Getting to the Roots

Madison Violet
Madison Violet singer- songwriters Brenley MacEachern (left) and Lisa MacIsaac will be onstage in Atlin this weekend PHOTO: Rob Waymen

What has two heads and two hearts, along with banjo, fiddle, mandolin, upright bass and catchy harmonies?

Here’s a hint: it will grace the stage at this weekend’s Atlin Arts and Music Festival with a unique mix of roots-y folk and bluegrass.

The answer is Madison Violet, an internationally acclaimed two-woman project featuring Canadian singer-songwriters Brenley MacEachern and Lisa MacIsaac.

With three albums under their belts and another due to be released soon, guitarist MacEachern and fiddler MacIsaac are no strangers to the stage. In fact, they are building their Atlin visit into a tightly-packed schedule, just a few days after returning from Europe.

So what can audiences expect from this dynamic duo?

“I’d say we’re kind of Americana, singer-songwriter, and very roots-oriented music,” MacIsaac explains in a phone interview.

“We started about 12 years ago as a band called Madviolet, and then about three or four years ago, we decided to extend Mad to Madison. It seemed to better represent who we are.”

Just as the duo’s name has evolved, so has Madison Violet’s music. Their first album, Worry the Jury, was nominated for two East Coast Music Awards – Best New Group and Pop Album of the Year.

In contrast, their second album was more folk and country-focused, garnering nominations for Folk Album of the Year and Best Group Recording.

“The first two albums we recorded in London with John Reynolds, who is known for his work with Sinead O’Connor and U2,” MacIsaac says.

“With that one [Worry the Jury], we had the songs written but we didn’t have a vibe or a sound, so we ended up with this polished pop sound and resulted in the first album being more pop-oriented.”

Their second album, Caravan, leaned more toward a roots-rock feel, with more strings and less electronics. It eventually set the tone for the rest of their work.

While the first two albums were successful, MacIsaac says she and MacEachern were having a hard time reproducing the albums’ sound when playing live. Their search for the right sound and natural musical progression eventually brought them back home.

“For the third album, No Fool For Trying, we came to Canada. We’d been on the road and had honed our musical style, which was definitely much rootsier and more bluegrass, so we got together in Toronto with producer Les Cooper,” MacIsaac explains.

“There’s lots more roots, bluegrass, banjo, and upright bass … we made it so that it was an album that we were better able to reproduce live as a duo or trio. We’ve now finished our fourth album; right now we’re in the mixing stage,” she adds.

“Stylistically, it’s got a bit more fiddle this time around, more alt-country and Americana. Lyrically, No Fool For Trying was a sadder album; it dealt a lot with loss because, during the writing of the album, Brenley lost her brother.”

Their upcoming album deals more with rebirth, growth and changes.

“Lyrically, I find it’s a bit more positive. The banjo helps too,” MacIsaac laughs.

“As songwriters, we try to put on the best show we can. We tell stories and talk a lot about our show and the road. There will be some ballads, and lots of storytelling, we may pull out the odd funny joke here and there; we really hope that the audience members feel like they know us at the end of the show.”

While Madison Violet is well-travelled, the two have never had the chance to visit the Yukon, something Cape Bretoner MacIsaac is eager to see remedied.

“I’ve seen a lot of Canada,” she says, “but this is going to be pretty special, to see an area that not a lot of Canadians get to go to. I think everyone should experience that.”

Madison Violet will perform on the Atlin mainstage in Tarahne Park on Friday, July 8 at 9:15 pm. More information is available at

Willow Gamberg is a Whitehorse student who is studying English and Journalism at Vancouver Island University in Nanaimo, BC

Willow Gamberg is a former What’s Up Yukon intern who writes about music and other arts-related topics.

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