturally but normally a bourbon on ice might help the situation.

CA: What’s it like being a couple and a band, is it ever a challenge?
JR: It is overall because there’s only so many hours but it also provides this whole extra layer of simplicity if that makes sense. I mean it removes a lot of the layers of the relationships I’ve had with other musicians and the dynamic I’ve had with other groups. A good thing about us is we have these really opposite skills set and they obviously blend together really well. Like I am not good at doing government grant paperwork but I have a network of booking connections so I handle other aspects of the business.

CA: Do you have a favorite track on it on the record?
For me I would say “I’ll write you.” That was a song I wrote a few years back. I hate singing and I’ve always dreamt of having this woman sing my songs for me and when we were demo-ing it because we knew we were going to do it in the studio Gin just hit it out of the park and I was like ah, it’s just like I always envisioned. I’m really happy with how that whole thing turned out. It’s been playing in my head for years and it sounds pretty much like I imagined it would.

CA: How does nostalgia figure into your music?
That clean pop sound on the album is by design and a lot of that is our producer Eric Eggleston. Johnny Hall productions is his company and he studied with the guy who did all the tones on Michael Jackson albums, the engineering side of things like how you choose to mic stuff up and the way you chose to make the drums sound. The product you hear was usually me wanting to be more traditional and having that modern influence. The song “I’ll write you” was this middle ground where it could be a traditional song in my opinion but it’s got some little sneaky things in there so it doesn’t literally sound like an old one.  “Second hand love” is sort of like that as well.

CA: What inspired the album title?
We were hitting the studio with songs before we even decided we were a band, let alone had a band name, and we were like holy crap, it’s almost done what are going to call it? and York st. was turning out to be one of my favourite songs on the album. I’m really happy with the horns and all that stuff. I did the trombone parts and that felt really dorky and it reminded me of high school. The song was about this apartment that I lived in for eight years in my twenties and you’re a full time musician and you’re up all night and there’s all kind of shenanigans on York st. and all kinds of bums and awesome parties and concerts. York st. seemed like a fitting title. It brought us together. When we saw each other three years ago for the first time in years it was at a pub on York st. Everything just pointed to York st.

CA: At the end of the day why do you make music?
JR: I would say playing music. Literally holding an instrument and making noise. With the way you’re supposed to run an independent band a lot of our time is not performing at a show. We’re either booking shows or doing paperwork or I’m doing photoshop crap or we’re plugging something or we’re social media-ing. The actual holding an instrument and you don’t have to use words and there’s this different level of communication, I don’t know I just wish I could play my instrument all day and not have to ever have to worry about anything else. It goes back to the necessary evil thing like if we’re not social media-ing then how is somebody going to know we have a new video or whatever but if we could we would be making actual music all day.

Make a place for LeMeow in your summer plans.

LeMeow York St. Release show
Friday, June 24
Rainbow Bistro 9:30pm doors 10pm show
$10 at the door

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