Yukon Blonde avoids being pigeonholed
Jeff Innes brings up an impressive laundry list of iconic musical acts while discussing Yukon Blonde’s second album, Tiger Talk, including—in no particular order—the Ramones, Buzzcocks, Pantera, Flaming Lips, Sex Pistols, and Radiohead. None of these acts, it goes without saying, sound like Fleet Foxes. Considering Yukon Blonde’s eponymous debut album left more than one critic convinced that the group’s all-time favourite acts started with Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young and ended with, well, Fleet Foxes, this might shock some. After one spin of Tiger Talk, it won’t.
With its sophomore effort, the Vancouver four-piece has pulled off the always difficult, sometimes risky trick of rewriting the script. Forget being pigeonholed as Vancouver’s entry into the beardo-folk sweepstakes, Yukon Blonde has staked itself out as an act determined to challenge whatever preconceptions fans might have of it.
“One of my big sellers to the band to shake things up was that we were kind of getting bored with what we were doing,” Innes, the band’s singer, says, on the line from a Thunder Bay tour stop. “So why not do what you want to do? And to be honest, if we just kept making the same record over and over, I think that all the people who did like us would just stop liking us. With the songs on the first record, I think we were kind of moving with a certain sound that was going on.”
This time out, Yukon Blonde—which includes guitarist Brandon Scott, drummer Graham Jones, and bassist John Jeffrey—was determined to be more like the bands it admired.
“We’d always get put in these folk festivals and stuff, which is really not who we are,” Innes says. “At one time it was—those kind of songs [on 2010’s Yukon Blonde] were what we wanted to do, and were genuine to us. But all of our favourite bands are ones who never stayed the same, whether you’re talking Radiohead, or even the Buzzcocks. The Buzzcocks got into some weird shit, and I always appreciated that.”
Tiger Talk isn’t so out-there that Yukon Blonde has made sure it’s never getting an invite to the Twisted Pines Music and Arts Festival in Penetanguishene, Ontario. If double-honeyed harmonies are your obsession, “Oregon Shores” will make a great start (or an even better finish) to your next Maxell XLII C90 mixtape.
As happy as he was with the success of Yukon Blonde—which made the Kelowna-spawned group an instant band to watch in Vancouver—Innes wanted to branch out beyond the songwriting template he was following. That led him to start writing for a new-wave and early-punk side band that never got off the ground: the Fucking Tigers.
“It was sort of a fantasy electro-pop-punk project that was just meant to be kind of fun,” Innes says. “I thought that maybe if the band one day slows down, that it could be something that I could work on. I think that the nice thing was that it was kind of freeing making this sort of super-fast, weird poppy-punk stuff. That no one would ever hear it was kind of nice.”
Just how badass that group would have been, had it come to fruition, is up for debate. (Making one think he wasn’t exactly cut out to be Sid Vicious crossed with Darby Crash, Innes refers to the group as the Effing Tigers during his interview with the Straight.) But whatever mindset he found himself in with the project, it was obvious he was on to something, to the point where Yukon Blonde decided it was tired of sounding like Yukon Blonde.
“I had about an album’s worth of stuff written for Yukon Blonde,” Innes reveals. “It was kind of funny—we had been slowly working on that stuff, but no one was really excited about it. We were basically writing the same record.”
While hunkered down in a Comox Valley house owned by Jeffrey’s parents, Yukon Blonde made a major decision.
“John was still our brand-new bass player at the time—we hadn’t really made a connection with him yet,” Innes says. “I was showing him the Fucking Tigers stuff—oops, I just swore—and he was like ‘We need to work on this stuff.’ So he convinced me to show the songs to the band, and then convince them that was what we needed to be working on, instead of the Yukon Blonde stuff we’d gone to the house to work on.”
A couple of tunes from the band’s 2010 playbook—including the synth-washed marvel “Iron Fist”—made the cut. But Innes says that almost all of what you hear is Tigers stuff. Half the fun then becomes playing spot-the-influence on Tiger Talk. Is the beat-on-the-brat drum pattern in the acoustic power-popper “Radio” a cheeky homage to everyone’s favourite glue-sniffin’ pinheads the Ramones? And is the orgasm-addict guitar solo in the propulsive “Breathing Tigers” a good sign that the Buzzcocks’ Singles Going Steady gets heavy-rotation airplay in the Blondes’ tour van?
Lest one think that Yukon Blonde is somehow on a mission to make up for the fact that it wasn’t around for the glory years of the 100 Club, rest assured that the group hasn’t simply moved its tent from Laurel Canyon to spirit-of-’76 London. The slingshot-from-heaven “Guns” drags the Flaming Lips back to the Age of Aquarius, while the jangly “My Girl” seems explicitly engineered for maximum sing-along appeal, preferably while riding shotgun in a 1973 Duster during a golden California sunset.
“I think the main thing was that we didn’t want to be as safe as we were on the first record,” Innes says simply. “We wanted to try things and have fun in the studio.”
Mission accomplished to the max. If you thought you knew Yukon Blonde, get ready to be wowed all over again. Even if the Pantera influence doesn’t quite come through, Tiger Talk is going to be remembered as a local all-time classic.
Yukon Blonde plays the Commodore on Friday (April 27).
Follow Mike Usinger on the Tweeter at twitter.com/mikeusinger.