Hoxter’s in Hallowell will host the Rancourt Brothers on Friday, Aug. 16. Matt and Michael Rancourt were born and raised in Waterville and have had deep roots in the Maine music scene for decades. A phone interview was arranged with Michael (who is 12 years older than Matt) to find out more about the show and the brothers themselves.

Q: I understand you and your brother have had a little experience in music before this duo act you’re in now?
Rancourt: Absolutely, yes. It was back in the early ’90s, Matt was still living in Las Vegas and I had just moved from the west coast to the east coast. I was working for Sunday River doing a lot of music for them — I was doing many, many days a week as a solo performer. Matt was thinking about coming back to the east coast and I asked him to make the move. He did and we had a duo called Big Brother … and out of that a band was formed a band called Johnny Sledd. It was a seven-piece band, I believe, and we were the house band at Bumps which was, at the time, the big nightclub up there. We had Dan Merrill — who was formerly with Cornerstone years ago, and now he’s a great solo artist. He was our soundman and light man and he also sang backup vocals from the mixing board. Matt was on keyboards and Tony Simmons — who was in Buffalo Chip Tea — played bass in that band, as well.

Q: Oh, Buffalo Chip Tea is a band I’ve heard of before.

Rancourt: Yeah, it was my band that was formed in 1980 at UMA. We were all students at UMA and we toured the Northeast and Atlantic Canada from 1980 until 1986 when I moved out west. We had a good time for those six years. It was a lot of fun.

Q: Did Matt have a band, as well?
Rancourt: Well, once we got done with Johnny Sledd, Matt played in a function band I was in — a band called The Waiters — and we both played in that band for a couple of years. Then Matt started a band called Reverend Groove which was based in the Augusta-Hallowell-Waterville area, but played Portland to rave reviews. It was a great funk band for several years. I was not in that band, but I would go sit in with them every now and then. Oh, and Matt would sit in with Buffalo Chip Tea and play saxophone when he was 10 or 11 years old. That was his instrument back then, when he was in elementary school. So anyway, we played together at the mountain through the ’90s, and then we had a parting of the ways for almost a decade where we had some personal and philosophical differences. But through all of that, there wasn’t a day that went by where I didn’t miss playing music with Matt.

Q: Where do you guys perform? I know you’re at Hoxter’s, but do you get out to other venues?
Rancourt: Well, we only play at two places right now — Hoxter’s, in Hallowell, and You Know Whose Pub, in Waterville — and we play once a month at each of them. In August we’re at Hoxter’s on the 16th and at the Pub on the 17th. And as far as our shows go, we do some cover material but it’s relatively obscure — old blues, old soul and even show tunes like Gershwin’s “Summertime,” we do an interesting arrangement of that — but predominately we do original music. Some of it was written together — collaborated upon by both of us — and other songs are Matt’s and some are mine, but we’ve taken those and made them our own, and an awful lot of what we do is spontaneous. We come up with a motif on stage, and it’s that improvisational part that is really what makes it a lot of fun and incredibly exciting. I mean you could be standing there with your pants down to your ankles before you know it if things don’t go well — but fortunately 95 percent of the time they do go well because Matt and I speak this language that is, I think, almost familial in one sense. You can certainly tell we are brothers when we sing together — our voices almost sound like one — but I know what he’s going to play before he plays it, he knows what I’m going to sing before I sing it and it just happens … it’s a really, really special thing.

Q: What is the instrumentation?
Rancourt: Matt plays keyboard — he has a Korg Triton which is a fairly sophisticated keyboard that also has a sequencer built into it — and I play an acoustic guitar. I am starting to implement electric guitar into our show, and we also have special guests that come and play with us almost every gig. But for the most part, it’s just keyboard and guitar. It is nice and intimate at both venues so we can get to be one with the audience who seems to come to listen … they’re very respectful. We don’t like to have to compete against screaming crowds because our music really is there to be listened to — it’s not background music — you need to engage if you’re going to come to hear a Rancourt Brothers show because there’s a lot of subtle nuances. Some of it is comedic, some it is profound, some of it is political and some of it is really, really deeply personal because we write a lot about what our life experiences are and have been. We’ve been through a lot, both of us. And we really, really enjoy what we do!

Q: Is there anything you’d like to pass on to the readers of this article?
Rancourt: Well, other than the fact that Waterville is our home and we’ve had some great support in that Waterville and Augusta area, we would encourage people to come out and see for themselves … and since the 16th and 17th we’ll be in Hallowell and Waterville, it would be the perfect time for people to come on down and see us.
Lucky Clark has spent over four decades writing about good music and the people who make it. He can be reached at [email protected] if you have any questions, comments or suggestions.

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