-Mark Berube, Friday, Feb. 1 at 7: 30 p.m. at Centennial Theatre, part of the Electric Evenings series. Tickets: $30/$27, visit centennialtheatre. com.
WHILE Mark Berube is set to take the stage at North Vancouver's Centennial Theatre next Friday for the first time, that's not to say it won't be a homecoming of sorts.
Not only does the upcoming show mark the Montreal-based singer-songwriter's return to Canada since heading overseas in mid-December for a packed tour that included a number of opening dates for European songstress Sophie Hunger, it also marks a return to his former postal code.
"I used to live in Vancouver for quite a few years, so for me it's like I'm coming to my second home in Canada. . . . There's no culture shock," he says, reached Monday from Fribourg, Switzerland on a rare day off before heading to France for a show Tuesday evening.
Berube, who was born in Manitoba, raised in Swaziland and graduated from high school in Pitt Meadows. He received a degree in English from Simon Fraser University and spent a year and a half studying jazz at Capilano University. While his upcoming North Shore show marks his Centennial Theatre debut as a solo artist, he did contribute music to a modern dance performance in 2004.
"I'm just very excited to do this concert there and coming back to Vancouver is always a treat," he says.
Playing in Vancouver also allows Berube to reconnect, both on and offstage, with friends and former collaborators, including local boys Dan Mangan and C.R. Avery, who were among the featured guests on his March 2011 release, June in Siberia, his third full-length album.
"If we're in town and they're in town I always invite them and, if they're available, they usually come down, so who knows?" he says on whether they'll be joining him at the Centennial Theatre.
Berube met Hunger, a well-known Swiss artist, after opening for her in Paris at La Cigalle in June 2010. The following year, in the fall of 2011, she came to one of his shows in Zurich. The two artists kept in touch and when Hunger was in Montreal this summer recording songs for her new album, including at Hotel 2 Tango in Montreal with Howard Bilerman (who Berube worked with on June in Siberia), she invited him and a couple of his bandmates to join her. Berube played piano, and Kristina Koropecki cello and Amélie Mandeville bass. Berube then agreed to join Hunger in Europe this winter.
He hopes she'll appear on his next record, which he's currently writing.
"I've got over half of the material done for the next album so I should be starting in the studio in March probably and hopefully the new album will come out in the fall," he says.
Berube plans to try a different studio and producer than Bilerman (Arcade Fire and Basia Bulat) this time around, instead he plans to work with The Besnard Lakes' Jace Lasek (Wolf Parade, Land of Talk and Patrick Watson), whose studio Breakglass is likewise based in Montreal.
"I just want to try something different," says Berube. "Jace comes from a guitar, kind of '70s psychedelic, background. I'm not saying my music is going to go psychedelic by any means but sometimes when you mix those two worlds you get interesting things."
The multi-instrumentalist's works combine pop, African rhythms and strings with his lyrical chops, which have been compared to Leonard Cohen, resulting in what's been described as a "unique blend of indie chamber-folk." His approach to songwriting is "quite a simple process," laughs Berube, "but the details are the difficult part."
When crafting a new song, he works to ensure its melody can stand alone, a capella.
"As soon as you have a melody that doesn't need an instrument to guide it, it can just be sung by itself and is strong enough, then I can start building the song around that melody," he says. "Once I get the phrasing and everything and have a general idea then I have a bank of lyric ideas that I keep separately and I kind of play a matching game."
Berube is also considering working with acclaimed East Coast artist Amelia Curran on his new project.
"I love what she does and we keep bumping into each other a lot on the road so we've talked about maybe co-writing at some point," he says.
Montreal is another important muse.
"I'm half Québécois too so for me it's really important to have the French-English environment. . . . It's really a French-English fully bilingual lifestyle that I lead over there and I love that," he says. "There's always something new, there's always something fresh and you're really dealing with two different paradigms so it can be very inspiring artistically too, there's all these different reference points."
In addition to getting going on his new album, Berube is also looking forward to completing a six-week residency at The Banff Centre starting April 30 thanks to a grant from the Quebec arts council.
"I can't wait," he says. "I'm actually going to bring my wife and daughter out too and going to work a part of the day and then have some time with (them) so it's going to be great."
Berube's wife has a Swiss background, and is currently on tour with him along with their two-year-old, spending time with her extended family while he travels to nearby shows.
"I'm not allowed to come to Europe without them," he laughs.