By Chloe Sjuberg
Winnipeg folk/roots act Roger Roger is more than your average duo. Madeleine and Lucas Roger are twins, but let's not put their gorgeous harmonies and cohesive performance all down to their natural bond — these two are seriously talented. Geyser caught up with the singer-songwriters in the wake of their Western Canadian tour and the release of their debut album Fairweather. We talked about Winnipeg's awesome music community, finding inspiration in transit and in solitude, and a quest for a missing boot.
Geyser: As twins, one might think you’ve been playing music together as long as you could remember, but this isn’t the case. How did you come together as Roger Roger?
Madeleine: It happened by accident. I started writing songs just over two years ago and was keeping it a secret from everyone. I thought that no one was home and was playing them to myself in the living room, but then Lucas entered from the kitchen and asked if the songs were mine. I admitted that they were, and he asked me to teach them to him. He had already been writing songs for years, and had been the frontman for a couple of Winnipeg rock bands. They used to rehearse in our basement, so I already knew his tunes and had harmonies figured out, so we fairly quickly had a couple sets of original music learned. We booked a couple of shows and each of those led to a few more. It’s all snowballed from there; I don’t think that either of us ever expected the project to leave the living room.
Lucas: I started writing and playing more on the acoustic guitar around the house after I built my first acoustic guitar. I think that really got me interested in songwriting in a different way. That was a few years ago now, but that feeling stayed and I think Madeleine would have seen and heard that I was doing that, and found it more her style than my rock and roll band.
G: How would you describe your sound? Do you have any particular influences or inspirations?
M: It’s really hard to describe your own sound, although in terms of music I subscribe to the notion that “you are what you eat." We have always listened to a lot of singer-songwriters who use music as a vehicle to tell stories. Artists like Sarah Harmer, Ron Sexsmith, Bill Bourne, Kathleen Edwards, Hawksley Workman and Lucinda Williams come to mind. We both play acoustic guitar, and the sound is very centred around our harmonies and the lyrics of the songs. Often whoever wrote the tune will be playing rhythm guitar and the other will be playing an alternate part and harmonizing. Lucas has been getting compared to Neil Young and I’ve been getting compared to Joni Mitchell a fair bit, which is surprising to us given that neither of those artists are people that we are specifically influenced by.
G: Tell us about your debut album, Fairweather. What do you want listeners to get out of it? What are your favourite songs from the album?
M: We love it! I hope that people want to absorb the songs and create their own stories and attachments to them. I want them to get up and dance in their kitchens, and cry over tea, and remember a memory, and laugh at the line “Johnny No-Pants” because they’re picturing a “Johnny” with no pants on, and wonder what it’s like to be a different person. I don’t have a favourite song on this album. We spent so much time with all of them in the studio, I like them all for different reasons. I like the secretive nature of Scott Free. I like the grittiness of Mad Trapper. I like the vibe of 13 Crows. I like the honesty of Fairweather. I could go on.
L: The only addition that I can make to what Madeleine said is that we listened to a lot of albums when we were growing up that didn't sound too shiny. Our songs often contain lyrics that are either very personal or about characters who have interesting and relatable stories. On the album, we wanted that to be the focus and therefore tried to focus on a sound that was more familiar to us as players and as people. Because of that, we didn't want it to sound way bigger and shinier than we could create in a live setting.
G: How was your experience on your Western Canada tour? Any standout moments?
M: It’s always the strange things that stick. We had to get up one morning at some disgusting time like 6:00 a.m. to drive from Twin Butte, AB to Tongue On The Post Music Festival in Medicine Hat. I had noticed before we started driving that one of my boots was missing from the trunk. Wondering if it had fallen out at the venue the night before, I asked Lucas if we could drive by the parking lot to see if it was there. It was an incredible morning with a perfectly clear sky, and some of the stars were obstructed by mountains (which I’m not used to as a prairie kid) and there was a fierce wind rolling off them. We drove for a while and then into the parking lot, and there was my lonely boot, frozen on the ice but completely intact. It hadn’t even been driven over. We giggled like sleep-deprived treasure hunters. The whole tour was awesome. We met a lot of incredible people and played a bunch of magical shows.
L: We've had the best time. So many great people everywhere. There were lots of people we met who were willing to have us stay in their house and show us around their cities. Calgary was special for that. We played at a cafe in Edmonton and there was a man in the audience who was smiling and laughing a lot and really engaging in the show. He came up between sets and said, "Hey! I'm your second cousin." We had never met him before, so that was special.
