Canada’s youngest rock band Sensation
by Lindsay Ruck
photos by John Major
In front of 20,000 screaming Ottawa Senators hockey fans at Scotiabank Place, three brothers in over-sized Sens jerseys take centre stage. As the season opener’s house band, the “Dubé Brothers” entertain the crowd, playing throwback rock favourites such as Smells Like Teen Spirit, by Nirvana and Sweet Child o’ Mine by Guns n’ Roses. Months later, that same band, now officially known as the Brothers Dubé, celebrate the launch of their first album, ONE, with 3,000 onlookers.
And fast forward to today, where Liam, 15, Jan, 13 and Quinn, 11, hover around the island in the kitchen of their Orleans home. Liam talks about the possibility of playing for his school’s football team, Jan recounts his success in a free throw tournament, and Quinn shares his excitement to play on his school’s hockey team next year. It doesn’t get much more rock and roll than that.
But even before the boys were electrifying street corners and stadiums, their first instruments were of the “unplugged” variety.
“The music’s always been there,” says Jan, the band’s lead singer and writer. “When we were like two and three, we were in the kitchen listening to Zepplin and hitting pots and pans.”
“Or using a hockey stick for a guitar,” adds Quinn, the band’s drummer.
As Zepplin is a far cry from the classic children’s lullabies, the boy’s father, Rob Dubé, a project manager with the federal government and also a musician, says from the time they were born, they’ve had a wide exposure to a variety of music genres.
“They loved listening to Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald and gospel bluegrass. It was hardly just classic rock.”
“My dad likes classic rock so we really don’t listen to that new pop stuff,” says Liam, the oldest Dubé brother and the band’s guitarist. “His liking of bands has influenced us, but now we’re moving more into our own opinions on music without his help.”
Behind the catchy riffs and impressive hooks is the Dubé family, who just love music and love playing it together.
With family at the forefront of all they do, the brother’s dedicated their first album to their mom, Michele, who passed away after a battle with cancer in 2008. At the ages of six, eight and 10, the boys posted covers of their mother’s favourite songs on YouTube to keep her spirits up while she was ill. Shortly after Michele’s death, they began fundraising.
“Once we actually learned how to play our instruments,” says Jan, “we started playing songs just for fun and playing a few songs at an event for the Cancer Foundation. Eventually it just took off and we started playing our own songs after playing covers for a year and a half.”
Scoring top billing on their album’s liner notes are their grandparents, “for always helping and setting up their first gig.”
Talking about the support of their extended family, the Dubés laugh as they recount how their grandmother is their ultimate marketer. Taking the boy’s CD with her wherever she goes has produced some impressive sales in some unexpected places, including a funeral home.
While this Partridge Family-esque idea may seem nice, Rob says there was a time where he struggled to find the balance between being a dad and being a band manager.
“I did go through a period where I was thinking, I’ve got to shut this whole thing down because I can’t be a father anymore. This is affecting my father relationship with my kids. Having to keep them attuned to the discipline that they need to have for a certain show was tough, because they’re kids, so in a sense it didn’t seem fair. I went through an open conversation with the kids saying ‘I don’t want to be your manager.’”
Helping in that balance and described as a “quiet and humble pillar” of the Dubé family is Christine Bedard.
A long-time family friend, Christine, who works for the Senate of Canada in the printing department, never thought that she would be raising three boys with Rob. Married August of last year at the family cottage, the ceremony was officiated by Jan.
“We do a lot of things together,” says Christine. “If there’s a band playing, some couples will go on their own or get a babysitter; we bring them with us.”
“It’s important for us to spend some time together as a couple,” says Rob. “And we do. But we hang out as a unit a lot and I don’t think anybody doesn’t like it. It’s fun. And that might change and that’s fine, but we love being together.”
After their grandmother signed them up for a few fundraising shows here and there, the boys started thinking that maybe there was more they could do. And after a tragic event occurred halfway around the world, the boys felt an instant connection and knew they had to do something.
“When the earthquake hit in Haiti, there were orphans who lost their parents, just as we lost our mom, so we decided that we would help them,” explains Jan.
