Making his way to Pop Montreal again this year will be this locally based singer songwriter – or as the festival themselves call him, “Montreal’s pre-eminent country gentleman”. Li’l Andy makes country music that recalls Grand Ole Opry artists from decades ago, but still feels very immediate. With a show coming up for Pop at L’Esco on September 19, Andy met up with us to discuss the festival, his love for AC/DC, and unicycles – among other things.
Why do you think Pop Montreal is called “Pop Montreal” when it’s not really about pop music?
I think it’s perhaps set up in an answer to so many festivals like the so-called “Jazz Festival” – I know Montreal doesn’t really have a blues festival beyond the one that’s in Ahuntsic – but I think it’s named that way to be inclusive to different kinds of music. I like the term “pop” because it doesn’t mean anything, and therefore it can mean whatever you want and it can be inclusive. So the range of stuff that you get there is diverse. I’ve seen crazy hardcore bands, I’ve done shows at bars with electronica DJs who smother themselves in food. They tried to bring Charlie Louvin, who [was] of course in the Louvin brothers – the famous country music brother duo from the 1950s and ‘60s. It didn’t work out, but the festival lets you do whatever you want, really, and I prefer that to something like a folk festival or a jazz festival because it’s a clean slate. It’s a blank cheque.
What’s your pop music guilty pleasure?
Probably AC/DC! When I was a kid, AC/DC was my favourite band because I grew up in the country where there was country music and then there [were] headbangers who were at the back of the school bus and I really liked that stuff – I got all that stuff on cassette – and then I kind of swore against it. I kind of swore it off when I discovered, I don’t know, Leonard Cohen or something. But now when I go back and listen to Highway to Hell or records like that, that stuff’s fantastic. Those records sound great and they don’t sound like heavy metal anymore.
What is it about Montreal that you like the most?
I like the fact that it’s a francophone city in a sea of English in the world and in North America. People will say that brings out a certain sense of Europeanness, which is a silly and inaccurate way to describe it, and people will say that there’s a certain joie-de-vivre here that does not exist elsewhere. But really, it comes down to the defiance of people in Quebec to wake up each morning and say “Yeah, we’re gonna speak French even though all the media we get is in American, and even though we’re standing in front of a tidal wave of English, we’re gonna choose to be different.”
What’s your favourite venue in Montreal?
I like playing in churches and old movie theatres. We recorded an album in Eglise Saint-Jean-Baptiste, which is over on Rachel and St-Denis, and the Barr Brothers are doing a show there with Katie Moore… I like the Rialto as well. I like buildings that have a history to them; I like buildings that are not set up by a production company to be show spaces. I like there to be some surprises within the sound and within the way that an audience feels when it goes into the room. I like there to be ghosts in the walls – old synagogues, old churches, old movie theatres, places that have stories behind them will pretty much always give you something unique and different.
What is the best method of transportation for people to take during Pop Montreal?
There’s been a lot of the unicycle as a mode of transport back in Montreal; you see people going on the mountain in the unicycle. I might pick a unicycle, that’s pretty good. But walking is always the best way. Walking is always the way to… take in the city. Whatever way gets you closer to the people that you’re gonna meet, and you can always just stop and talk to people when you’re walking.
I guess I’ll have to wait until Pop to see some unicycles, then!
It may happen, I’m telling you! It’s a Montreal, get-your-freak-on, veritable tradition right now.