His earthen rhythms may seem rustic, but the first harmony Jeff Innes ever recalls hearing was between pumping pistons and greasy axels. The mechanical seemed perfectly natural.
Despite his band’s northern name, Yukon Blonde’s Innes was actually born at Victoria General Hospital. As a toddler, the band’s chief songwriter didn’t listen to the rustling tree branches his folk rock anthems evoke. Instead he stumbled around the engine parts that sprouted up all over his home.
“I remember being really little, my father and his brother were really into motorcycles. Our living room was like a bike shop,” says Innes of his family’s home, which he’ll visit this week before Yukon Blonde’s April 26 gig at Club 9ONE9. “It was kinda crazy, there’s these cool pictures of me as a two-year-old sitting on a Norton motorcycle.”
Innes loves the notion of owning a motorcycle, but admits with a chuckle that he has no drivers licence. That hasn’t stopped him from hitting the open road on what would become an endless Western Canadian meander.
Calgary, where Innes spent most of his childhood, is the locale that robbed his innocence at gunpoint and inspired one of his latest songs.
“When I was around eight there was this news story about a kid my age that found his parents’ handgun and blew his brains out. I thought it was so weird and sad, I think it was the first time I understood mortality.”
Decades later that memory prompted him to write “Guns,” a stark ballad that stands out from the breezier, melodious tunes on Yukon Blondes’ latest album, Tiger Talk. While its self-titled debut sounded more like a full on tribute to The Band, this new sophomore set features a far more eclectic mix of vintage influences—from the Ramones-sy riffs of “Stairway,” to the ranting Talking Heads-style lyrics in “Radio.” But it’s the haunting lyrics of “Guns,” that will surely stay with listeners, with lines like, “Tell me what I did and drive me into the ocean, if it is true what they say about guns then it is true about me.”
Innes didn’t really drive into the ocean. After Victoria and Calgary, he drifted closer to deeper Pacific waters without diving in initially. Yukon Blonde’s early days were spent trying to win over fans in Kelowna, B.C. They couldn’t have picked a town full of tougher crowds. This is the city, after all, that East Coast indie vet Joel Plaskett lambasted in his early hit “Love This Town.”
“We took this gig at a Kelowna dance club called Flashbacks. When we set up and played, the crowd backed up to the wall and just ignored us,” Plaskett said, practically cackling at the memory. “We’re up there doing our best, then the promoter yelled at the stage ‘pick it up, we’re dyin’ in here.’ That’s where I got the line in my song, and she was probably right. When we got off the stage, some big jockish dude asked us if we were in the band, then said ‘yeah, you fuckin’ suck.’ He was too large for any comeback, all I could say was ‘yeah, sorry we sucked.’ Then we got the hell outta there.”
Innes can empathize with that sentiment. “It’s certainly not unfair. Flashback sucks. Although I shouldn’t openly say that, it’s all run by Hell’s Angels,” he says with a laugh. “Kelowna’s hit and miss, it’s not a city like Victoria or Vancouver or Calgary where the scene will move and change but there’s always people interested in something. Kelowna literally has periods where no one cares about anything, no one goes to shows, no one cares.”
Yukon Blonde is now happily based in Vancouver, a scene that Innes describes as one of the world’s most vibrant. But now he may be about to finish his meandering map’s cycle — from biker axel to spoke, from root to seed, from north to south, from one Western Canadian corner to the other.
“After this tour, my girlfriend (Nicole Stishenko), who does the artwork on our albums, is going back to graphic design school. We’ll probably be broke for awhile, I might have to move back in with my parents in Victoria again,” he says with half a laugh. “But it could be nice — get some quiet, focus, and write some new songs.” M
By Kyle Mullin