G: Both your music and lyrics are lovely and intricate – you’re amazing storytellers. What is your songwriting process like?
M: Well thank you! Your guess is as good as mine. It’s a mystery where these things come from. We write separately and bring the songs to each other when they’re nearing completion. I suppose I write a lot in transit, both literally and figuratively. Melodies and lyrics seem to flow the easiest when I’m on a bike or walking or on a bus, and there is always a lot of inspiration around change. A change of scenery, or a change of habit, or situation, or circumstance, or mindset, often triggers something for me that makes me need to write. I always carry a notebook and my handy cellphone as a recording device so that I can catch the unsolicited and unexpected songs.
L: I tend to write in a very secluded manner. The words don't start happening for me until I've been playing around for a while and I like the feeling of being in my own world. This means I'm often hiding somewhere in the house or waiting until nobody's around. I can just get all the awful out while nobody is listening.
G: What is it like writing and performing with a sibling? Have you found there are any particular advantages or challenges?
M: It’s fairly straightforward. As twins, we’ve had to share everything since… forever, so this is nothing out of the ordinary for us. I think that we’re intuitive with each other’s songs, and have a good sense of how each other envisions the songs developing. We both like performing a lot, so that’s just straight up fun. In terms of our songwriting and collaborating, we’re easily able to make suggestions to one another, and neither of it takes it personally.
L: Realistically, we've been through all kinds of things together as children and as adults. It would be pretty hard to make things uncomfortable or offensive. We work quickly in that way. We say what we need to say and most of the time we know that it's way easier when we're nice to each other.
G: What is it like being part of the Winnipeg music scene?
M: The best! We were just talking about this today — how special it is that Winnipeg has such a vibrant music community with such a ridiculous amount of talent, but it doesn’t feel competitive at all. Everyone is on everyone else’s cheering squad. Sometimes we feel like impostors because we’re surrounded by such outrageously talented people, but at the same time we get to have those people as mentors and friends and peers. Everyone should move to Winnipeg.
L: The Winnipeg music scene seems to be void of any cliques. I have lots of friends that are in psychedelic rock, punk rock, shoegaze and country bands and it's pretty normal for everyone to hang out together and talk about what they're working on. I think just the idea that someone else is writing and making music and trying to get it out there is great and there's so much support for that from everybody.
G: What are your favourite places – musical or otherwise – in Winnipeg?
M: I like The Forks, because I have a thing for bodies of water, especially if they’re flowing. The Forks is where the Assiniboine River and the Red River meet, and when it’s not frozen you can see the colour change between the two. In the winter they make a skating trail, and some people use it to skate to work. My bedroom is right up there too. It’s full of books and plants and fabric and craft supplies and maps and CDs and photographs and it gets my imagination going.
L: Winnipeg has a lot of really good skate parks. I try to skateboard as much as possible in the summer, so that will take me to the corners of the city. That notion turns into hockey in the winter. It seems to be a fitting replacement for five months of the year. There are some really great bars that have music all the time and you're bound to see some familiar faces when you go, so I like that. Basically, anywhere where there's good people.
G: What have you been listening to lately?
M: On this last tour we listed to a lot of Alabama Shakes, CKUA radio, and demos for our friend Brett Nelson’s next album. It’s going to be killer, he’s such an amazing songwriter.
L: I second the Alabama Shakes statement. Sound & Colour is an incredible album. I can't stop listening to it. Lots of Joel Plaskett, The Jayhawks, Rachel Sermanni. We've been CD-swapping with other bands a lot lately and I find that extremely inspirational.
G: If you could learn to play any new instrument, what would it be?
M: The fiddle! I have plans to hole myself up for four years and emerge as an acceptable fiddler, but I’m going to have to take some time away from songwriting to accomplish that kind of thing. It’s probably not going to happen, but I love that instrument. Really any fretless instrument is magic to me.
L: Drums for sure. I can hold down a pretty decent backbeat provided nobody is watching, listening or accompanying me. Drum fills are beyond me. I'd like to have enough ability to blast through a song like The Real Me by The Who. That or the organ. Tough question.
G: Thank you both so much for talking to us! We're looking forward to catching you at the Railway Club in Vancouver on March 3! We expect fiddles and organs.