With a goal of raising $50,000, the boys took to the streets, busking whenever and wherever they could, all in the hopes of making a difference for children who, at this point, had no names and no faces, but somehow still tugged at their young heart strings.
Choosing Bluesfest 2010 as the perfect opportunity to fundraise, the band not only got the attention of curious passersby, but also festival headliners. “Busking was what brought Arcade Fire off the stage at Bluesfest,” recalls Rob. “They came and joined the boys and started jamming.”
That chance meeting lead to a deal that still holds strong today, as the Montreal band continues to match every dollar donated to the brother’s charity efforts.
Having no trouble reaching the $50,000 mark, the band upped their goal and were overwhelmed by the response.
“We had to get organized to deal with the money,” says Rob. “We were overwhelmed with how much money we were bringing back every night. And we had to get a machine to start counting it for us. We would go into the bank and people would roll their eyes saying, ‘Here come those guys with all that money.’ We would have buckets of toonies and loonies.”
Ready to see the fruits of their labour, the family planned a trip to Haiti April of last year. Armed with 25 suitcases of supplies and instruments for music schools, not to mention 200 hats knitted by a women’s group in Ottawa, the family met with several orphanages over the course of five days. Seeing children just like them, who had nothing, hit hard with the band.
“When we actually started talking to people and experiencing their daily lives, that’s when we were shocked. That’s when it hit us,” recounts Jan. “But they never complain.”
Driving through the streets of small Haitian towns, two proud parents looked on as their boys discovered a side of life they had never known.
“Rob and I were in the other car and the boys all went into the back of the pick-up truck and they were viewing everything and for us, just looking at the three boys standing in the truck in Haiti; it looked like they belonged there,” says Christine. “When they were there I didn’t hear them complain once, saying ‘I want to go home.’ They couldn’t wait for the next day.”
With a new-found drive to make a difference, the band wanted to share with their peers what they had seen.
“We came back with a completely different perspective on being grateful,” says Jan. “The stuff we have is incredible. The food we have in our kitchen is enough to feed about nine families because there’s barely any food over there. They barely have any money to buy food.”
Ready to do what they do best, the Brothers Dubé used their music to send a message of immediacy and to educate by bundling their experience into an eight-minute “Artivist Workshop” video, profiling a day in the life of a Haitian family.
While the hope is to get more kids involved, the brothers say sometimes it’s hard to create action among kids their age.
“I think they understand they can make a difference,” says Liam. “But they’re not too fond of the part where they actually have to do something that involves work. I think they understand that if they really want to they can make a difference.”
Band of brothers
The Brothers Dubé are three siblings with a common cause— to make music that makes a difference. And while their harmonies are in perfect unison, the fact is they are three very different individuals.
“Liam is a legal mind. He’s cautiously caring,” says Rob. “Jan is our little monk. He has a certain amount of wisdom about him and has a deadpan sense of humour. Quinn is our outgoing, comfort-seeking comedian. He is very dynamic and flashy.”
And it is these differences that make the band just like any others brothers. They admit that they argue about the “stupidest things,” and know how to push each other’s buttons. Although Quinn will be the first to tell you that it is “rarely him” involved in the quarrelling.
A bright future
Despite the overnight success of the Brothers Dubé and the overwhelming attention from young and old around the world, when asked about the future of the band, Jan says they’re taking it “month by month.”
Just this year, after a trip to Nashville to take part in workshops and music showcases, the band ended up landing several gigs in the city and a soundtrack spot on the hit television show, Degrassi. Their new single has topped over 100,000 views on YouTube.
“It’s funny,” says Liam. “When the earthquake hit, we were sitting at the dinner table and we were talking about what we could do to help,” recalls Liam. “And we were thinking ‘oh, we should play at Scotiabank Place,’ just as a joke, and eight months later we ended up actually doing that.”
“It’s an awesome story,” says Rob. “You see a rock band on the corner and hear they’re raising money. That’s all great. It’s a cool story. But the story to me is the iceberg under the water and that is the family behind these kids.”
The Brothers Dubé have proved that at a young age you can have big dreams. And while their fans are looking at them and soaking up every lyric and being blown away by every riff, Liam, Jan and Quinn are still three regular boys whose most important performances were played to an audience of one, just in the hopes of making their mom smile.