These days, Vancouver-based indie-pop band Yukon Blonde’s lead singer, Jeff Innes, lives on Galiano Island. He has created a bit of a picturesque “artist’s life” for himself—an in-house studio, proximity to the ocean, rustic settings, and bare-bones access to social media.
“A lot of people started to get priced out of the city,” Innes says of Vancouver in an interview at Our Town in Mount Pleasant. “I actually left because I couldn’t have a space to work here unless I was in one of those old storage lockers with, like, 5,000 other bands at the same time. How are you supposed to write music?”
But that doesn’t mean Innes is not in and around Vancouver often. When we speak with him, he’s just finished up coproducing some music with fellow Vancouver band the Zolas. The two groups are set to tour together beginning in November.
Yukon Blonde’s fourth studio album, Critical Hit, was released last month, and it is no doubt the most personal of them all. The band—which consists of Innes and Brandon Scott on both vocals and guitar, Graham Jones on drums and vocals, James Younger on bass and vocals, and Rebecca Gray on keyboard and vocals—has cultivated a nostalgic synth sound that now seems effortless and natural for it.
“All the songs have personalities. I’m never basing my artistic inclinations on what’s popular,” Innes says.
Critical Hit is the culmination of years of electronica-infused songwriting, experience, and growth.
Before moving to Vancouver from Kelowna in 2009, Innes’s band was called Alphababy.
“I kind of saw something happen,” Innes says. “There was a sort of monopolization of the talent in Kelowna, which started to drive away some of the bands that we really loved.”
While the scene was supportive, Innes felt that it was stagnant.
“When we left, everything seemed sort of fractured. It didn’t seem like anybody could do any of that hopeful, wondrous stuff we were doing before,” he notes. “The town didn’t seem to be fostering any new talent. And I was already seeing our popularity beginning to wane.”
The group needed to get their “asses kicked” and leave, says Innes. Once they left the Okanagan, the band morphed into something totally new—Yukon Blonde.
“Vancouver was amazing. Instantly. When we released our record here, there were so many supportive bands. We got so accepted into their scene here. But it was very different back then, there were so many more bands,” Innes recalls.
Many of Innes’s favourite Vancouver venues have since closed, and the frontman says there is less of a DIY music culture than there used to be.
In the early days of Yukon Blonde, the group decided they wanted to be in a band so badly that they all quit their jobs and spent nearly two years living in their van and staying on friends’ couches.
“Like, no home, no job, and no source of income,” Innes says. “We’ve busked in cities to make gas money—really rough stuff. We would tour constantly. We figured that if we stayed on tour we would always have a place to stay.”
This mentality resulted in three years of solid touring beginning in 2009, which sometimes had Yukon Blonde surviving on beans and bread. While the hard work eventually paid off with critical success and a loyal fan following, there were some pretty low moments.
“Graham got pneumonia so bad once, he almost died. That was pretty bad. My family went to the hospital to essentially say goodbye to him,” Innes reveals.
In the gaming world, a “critical hit” is when an avatar is badly wounded. The Critical Hit LP is more or less a breakup record, says Innes. Before the album, Innes was in a long-distance relationship with a girl from Spain. The two flew back and forth for about a year and a half. The last time Innes saw her, he was walking her to the floatplane on Galiano Island. They didn’t break up right then and there, but something told him it was over. And that is what the last song on the album—“Ritual on the Docks”—is all about.
“A critical hit doesn’t kill you…it just delivers a critical blow. A double critical hit is a fatal blow,” Innes points out. “My mind just kept saying ‘critical hit’, and I wasn’t even thinking about the album. I thought, ‘That is such a beautiful phrase. It almost kind of works like a breakup title…oh my god.’ ”
And that is how Innes thought of the breakup. It was a critical hit, but he would survive. Critical Hit consists of songs that ruminate on the trials and tribulations of relationships between friends and lovers.
“The underlying theme of the record is more lament than triumph,” he says.
The LP is more serious and less fictional than the past three Yukon Blonde albums, but it is still fun and danceable. A lot of Critical Hit is about dating in the digital age. But it’s safe to say that Innes lives largely offline nowadays.
“It’s amazing how much more time I have for music and reading. Your phone sucks all of your time. You’re either working or you’re on social media. That’s not the way to live a life. And you don’t realize how depressed you are on that shit,” Innes says. “As soon as I deleted Facebook, I totally went through withdrawal. A month later I caught myself thinking thoughts about art projects, and daydreaming all the time. I thought…‘This is really, really nice.’ ”
Life on Galiano Island is more affordable, and certainly peaceful. And while reflecting on his heartbreaking Spanish love story helped create Critical Hit, Innes says a lot of his songwriting is done when he is in a good place.
“I’m more productive when emotionally stable. I can’t focus and think when I’m going through emotional turmoil.”
Yukon Blonde plays SKOOKUM in Stanley Park on September 9.