By Will Yannacoulias
The Pxrtals is the passion project of prolific Saskatoon artist Lévi Soulodre. Soulodre is an accomplished painter, poet and writer, but in the role of songwriter and guitarist he has made the most profound impression. A veteran of the Saskatoon music community, Soulodre’s bandmates, collaborators and past projects read like a who’s-who of the local indie music scene. Time spent touring, writing and recording provided the experience and impetus for Soulodre to launch The Pxrtals (pronounced Portals) in 2016. His debut album, 2018’s Un Jour, is a beautiful effort which prepared audiences for last year’s brilliant One Night. Philosophical, spiritual and endlessly creative, it was a pleasure to speak with Soulodre as he strolled along Saskatoon’s Meewasin Trail on an early March evening.
Lévi Soulodre has traveled an expansive musical journey. He grew up in a vibrant artistic household where French-Canadian folk artists Hart-Rouge enjoyed the same reverence as The Beatles. Every hour of Soulodre’s youth was filled with music, as he trained on the classical violin as a child, performed jazz choir as a teenager and began playing in bands immediately after high school. Time spent in Saskatoon groups such as Liberated Noise, From Chimpan-A To Chimpan-Z, Reform Party, Volcanoless In Canada and Slow Down Molasses have left Soulodre with a lifetime’s worth of tales about overseas festivals, seedy London pubs, and even the stage of the hallowed Whiskey a Go Go. Soulodre speaks with gratitude and fondness of his former projects and collaborators, praising their prowess as musicians and enthusiastically elaborating on their careers after parting ways.
Soulodre’s original project, Liberated Noise, saw him assume the role of vocalist and principal songwriter, and it was a desire to return to those roots that inspired the birth of The Pxrtals in 2016. His first album, 2018’s Un Jour, was well received and prepared audiences for the stunning follow up. 2020’s One Night is an arrestingly beautiful record. The music is a progressive, psychedelic swirl of layered overdriven guitars, keys and strings, dense and complex yet immediately accessible and memorable. The sanguine, uplifting melodies are a
warm reverie, the angelic female choir soaring alongside Soulodre’s swaggering baritone vocals on every track.
The roots of One Night go back several years. Soulodre explained that “lyrically the One Night record started a lot earlier. I was collecting all these snippets of poetry, pages of writings, stuff going back all the way to first year of college out of high school. I knew there was a story I was trying to piece together. The record speaks to your whole life, day after day year after year, all culminating to One Night. But the story is also every step of the way that brought to that One Night.”
The musical arrangements and compositions were largely done at the celebrated Banff Arts Center, Soulodre recalled. “Musically it started coming together in Banff. I applied for a musical residency, and in November 2017 they gave me the opportunity to come spend a couple weeks writing the One Night record. I was surrounded by world class musicians. We’d take day long hiking trips then come back and I’d map things out, work the songs out.” The initial tracks were recorded with Barrett Ross in a depth of a Saskatoon winter, with Soulodre self-recording much of it later. “I ended up rerecording a lot of the stuff because the original recording was somewhat hurried; we did the whole bed album tracks in only two days.” Soulodre shared. “It was a tough climb but one I’m grateful for. As the old saying goes, the hardest climb is rewarded with the best view.”
Saskatoon hip hop producer Factor Chandelier was set to originally mix One Night but had to step away from the project when his first child was born. Soulodre, who was living in Toronto at the time, recalls that “In Toronto I was spending a lot of time learning about production and audio engineering so I could tackle One Night myself. DJ Factor was scheduled to mix the record, he did start the mix and I have him to thank for that; he helped establish a foundation for the mix which I was able to complete.”
Having written, arranged, and mixed the songs largely by himself, One Night is a deeply personal album. Soulodre remembers how “I would seesaw between feelings of absolute euphoria and ecstasy, tears almost coming to my face listening back to the songs or the parts I was mixing, but then immediately after thinking ‘is anyone going to hear this’ or ‘are these mixes going to resonate with anyone’? The psychological battles were real. That’s part of the thematic elements of the record, coming to terms with one’s ability to feel and the way emotions and feelings are expressed. Sometimes chaotically or in a way that can damage relationships, but also in ways that can bring wisdom and a better understanding of the self.”
When asked if The Pxrtals is a band or a solo project, Soulodre offers that it is both. “A big part of The Pxrtals is to be able to play with different band members, have it be open. It’s a band, it’s a solo, it’s everything. Physicists will say that you have waves acting like particles and particles acting like waves; they’re different entities but in some ways they’re one. That’s an analogy for what the Pxrtals is; a band, a solo project, a production outlet, everything across the musical spectrum. It’s all emanating from myself and from my past musical experiences and culminates in The Pxrtals. It’s hard to describe it and ultimately, I think that’s what gives it its unique quality; the synthesis of sounds and musical avenues. An amalgamation of all the artists and all the bands I’ve played with, because everyone’s had an impact.” That impact expressed itself on One Night when Soulodre reunited former bandmates Barrett Ross and SJ Kardash on drums and bass. “(Kardash) and Barrett played together in a wonderful Saskatoon band called The Blood Lines. I always admired their chemistry and flow, they were one of the first shows I ever saw in Saskatoon. They played together on ‘Extasie’ and ‘Damn Me Girl’. It was so special for me to be part of those guys playing music together, their parts are oozing with this fantastic musical energy. I’d love to get them together and play with them again. It’s cool to be able to step up with these musicians that I was in awe of when I started in the music scene.”
The connection with family and friends and a boundless creative energy inspire Soulodre, however he shared that lately he has found another driving force behind his work. “Art is a key aspect to helping the world heal. Music is what universally connects us all. I’ve thought about that a lot, to be able to share my talent in music, about helping heal people, bring people together. I’ve thought about how in a time of pandemic the music has almost stopped. When we have the chance to play again I’m going to come out swinging, play every show like my life depends on it… because it kind of does.”
Photos by Brian Snell via www.thepxrtals.com