• Stephanie O’Hanley

Meet West Island young folk band Caribou Stew


Caribou Stew band members, from left to right, Ben Vallée, Jared Otter, and Juliana Mack play September 15 at Mademoiselle Resto Bar, 5171 Parc Avenue in Montreal.

It all started in Grade 7 when Ben Vallée met Jared Otter. According to Dorval resident Vallée, the two were “just sort of friends, acquaintances” who connected over music. After Otter showed Vallée the Fleetwood Mac song Landslide, in Grade 8 they covered it for a late-May cabaret talent show at their school, Lindsay Place High School.

“For about a week and a half afterwards we kept on fighting over what to name the band,” recalls Otter, Caribou Stew’s lead vocalist, who lives in Dollard-des-Ormeaux. “I went up to Ben (saying) we should use this because it came from a Facebook band name generator. He said, ‘No, we should probably take it a little more seriously.’ Then he came up with the words Caribou Stew because caribou stew is delicious and humbling, just like our music.”

“It’s an interesting name,” said Vallée, who plays guitar and banjo. “People love it or hate it.” Added Otter, “Some people ask us if we’ve ever eaten it. We’ve never eaten it. It’s been four years.”

Juliana Mack, who plays upright bass and cello, joined Caribou Stew in Grade 9. “We wanted to expand, we were thinking we wanted an upright bass player, a fiddler or something, so we were grateful to have gone to a school that had a strings program,” Vallée said. He continued, “Everybody said that she was the best upright bass player and so we ...asked her if she wanted to join and she said ‘Sure.’ We played at a Canada Day festivity (in Dorval). ”

For Mack, a classical musician, “It was sort of like we were bringing her outside of this little ‘give her sheet music’ kind of world and we brought her into a folk music world where we don’t take things very seriously,” Vallée said.

Last June Vallée, 17, Otter, 18, and Mack, 17, graduated from high school. While Mack, who lives in Île Bizard, attends CEGEP, “we (Vallée and Otter) chose the smart decision of not going to school,” said Vallée.

They played NDG’s Porchfest both this year and last, and this summer’s gigs included the Montreal Folk Festival on the Canal and Country en ville as well as venues around Montreal.

“We’ve been sort of getting to know all of the gigging and the live music culture all on our own,” said Vallée, pointing out in his house no one could offer advice since “everyone listens to music but nobody plays music” and Otter’s father “played bass in a band but he had been a gig musician a long time ago.”

“Any given day you’ll catch us on a bus with four instruments, a box full of T-shirts, everything is do it yourself,” Vallée said. “It’s not uncommon to find Ben and I hunting for records in the middle of a snowstorm,” Otter added, before sharing a story about Vallée falling in love with a Larrivée guitar at a music store.

Recently the band started playing their own original music and they’re recording an EP of six or seven songs. “It’s getting more serious now,” said Otter.

“We’ve sort of been a slow band to get into stuff,” said Vallée. Otter added, “For the first two years we didn’t want to rush to write music or rush to create music, we wanted it to be natural, something that wasn’t forced, something that came easy. When music is forced,” Vallée finished Otter’s sentence, “it sounds dishonest.”

Asked to describe their music, Vallée replied, “It’s sort of like if you were to take a big meat grinder to grind up genres. We listen to a lot of Americana, a lot of country, folk, bluegrass and you add old-school hip hop.” Otter interrupted, “a little bit of spices.” Vallée continued, “You add all that into the meat grinder and the paste you get, you shape that paste into folk music.”

“Or you would put that grinded meat with the accent of all those other genres into a casing of sausage, that’s Caribou Stew, that sausage,” Otter said. “Then you charcoal grill that sausage and you make sandwiches. Then you have Caribou Stew sandwiches.”

On Thursday, September 15, Caribou Stew, along with bands The Muddy Wheel, No Shoes Duet and Orchards, will perform “folky bluesy acoustic music” at Mademoiselle, 5171 Parc. Doors open at 8 p.m. and there’s an $8 cover charge. For more information about Caribou Stew, check out their Facebook or Instagram pages or visit cariboustew.bandcamp.com.

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