by Matt Austman
With nearly a decade of history under their belt, Yukon Blonde is on course to establishing itself as one of Canada’s most acclaimed and cherished indie rock bands. Their latest release, Tiger Talk, is a departure from their previous, more laid-back 70s inspired rock n roll, and is propelling the band past the club scene and into theatres. Recently, Stylus had the opportunity to speak with the band’s chief songwriter and lead vocalist, Jeff Innes, about the band’s success, the meaning of Tiger Talk, and the personal impact of touring full-time.
The band has come a long way since scrapping the name Alphababy and becoming Yukon Blonde a little over three years ago. “It’s kinda cool. I feel like we’re growing up,” Innes says about their growing success. “We’ve got a really good rhythm of touring. It’s starting to feel like more of a legitimate job.”
The band recently signed to Dine Alone Records, one of Canada’s premiere indie labels, and is currently on the road with fellow Canadian rock sensation The Sheepdogs. Their single, “Stairway,” has even been featured on a Toronto Blue Jays commercial, and was covered by Dan Mangan as a B-side on his latest 7”. Tiger Talk was longlisted for the 2012 Polaris Music Prize.
“In 2006, Dan Mangan opened up for us in the seediest bar in all of Vancouver,” Innes reminisces proudly. Long-time good friends, Yukon Blonde was also the band at Mangan’s wedding.
Innes speaks about the band with a sincere duality. While clearly honest and utmost appreciative of Yukon Blonde’s success so far, he is also sharply cognizant of the sacrifices that have made any of it feasible. “You have to sacrifice pretty much everything,” he explains.
At the time of talking, Innes was in Vancouver doing overdubs for a commercial (“I’m not sure if I’m allowed to say anything about that,” he says half-jokingly), and was about to see his girlfriend for the first time in four months. Meanwhile, his bandmates were in Toronto, where they now reside during their time off. “It was weird,” he jokes. “It was the first time we haven’t seen each other everyday.”
They don’t have homes, instead opting to sublet rooms from friends as they see fit. “I don’t know what a normal life is… it’s kind of weird,” Innes admits. In fact, in order to pay for Tiger Talk, the band purged their only permanent space at the time – yes, a jam space – and sold various objects to help pay for the recording process.
Indeed, it’s fitting that the album that has seen so much success is largely about the personal strife of being in a full time touring band. The record was written while on tour in the United States – Innes would lock himself in a hotel room, and punch out piles of songs. “A lot of it was written on days off. There would be two or three days between tours… it would all build up so much on tour,” Innes says.
Consequently, about 50 demos were put forward for Tiger Talk. Yet the ones that made the cut were a collection of tunes that Innes initially intended for a side project, and that clearly strayed from their previous efforts. When rearranged with the band, the road environment in which they were written shone through. “It’s about touring the States… that’s pretty much what the record is,” Innes explains. “It’s a romantic record, but I [also] feel like it’s a desperate record.”
Their single, “Stairway,” takes the listener there in an evocative and considerate manner: “I’m wishin’ I could be home right now, right home to you,” he sings overtop a rhythm section that drives like one on tour, drinking shit coffee from some middle-of-nowhere gas station as a means to stay awake.
Still, when reminiscing about the challenges of making a meaningful record, Innes looks forward to new opportunities with little hesitation or complaints. The band manages to keep things fresh for themselves on the road, viewing tour “as an open idea instead of a fixed burden.” With a pile of 7”s and EPs under their belt, they have built an impressive catalogue of music, and have no plans of quitting anytime soon.
“Of course,” Innes says matter-of-factly when asked if there will be another Yukon Blonde record.
Listen for yourself by picking up the album and attending their live performance opening for The Sheepdogs at The Burton Cummings Theatre on December 11th, 2012.