Luke Doucet and Melissa McClelland had a professional relationship for years before they succumbed to the inevitability of romance.
As Canadian singer-songwriters, they traveled in the same circles, worked together as members of Sarah McLachlan’s touring band and made some records together, with Doucet acting as McClelland’s producer. They married in 2006, but maintained solo careers.
Then they succumbed to another inevitability and in 2011 formed a band together, called Whitehorse. In for a penny, in for a pound. For Doucet, Whitehorse encapsulates his entire career; he began with a rock band called Veal, branched out into his rootsy solo albums, and then became a busy producer.
“That wasn’t deliberate, but there are elements of rock ’n’ roll, elements of the blues, elements of country and elements of this really intimate singer-songwriter thing that Melissa and I do,” Doucet said.
“It wasn’t by design. We didn’t think, ‘Hey, let’s build a band that allows us to do everything we’ve done in the past,’ but for some reason, and maybe it’s subconscious, this band does that.”
Whitehorse, which performs tonight at the Zanzabar, is an unusual hybrid. The only members are Doucet and McClelland, but they each act as a one-man band and incorporate a full band’s worth of instrumentation, trading off between guitars, drums and keyboards while also using tape loops. The goal, Doucet said, is to create an organic sound that belies all of the juggling.
One-man bands aren’t common, but they aren’t unusual. In recent years, for example, Andrew Bird has defined the approach with his artful use of tape looping, building songs on the fly. But a two-person one-man band is something else.
“We’re obviously not the first band to employ loops, but what makes us maybe unique is that we’re the first two people to do that together,” Doucet said.
During a typical performance, both Doucet and McClelland are triggering loops to which the other must respond in order to keep the song together. They create drum tracks as a team, with Doucet playing the kick drum and floor tom while McClelland plays a snare as they both continue to play guitar and sing.
“It’s physically demanding, and I’ve never seen anybody do that,” Doucet said. “Sometimes we’re ambitious and we don’t always land everything we try to do. These days we’re batting pretty high, but in the early days we’d come off stage sweating and say, ‘Wow, that almost worked.’ ”
Whitehorse has recorded two albums, “Whitehorse” and “The Fate of the World Depends on This Kiss,” that reflect the couple’s aesthetic of blending intimacy with the dynamics of a rock band. This year, they scaled things down with an acoustic EP called “The Road to Massey Hall,” which covers the music of artists who have performed at the famous concert hall.
Whitehorse played Massey Hall this year, an indication of the success they’re enjoying in Canada. Their albums have certainly been noticed in the United States, if not to the same extent, but a recent successful West Coast tour has them hopeful that America is next.
“It took a long time — I feel like I’ve been banging my head against the wall in America for so long that there’s a permanent indentation on my forehead — but for the first time ... it’s been changing, and it’s obviously a really welcome thing,” Doucet said.