Luke Doucet, Cowboy For Hire

"I'm always surprised that I get to do this – that I get to go on stage, make records or go on tour," says Luke Doucet, but he notes that his career is not without flaws. "I mean, I'm cranky about it a lot too, to be honest, when I'm driving myself 16 hours between gigs. I don't necessarily like being a truck driver, but I'm lucky. I'm aware of the fact that I get to do something pretty cool. Any opportunity to work harder or do more, I see as a real opportunity that I don't want to miss."

- Sheila Busteed
Photos by Dara Hakimzadeh

posted July 20, 2007

Luke Doucet, Cowboy For Hire

     Life as a musician isn’t as glamorous as the tabloids would have people believe. Constantly being on the road touring and away from family, sleeping in a bad bed in a crummy hotel or (even worse) in a tour bus or van, and dealing with the pressures of fame – all while record labels pay you pennies for something they didn’t create themselves. It’s not surprising that so many succumb to addictions, burn out or fade into obscurity.

     But then there are the very select few artists who are so driven by an internal force to create and collaborate that they take on three distinct roles: “hired gun,” solo artist and band leader.

     Enter Luke Doucet, a veteran of the lifestyle in the Canadian music scene, who first made a name for himself in the early 1990s. Back then, his name was likely most recognizable as one of few to appear in the credits as a performer on Sarah McLachlan’s 1994 release The Freedom Sessions. McLachlan invited Doucet back to perform on her next album, Rarities, B-Sides & Other Stuff and most recently for 2003’s Afterglow tour.

     Doucet has also recorded with Chantal Kreviazuk, Delirium and Lily Frost, and joined Danny Michel, Holly McNarland and Blue Rodeo on the road, among many others.

     And this is all on top of his solo career and that with his band, Veal.

     “Six Shooter Records people are really helpful in keeping me stay organized,” he says of how he juggles so many projects. “I dedicate really specific energy to a certain project for a while and then I turn it off. I turn the valve.

     “I’m always surprised that I get to do this – that I get to go on stage, make records or go on tour,” he continues, but notes that his career is not without flaws. “I mean, I’m cranky about it a lot too, to be honest, when I’m driving myself 16 hours between gigs. I don’t necessarily like being a truck driver, but I’m lucky. I’m aware of the fact that I get to do something pretty cool. Any opportunity to work harder or do more, I see as a real opportunity that I don’t want to miss.”

     This drive to always be doing more explains his lengthy resume, and he says each experience has been unique.

Luke Doucet

     “They’re all really different acts and really different people. What was it like? It was just a day in my life. So sometimes it was great, sometimes it was a drag, sometimes it was musically stimulating, and sometimes it was musically horrifying,” he says. “Like any day in your life, some are good and some are bad.

     “I have a lot of respect for the role as a hired gun – having to please somebody else, having to do something that makes them smile and go, ‘Yeah, that represents my muse and my ideas.’ Ultimately, it’s not something I want to spend most of my life doing but I have a lot of respect for the job and the people I work with.”

     He says he considers each of these projects an honor, but what’s even better is being asked back: “The best compliment I’ve been paid is, ‘Will you come out and play with me again?’”

     But working with McLachlan was a particularly special honor of Doucet, who started as a fan before she hired him.

     “I was a real fan in the early days when she still had that kind of Ann Rice gothic-spook thing going on. I thought that was pretty cool,” he recalls. “She’s grown up and she has a different aesthetic now. Mostly what is, for me, so thrilling is her as a person. She’s really a sweet person and she’s kind and loyal and thoughtful in a lot of ways. She could be the biggest fucking diva on the planet; she’s sold 25 million records and I’ve never seen her treat anybody with even the slightest hint of disrespect. And that, to me, overwhelms everything else.

     “If all of a sudden her entire career was bankrupt and she was sharing a flat with three of her friends again and called me saying, ‘Can you come play on my record? I can’t pay you,’ I’d be there with bells on because I like her,” he adds.

     But arguably his most intimate musical collaboration to date has been the continuous one with his wife, Melissa McClelland. However, he says it can sometimes be hard to balance their musical relationship with their personal one.

     “It’s challenging and it’s something you need to be careful of because the two things, you know, you can shoot yourself in the foot,” he says. “I get sick of people I work with all the time. I don’t want to get sick of my wife.

     “We have a musical kinship that is pretty special too so it works out,” he continues. “We have to constantly check each other and go, ‘This is good, right? You don’t hate me yet? I don’t hate you? No. Okay, let’s keep doing this.’”