In an era of repeated formulas, cut-and dry chord progressions, and just-add-water albums, Yukon Blonde are among the few who never shy away from reinvention. After bursting onto the scene with an eponymous debut in 2010, the Vancouver trio has swam through rivers of rock and roll, waded into the sing-along fog of indie folk, and has now gone neck-deep into synthesized jams on their third record, On Blonde.
The journey wasn’t easy; while touring in promotion of their sophomore LP Tiger Talk, the band describes a period of time in which they weren’t even sure they wanted to make another record. Years of tireless touring, recording, and writing had the joy of touring into a routine. “We were in Australia at one point, where we should have been having the time of our lives, and we just hated it” shared bass player Brandon Scott. With booked studio time approaching, it looked like Yukon Blonde was doomed to record a tired, lacklustre record– or worse yet, break up entirely.
Fortunately, Yukon Blonde stepped away from the drawing board; guitarist Jeff Innes launched solo project High Ends, re-igniting the love of electronic music that would come into play on On Blonde. After a quick rendezvous in Mexico, some much-needed R&R, and the purchase of some Moog synthesizers, Yukon Blonde came back to record their best record yet. With its titanic melodies and irresistible danceability, On Blonde is a sonic and spiritual triumph, proof that the band can reinvent itself time and time again while remaining the same at heart.
We spoke to Brandon on a Friday afternoon, the day before the band took the stage at the Khatsahlano music festival in Vancouver.
So, what’s going on with Yukon Blonde right now?
We’ve been rehearsing a lot. We play the Khatsahlano music festival in Kitsilano tomorrow, and then on Monday we hit our U.S tour with a band called Chappo. Around there we’re also playing two other festivals this summer; the Wayhome Festival in Toronto and the Centre of Gravity Festival in Kelowna!
I understand you guys first met in Kelowna– is it nostalgic playing back there?
A little bit– it’s always funny going back there because we don’t really keep in touch with many friends. We do have some family back there, so it’s always nice to see them. It’s also a great festival to play.
Your third album, On Blonde, just came out. What’s the reception to it been like so far?
I think it’s been our best album yet in terms of reception. I try to keep my eye on a few things here and there, press-wise, but I try not to read reviews because they can either get you really bummed out or can inflate your ego. But what I have seen is good.
Regarding On Blonde, there’s a very heavy synth influence on the record. Where did that stem from ?
That’s definitely from Jeff’s mind. He’s always been really into electronic music and used to send me really cool tunes that he made with electronic kits. I think over the past couple years we’ve always had synths in our records, but we’ve never had them live. Jeff put together a band called High Ends last year that had a lot of synths in it, and I played bass with them, and we just found it was so much fun to record and play with, and we needed to reinvent our sound. We got two members to add to the sound as well– it’s nice to have an extra synth player onstage. Anyways, Jeff went and bought three amazing Moog synthesizers from the 70s…. and it was just fun to have in the studio. You can do so much with them because the soundscape is so much larger than guitars. And you can make minimal records too. On our last album, we had to toss out so many songs. With synths, you can really easily chop the fat to make a song perfect.
Prior to On Blonde, I understand there almost wasn’t going to be a third record– or that was at least a possibility.
It got to a point where we were just exhausted. It gets to that point when you’re in a band for two years, in really close quarters, and it just stops being fun. We were in Australia at one point, where we should have been having the time of our lives, and we just hated it. We had the studio booked for the coming October, and we just decided we shouldn’t do it– we were burnt out. We made a very concious decision to take some time. Jeff wouldn’t have written his own record without that time, and it really made us much closer in the end.
I also understand you guys met to reform the band in Mexico?
Well, our drummer was off in Toronto, and Jeff and I were here and trying to pass demos across the country, which is a really frustrating way to be in a band. We were looking into flights to Toronto to meet him and figure stuff out, and it ended up being way cheaper to go to Mexico– so we were like “Yeah, we’ll meet you there.” It was a perfect, stress-free environment– it wasn’t like we were crammed into a coffee shop.
I just find it hilarious that it’s cheaper to fly two whole countries down.
I’m telling you, it’s a really good way to do it! We hadn’t seen each other in a long time, and it was just a refreshing few days together. WE got really excited about the band, and Graham even ended up moving back here.
Do you guys think the stress mostly built up after Tiger Talk?
Well, our first record came out in 2010, and we toured that, and prior to that we had an EP. So it went straight from that to writing, recording, and touring Tiger Talk. We hadn’t taken a break in years, we didn’t really have proper homes… I don’t want to sound like a whiner, but it was intense.
I have it noted here that the first record you ever bought was a Barenaked Ladies record. So I have to ask, what did you listen to growing up?
I was a huge Nirvana fan. They really were the Beatles of our generation. They changed the way you looked at bands, the way you dealt with the press– Kurt was a pretty smart guy that way. It really opened some doors and got me into playing guitar.
I’m very thankful that you’re not treating me the way Kurt sometimes managed things. That would be very spooky.
He was so good at controlling the press- it was a little bit weird at times.
Gonna get meta with this one– do you ever get sick of interviews?
Certain questions– the “what does your band name mean” one is pretty brutal. But I think interviews are definitely an important part of what we do, for sure.
Here’s a really fun name question: a lot of bands go through some brutal, brutal names. What is the worst name you’ve ever performed under?
A couple. I think Yukon Blonde’s first name, Alphababy, was pretty bad. We were on tour with John-Rae Fletcher and he was just like “Guys, you gotta change the name, it’s terrible– anything would be better than that.” Utopia was another bad name. Ludo was also a bad name. So many bad names.
As you’ve already mentioned, you’re playing Khatsalano tomorrow. What can you say about the vibe of Khats?
It’s a really good vibe. Last time we played it was 2011, and I really like how casual it is. It’s like a more chill Seattle Block Party, It’s a packed amount of people with all your friends’ bands playing– you can hop stage to stage and see all your buddies, anytime….Zulu does amazing work curating Khatsahlano.
My last question: What’s next?
Well, we’ve got Australia coming up in September, so I’m looking forward to that. I just hope to tour a lot in the next little bit– but comfortably.
Catch Yukon Blonde on their US tour here.