Creating little worlds

Lake Superior State University — longstanding arbiter of taste and go-to state university for word-banishing — declared the word “epic” banned for 2011. Along with “viral,” “fail” and “Facebook” as a verb, “epic” is on their list for overused and otherwise “lame” phrases that should be retired.

This is going to be a challenge then, because Modern Myths — the debut album of Winnipeg’s Les Jupes — is big; one imagines it being performed in marble halls. Les Jupes sits comfortably alongside a crop of bands like Frightened Rabbit, Interpol and Arcade Fire, playing monumental indie rock that shows sensitive milquetoast troubadours what’s what.

The band is led by Michael Petkau Falk’s booming baritone with David Schellenberg of The Playing Cards and Cannon Bros., Kelly Beaton of All Of Your Friends and Adam Klassen. While this is Les Jupes’ first record, Petkau Falk has been keeping busy as a musician, producer and engineer in the city for years, as well as being the artistic director of the West End Cultural Centre. He’s also the engine behind the Record of the Week Club and local music collective/record label Head in the Sand.

Les Jupes, however, is a different kind of project for Petkau Falk. “I have a lot of ownership over this,” he said. “It’s taken a long time to really get the pieces together, to get a solid line up and get the album done. Part of that is I’ve been really busy working with a whole lot of other people. But I’m really excited to make my own records again and work with people.”

“I don’t like simple romance songs,” said Petkau Falk. “I don’t like generic indie stuff. So the songs that come out, I want them to be meaningful. I want them to reflect not just on me, but they’re sort of character driven — for each song to be their own little world. I try to create a little world for each song and the characters that are in it.”

While each song may have a distinct perspective, the album remains cohesive. Its glue is a spacey, insistent tone. For that, Petkau Falk credits Marcus Paquin, producer and engineer who also worked on Arcade Fire’s The Suburbs. “It could have sounded like ten totally different bands, potentially. But [Paquin] was really great and weaving some threads through things. Full marks for him.”

So there’s another connection to the Arcade Fire, many of whose songs sound like battle hymns for wars they have already won: sweeping, elated, easy to get caught up in.
For Petkau Falk, however, the ambition applies to more than just the sound of the record. “I have high expectations for myself so I wanted to make a record that could hold its own internationally — something that people could come to in the States or in Europe and not have it sound like just a local band. I wanted the record to sound like a record — a work in and of itself.”

The album release party for Modern Myths is at the new Plug In Institute of Contemporary Art. Plug In’s grand, urban space is a well-suited venue — one that fits the feel of the record. “I always loved the old gallery, and the new gallery is an awesome improvement,” said Petkau Falk. “It’s going to be a good party.”

Despite his busy schedule, Winnipeg can expect more from Les Jupes. “We’ve already started jamming out some of the ideas for the next bunch of songs. Whenever this record kind of winds itself down, we’ll start making the next one.”

“This is what I want to do, right? More than anything else — to be able to play music on a stage that the people that I’m playing with, and hopefully the audience, find interesting and enjoyable. That’s pretty much the best thing there is.”

Modern Myths was released Jan 11. Les Jupes’ release party for the album is Jan. 15, 2011 at the Plug In Institute of Contemporary Art.