It was 30 years ago, but Andrea McColeman still remembers what Lucie Desaulniers was wearing the first time they got together to jam: neon leggings and a fitness headband (à la Olivia Newton John) propping up her permed ‘do.
All Desaulniers recalls about their ’90s musical inauguration, was that she was was incredibly nervous. Desaulniers may have had the jitters, but it wasn’t apparent to anybody else in that room.
“I remember the first time I heard Lucie sing,” McColeman says. “Our mouths dropped open and we went, wow, can she sing! We hadn’t been around anyone who could sing like that.”
For Desaulniers, the musical attraction was mutual.
“Once I heard Andrea play, I knew I was in good hands.”
Fast forward to today, and these well-established, seasoned Yukon musicians are still making music together. It seems not much has changed over the years, though Desaulniers’ hair is noticeably straighter.
Desaulniers grew up in a musical and performing arts family in Manitoba, so playing music is a tradition she naturally carried on. She says she was always shy, but music helped bring her out of her shell. As a child, she sang in trios and choirs with her rhythmic relatives, and started crooning to bar crowds when she was 14.
“It was in my blood,” Desaulniers says. She went on to study voice, piano and guitar at The Royal Conservatory in Toronto, but was deterred from playing instruments by a punitive professor’s unorthodox approach to teaching.
“She would hit my fingers with sticks and stuff, so I learned to hate playing instruments,” Desaulniers says with a laugh. “But I continued on with voice.”
This soulful songstress’ path lead her north in 1985 to Faro and shortly after, she landed her first gig as the lead in the musical Fiddler on the Roof. She sang in the well-known vaudeville show The Frantic Follies for two seasons and later started a country band with conductor, musician and friend, Rachel Grantham.
It was Desaulniers’ thirst to hit the festival circuit that lead her to put a band call-out advertisement in the local paper, which is how she came to meet McColeman.
Born in a small town in northern Ontario, McColeman’s musical path looked a little different. She had no musical influence in her family except for her grandmother, who McColeman describes as a brilliant piano player.
“She couldn’t read music, but she could play all the songs of the day,” McColeman says. “She was a bit of a… savant that way. Maybe I got the bug from her.”
Like Desaulniers, McColeman says she was quite shy, but after her dad sent her off to summer music school in Grade 6, all she wanted to do was make bands. She learned how to play drums in high school, and then went on to complete a Bachelor of Music in percussion performance at Wilfrid Laurier University in Waterloo.
“All I wanted to do was to play in a cover band in crappy, northern Ontario bars,” says McColeman, laughing at her lofty, youthful goals.
As it turns out, McColeman skipped the grungy bar scene, and ended up playing in a symphony orchestra instead. She later went to Humber College in Toronto to study jazz piano. She moved to the Yukon in 1990, and, like Desaulniers, got her big northern break through the thriving Whitehorse theatre scene after she was asked to play music for a play.
“Thank you Whitehorse theatre scene!” McColeman and Desaulniers unanimously praise.
After their serendipitous first jam, the pair played together for one year in Mélange, an 11-piece jazz fusion band. The duo also played weekly at the old Loose Moose café, which is now the Legends Smokehouse and Grill.
Their music took a new twist when McColeman bought an accordion from a consignment shop. McColeman was intrigued by the antique squeezebox she had acquired, and wondered what type of music she might play with it. Her aha moment came while listening to cajun and zydeco world music cassettes. She shared her inspiration with Desaulniers, and this style of French rhythm and blues became the driving force behind their band, Inconnu.
The five piece bilingual band featured Desaulniers as lead singer-songwriter and McColeman as accordion player and percussionist. The band has recorded two albums and played the Canadian summer festival circuit for more than 10 years from 1990 to 2001. Their first hit single, “Jigi Dou,” featured Desaulniers’ songwriting.
From 2001 to 2011, the dynamic duo went separate ways, with Desaulniers moving across country to study counselling in New Brunswick, and McColeman starting a family here in the Yukon.
Despite their busy lives and the many miles between them, both women continued their musical development, especially in the jazz genre. Desaulniers facilitated a vocal meditation group, played weekly gigs with fellow jazz musicians and played jazz regularly at a beach resort in Moncton.
McColeman credits her jazz advancement to Jazz Yukon and individuals like saxophonist Duncan Sinclair.
“We have amazing opportunities to learn through masters with Jazz Yukon,” McColeman says. “We are so lucky.”
Fast forward six years, and these longtime friends and musicians are now back it again. Though the pair are busy personally and musically – Desaulniers is a family and marriage counsellor and McColeman is a private teacher and elementary school music teacher – they always make time for their craft.
McColeman and Desaulniers perform as a duo playing mostly covers, and their most recent endeavour, as of 2016, is an R&B and bossa nova band called Lucie D and the Immortals, alongside fellow musicians Paul Lucas, Lonnie Powell, Paul Bergman and Olivier de Colombel.
The fusion band have a few summer shows lined up. will be playing a house concert for 85 people on June 10th, as well as shows in Haines Junction this summer. They will also be putting on a songwriting retreat at a cabin on Tagish Lake from May 15th to 22nd, where they will write their own material and hopefully, record a CD afterwards.
“Lucie always has a project, a vision and a plan. It’s something I’m jealous of,” McColeman says.
“I can say that I always trust that Andrea is going to be there and that she is going to second guess what I’m about to do,” Desaulniers says. “She is the most attentive side person that I have ever met and I won’t play with anybody else. We have our differences, but I always know that she is there. That helps me do what I need to do, in confidence.”
“We’ve both become better musicians and our repertoire is huge now!” McColeman says. “It’s a thick binder, so if you want to hire us, we’re good for just about anything you can imagine.”
When asked what the future holds for their musical partnership, the pair laugh.
“We’ll be in the old folks’ home playing music together,” McColeman says with a laugh.
“You don’t stop playing music, you hopefully just get better the older you get,” Desaulniers says. “If there are good musicians around, it’s not something you give up.” For more information about upcoming events you can contact Lucie D and the Immortals through their Facebook page.