Interview with Yukon Blonde

Barely three months after releasing its self-titled debut, Vancouver’s Yukon Blonde is already making waves across Canada. The album finds the band indulging in classically minded folk-rock, purveying a mix of jangling guitars, immaculate harmonies and an abundance of perfectly crafted pop hooks. Its live show, meanwhile, is considerably more raw — the harmonies still shine, but the guitars are more ragged, the drums more immediate and the attitude far sweatier. The band knows how to rock out, in other words.

Thanks to that well-received album and the intensity of the live experience, Yukon Blonde was already gathering momentum before heading to Toronto’s Canadian Music Week festival in March. But even moments before taking the stage, the band wasn’t sure how its set would go over.

“I had an interview with MuchMusic two minutes before our set, and they said, ‘What should we look forward to?’” recalls guitarist Jeff Innes. “I said, ‘We’re just a grunge band, we’re going to be sloppy as shit.’ We didn’t get any sleep the night before, so I thought we were gonna be terrible.”

Apparently Innes is an awful judge of his band, because the set went over like gangbusters. ChartAttack magazine dubbed Yukon Blonde the best band of the festival — no mean feat with 350 acts competing for the honour. Three months from debut to top of the scene: It’s a classic overnight rock ’n’ roll success story. And like most classic stories, it’s not exactly true.

Keen-eyed Canuckophiles will recognize Innes and his bandmates Brandon Scott (guitar) and Graham Jones (drums) from Kelowna quintet Alphababy, which released a pair of EPs in addition to touring alongside Jon-Rae Fletcher, The Constantines and fellow Kelownans Ladyhawk. Despite its relentless touring and support from some of the country’s best bands, things never quite came together for Alphababy. It’s hard to say exactly why not (though everyone from Fletcher to half of Canada’s music media to Innes himself suspects the questionable band name had some role to play), but some soul-searching led to an answer. Stripping from a five-piece to a more streamlined quartet (bassist Adam Newton left after recording the album), the band honed itself into the power-pop missile that’s blowing away audiences across the country.

“The name helped, but it’s not everything,” Innes says of the revamping. “We dropped all of our songs and wrote stuff that fits us now. You know, it got to the point that we weren’t even playing music we enjoyed anymore, so we thought that the name change was a good excuse to start playing music that we loved.”

The reinvention ended up taking a full year, which the band spent writing and testing songs on Kelowna crowds before eventually making the trek to Vancouver. Although 12 months doesn’t seem like much time to completely redefine yourself, Innes insists the band would’ve been ready sooner if not for a string of bad luck.

“The bulk of it was written in two months or so,” he explains. “We were supposed to record right away, but our drummer got a hernia — and then he broke his foot. So, we had to postpone recording for a little bit, and then the studio we wanted to go to was booked up, so we had to wait for that. We weren’t intending to take a year off.”

Intentional or not, it was exactly what Yukon Blonde needed. The critics are on the band’s side, the fans are showing up in ever-increasing numbers — going Blonde was clearly the right choice. If there’s anything bringing Innes down, though, it’s the tendency of some critics to write the band off as a nostalgia act. The good-natured singer-guitarist doesn’t get into it without a bit of prodding — he’s obviously appreciative of his band’s good fortune — but he does admit to being baffled by comparisons to the likes of Fleetwood Mac.

“I still sort of don’t understand it, but I guess I accept it,” he says. “I accept that people are going to make comparisons, and, you know what? Maybe I’m wrong, because I love the Stones, and Crosby, Stills and Nash, Fleet Foxes and stuff. There’s a good possibility that we do sound like that and I could be oblivious to it.”

“I wasn’t ever mad, but I just didn’t understand it,” he continues. “It was like, we don’t sound like Crosby Stills. Those guys have got harmonies, man. We’ve got some harmonies, but not anything compared to Crosby, Stills and Nash.”

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