Skip to content

Skookumchuck String Band finds its way home

Bluegrass group with an eclectic background
The Skookumchuck String Band (l to r) Jeremy Potts, Trevor Woodland, and Andrew Kingsley. (Tim Collins)

Take three talented musicians with varied musical backgrounds and bring them together and you can be certain that the music they make will be something they love.

That’s the case for Victoria’s emerging bluegrass trio, Skookumchuck String Band.

Skookumchuck is a Chinook jargon term that occurs only in Pacific Northwest English and translates loosely to strong or healthy water.

“We bounced around a lot of names and finally settled on something that reflected our Pacific Northwest roots,” said Andrew Kingsley, who plays guitars and provides vocals to the trio.

Kingsley is no stranger to life as a professional musician.

“I play with Unleash the Archers, and we play heavy metal,” said Kingsley. “We’ve done a bunch of touring and produced several albums, but I love the idea of doing bluegrass and, coming back to the Island, I love the idea of playing a different sort of raw, natural music,” Kingsley said.

That’s not to say that Kingsley has abandoned the heavy metal genre.

“Believe it or not, the guitar styles of heavy metal and bluegrass have some similarities. But I really like contemporary bluegrass artists like Billy Strings. It’s a move away from the overproduced strictly structured music that exists in other styles. I think that’s what draws me to it.”

The second member of the trio, Jeremy Potts, has an equally unlikely back story.

He played with Juno award-winning artist Allison Au as well as symphony orchestras.

“But I played old-time fiddle and Celtic music way back when I was a teenager but went on to be a classically trained violinist. I play with the Victoria Symphony,” Potts said.

“But when I came back to the Island, I reconnected with Andrew and Trevor and we started jamming and I found that I really missed playing fiddle.”

“I love the freedom that bluegrass fiddle gives you. It has this raw appeal. It’s always live, it’s acoustic, and there isn’t this pressure to be perfect and polished. I actually think that people are tired of that.”

READ MORE: Victoria’s Buzzard Asylum forging a unique sound in the world of heavy rock

It’s a sentiment echoed by Trevor Woodland, the third and final member of the Skookumchuck String Band. He plays the ‘doghouse’ upright bass.

“I’ve played with a lot of bands in the past …everything from jazz bands to punk rock … but I got drawn back to bluegrass because it’s a way of experimenting on the outskirts of traditional music,” Woodland said.

“What I love about it is that it’s a sort of stripped-down storytelling. We all grew up here on the Island and between ourselves, our parents and grandparents, we have a lot of traditional stories that have never been told musically. We want to change that.”

As an example of the stories the group will tell, Woodland mentioned Cougar Annie, a character who survived four husbands and became famous for her marksmanship.

“Then there was this fellow named Johnny Schnarr. He was this rum runner during prohibition who managed to outsmart the Coast Guard and customs agents on both sides of the border,” Woodland said.

“(Traditional) bluegrass tells a lot of stories about outlaws down in Tennessee and places like that, but we have our own breed of outlaws. It’s just fun.”

The group is open to experimenting with a variety of approaches to the bluegrass genre and is not immune to doing covers of Flatt and Scruggs tunes or even bluegrass versions of country classics.

“We’re even looking at doing some bluegrass versions of songs originally done by Iron Maiden and Green Day,” Potts said.

The group is developing its full playlist and plans to take their music on the road.

“We’d love to go up and down the Island playing small venues and pubs,” Kingsley said.

He added that it’s the sort of intimate experience to which bluegrass is well suited.

“And let’s face it, it’s just a lot of fun,” he said.

Watch for the Skookumchuck String Band in the future. This talented trio will doubtlessly make its mark in the months to come, and they’ll be having fun doing it.