Ottawa Jazz Festival: Living on the edge with FET.NAT

The controlled chaos of Gatineau's FET.NAT

Pierre-Luc Clement seems to like controlled chaos.

The guitarist, bassist and occasional sampler and co-founder of the Gatineau-based band FET.NAT has found that he’s not afraid of heights when he makes music with his friends JfNo (vocals), Linsey Wellman (saxophones) and Olivier Fairfield (percussion). If you take in their show at the Ottawa Jazz Festival on June 25, that’s where you will be too.

Clement is a musical realist. He knows it’s a long road to success so he doesn’t have a lot of illusions about bright lights and big cities. That is actually pretty liberating for this group. The band is not constrained by conventions of the business. That has paid off with some pretty decent reviews for their music including the record Gaoler such as this from the Toronto Star’s Ben Rayner a year ago:

“FET.NAT is basically constructing its own language. Vocalist JfNo tends to rant and rave in a kind of free-flowing bastard “franglais,” while the band as a whole flails, judders, stutters, stomps and occasionally sprawls according to the rules of an utterly inscrutable internal musical dialect. … Gaoler is even more concise with its all-over-the-place-ism, taking a wild dive from diced-up jazzbo freneticism into soothing ambience in just two sides and two tracks. … True, FET.NAT will send less adventurous listeners running for the hills within seconds flat, but the brave souls who like it will wind up liking it very much indeed.”

Not too shabby, eh Pierre-Luc?

“This has been the band since almost the beginning eight years ago. The drummer and I were already good friends and we have worked together on other projects. We just decided we wanted to record new sounds. The goal was to make the stuff sound broken, dislocated and groovy at the same time.”

OK then. What’s that?

“We are trying to find new ways to play traditional instruments such as the guitar, bass and drums so that they don’t sound traditional.”


That was the initial concept, Clement said. It was drums and guitar. Then they met JfNo, saw him perform and invited him on board. It worked, he said, but the band really jelled when Linsey Wellman brought his saxophones into the mix.

“Right away that was the perfect fit. When Linsey joined, we knew this was the sound we wanted.”

Musical ambition takes many forms: for the members of FET.NAT, it’s certainly not about the money or the fame. They have no illusions about that.

“We are all dads, we have kids. We are at a point in our lives when we don’t have big commercial ambitions. We aren’t looking to sell our music. We just want to make it and make it good.”

This Jazz Festival concert will be their first in the summer edition. They have played a winter concert.

“We were invited two or three years ago to the winter festival weekend. We brought a choir of amateur singers with us who did sound effects and mass spoken word. That went really well and we had a lot of fun.” That show opened the door to summer.

It’s probably not really possible to put FET.NAT’s music into some sort of marketable silo. Some say art punk, some say jazz punk.

Clement says: “We succeed at not aiming for an aesthetic or a sound. We are creating without boundaries. We want grooves or we want anti-grooves. There is not much harmony in this band. We like this. It’s percussive. Every instrument is played in a percussive way not a harmonic way.

“We couldn’t qualify ourselves as pure jazz but there are some elements in it.”

Percussive makes sense as Clement and Fairfield both have a background in performing for modern dance where the idea of rhythm and movement matters.

“This is part of our background. It’s something we are always aiming for. These guys are all about controlled chaos. We like that space where we are walking on a wire and you don’t know if you are going to fall. We like to be on the verge of falling apart. We like when you don’t know if it is really going to happen.”

And if something does fall apart, well, they just start again.

“It’s not improvisation but there is a looseness there. We put ourselves in musical danger on purpose.”

Like his band, Clement’s musical journey is pretty unique.

He started playing guitar as a kid and even took some lessons. But he ditched those pretty quickly and started playing on his own, experimenting with different tunings “for no real reason for years, just for my own fun.”

“I met Olivier 15 years ago. He was doing dance accompaniment for modern dance classes. I got interested in that. He needed people to sub for him from time to time so he showed me how. I also studied with Pierre Tanguy, a jazz drummer in Montreal.

“This is a great school for rhythm. You are put on the spot with a teacher who knows what they want. It’s often complicated rhythms with accents.”

His work there expanded into compositions for theatre performances. Right now his dance work and theatre work pay most of his bills.

It also opened up some musical horizons. “I write a lot of music and sometimes it encompasses soundscapes, conceptual field recordings. I like working like that.”

The is the kind of thinking that directs FET.NAT, he said.

“We have an idea and then we try it and it becomes something.”

Clement says FET.NAT is his main creative project right now.

“We are looking for success but so far the response has surpassed our expectations. We have built this from the ground up organically” in Gatineau.

These days the music scene in his town worries Clement. He sees few younger musicians coming along in the city. And there are fewer and fewer performing opportunities there.

“Ottawa is mostly where we get our gigs. There are some here but they are few and far between. People are doing more electronic music and hip hop now. Even DJs who spin real records aren’t getting work.”

FET.NAT works, he said, because they are offering something unique.

“We don’t have to compete with other bands We are in our own space.”

The band is working on a new album that actually has a label behind it. That’s Boiled Records. There isn’t a release date yet, but he expects it will be out in the fall.

The CD will have eight tracks and will be the longest ever for FET.NAT.

For a band devoted to playing traditional instruments, this one has a twist. One side of the record will feature four songs played on guitar, bass, drums and saxophone. On the flip side, the same songs will be performed on MIDI instruments.

There goes FET.NAT again — out on the edge, living dangerously.

TD Ottawa Jazz Festival
Where: Tartan Homes Stage, Lisgar Field
When: June 25 at 7:30 p.m.
Tickets and information:

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Peter Robb began his connection with the arts community in Ottawa in the mid-1980s when he was the administrator and public relations director of the Great Canadian Theatre Company. After a long career in journalism with the Ottawa Citizen where he served in a number of different posts he returned to the arts when he became the Citizen's arts editor.