The Seattle label Sub Pop Records hit it big in the 1980s by signing grunge acts such as Nirvana and Soundgarden. It continued to thrive by releasing well-curated indie-rock acts that shape the genre, including the Shins and Sleater-Kinney. But it was only last year when the label signed its first Francophone band: the Montreal-based Corridor, which plays jangly indie-pop rock with emotionally weighted lyrics that sound all the more profound in French.
The band's bassist and vocalist, Dominic Berthiaume, isn't sure non-French speakers are automatically into the songs' foreign-language lyrics, but he says the music appears to be inspiring interest in his native tongue. "Some Americans really like our music and it makes them want to learn a little bit of French, apparently," he reports, admitting all the same that "it’s hard to make crowds sing along during a Corridor set, even for French-speaking ones. We’re not an anthemic band, and it’s all right that way."
Some songs on Corridor's first Sub Pop release (and the band's third), Junior, do offer fairly upbeat, anthemic energy, though. The bandmates — which in addition to Berthiaume are guitarist Julian Perreault, singer Jonathan Robert, drummer Julien Bakvis, and newest member Samuel Gougoux (also on drums) — are all friends who are Montreal-based. Berthiaume rooms with the producer of the group's three albums, Emmanuel Ethier, whose father Pierre is "Montreal’s Francophone-scene mascot," a guy in his 70s who crowd-surfed at Corridor's fifth-anniversary show.
Corridor's members are gifted beyond their musical interests. Robert works in animation and illustration and shapes the band's aesthetic, Perreault works in environmental design, and Berthiaume works sometimes as a music journalist and photographer who contributed to Vice Quebec.
"We mostly bring our outside talents to contribute to the band — especially Jonathan, who did all of our album artwork, three music videos, T-shirt designs, and a bunch of tour posters," explains Berthiaume (meaning everything but the photography, which is his specialty.) "Julien also has a screenprinting workshop, so he’s been printing all of the T-shirts we sell while on tour. And Julian is the handyman of the band: He works in a design workshop, so he knows how to handle the tools." Perreault's craftsmanship receives a cameo in the form of a tree stand that appears in the group's "Coup d’épée" video. And Gougoux uses a large custom floor-tom stand that Perreault made.
As far as his how his journalism gig crosses over to (or contrasts with) his work as a performer, Berthiaume says he steers clear of reviewing other acts. "I don’t feel like I’m in the position to criticize the work of other bands even if I have a strong opinion on it — it doesn’t feel right," he explains. By the same token, he feels more than comfortable profiling bands and conducting interviews. "As a performer who gets to answer a lot of questions, I have this advantage of kinda knowing what is a good or a bad question. For example, a bad music journalist will ask you, 'What are your influences?' Or, 'Why did you pick this band name?'" He admits his preference is to work as a performer.
The bandmates have a loose goal of releasing an album every two years, and they're working on new music despite a busy tour schedule since Junior dropped in October.
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Though they spend a lot of time on the road, their touring stories are pretty tame, consisting of mostly inside jokes with other bands. "Sometimes when we tour the U.S, we’re having fun at saying things out loud in French that we wouldn’t say in Montreal because people don’t understand," Berthiaume says. "We also like to laugh at Julien because he’s always the one buying hot dogs at gas stations, which is pretty gross to us. It seems like he doesn’t mind. In the end, I think he only bought two or three hot dogs while on tour, but we’re making it a thing."
One hopes there'll be a hot-dog stand in Wynwood when the group makes its South Florida debut at Gramps next Monday, March 9. While Corridor enjoys a break from the Montreal winter, concertgoers can dust off their old French-English dictionaries and sway to music that's genuinely hard not to like.
Just don't ask the guys what their influences are or where they came up with the name "Corridor."
Corridor, Deeper, and Politics of Jam. 8 p.m. Monday, March 9, at Gramps, 176 NW 24th St., Miami; gramps.com. Tickets cost $10.