Jeffrey Innes

Interviewed by Kaylan Mackinnon

Jeffrey Innes is the lead singer and writer in Yukon Blonde, a Vancouver indie rock band. Since starting the group in 2008 he has gained an international following and acclaim for hits like “Saturday Night.” The band, originally from Kelowna, BC, are currently working on their fourth album. I was inspired to interview Jeffrey Innes because his songs tell such beautiful stories, and it is incredible knowing that Yukon Blonde belongs to our very own Canada. I talked to Jeff about his writing process, how it all got started for him, and

advice on how you can jumpstart your own writing career. 

Yukon Blonde is an internationally acclaimed band! You must be happy with the success you’ve had. Would you say there was a song the band and you wrote that put Yukon Blonde on the map?

I would say our song “Stairway” did pretty well for us, but both “Saturday Night” and “I Wanna Be Your Man” would be the two songs that helped get us out there much more that any others.

For readers who haven’t heard your music yet, please describe your sound and style in a few words.

This is always the hardest question for any songwriter. Either you compare yourself inaccurately to your influences and inspirations or, in my case, you feel you’re constantly changing and don’t want to pin yourself down. I mean, ok, I recognize that we’re an alternative indie pop/rock band with electronic or psychedelic tendencies and sometimes we’re pastiche. What does that even mean? I think it means we just sound however we want to whenever we want to. In the past, we’ve had guitars, drums, harmonies, cool bass lines and synths.

Has music always been a passion of yours you wanted to pursue?

Music and film were always a passion of mine growing up, and I think music won me over in my 20s by the simplest fact that it’s much easier to create the little worlds and alternate realities that both had to offer. I had made little scores for friends in film in high school and had an electronic synth project with a friend when I met our drummer Graham. He was the guy who convinced me that being in a band was the way to go. Until then, I always sort of dreamed of creating movies and music for movies.

What is the writing process like when working with your other band members, or other artists in the Canadian song writing industry?

I am a little shy when it comes to working with people, so I tend to do a lot of my writing alone. It has gotten a little easier over the years to convey ideas and listen to my band mates, but it’s still quite hard for me. It’s certainly a thing I would love to overcome.

Do you prefer the performing side of music or the writing side of it?

I like both. With writing, I get to let my mind wander or be totally introspective, crazy, fun or sad. I get to pretend I’m someone else, or understand human emotion in a way that I feel most people don’t get the opportunity to. With performing however, it’s exactly the opposite. All my insecurities and fears are protected by the crowd. I can wear everything on the outside, and I can feel so much positive energy coming from the audience. Live music is one of these things that nothing in this world can replace. You have hundreds, or tens of thousands of people all gathering together for a sonic experience. I mean, there are these moments where you see people so happy, or sad that tears are streaming down their faces. Behavior that’s otherwise completely deemed unacceptable in public by society, but we totally accept it in that circumstance, and it’s simply just frequencies generated by people. To be a part of that in any way in my life is something I can’t be grateful enough for.

What feelings do you get when people applaud after you’ve played one of your songs?

Success and humility of course. It’s insane that people let me up there, let alone show gratitude and respect for what I’m doing. Again, grateful.

“Saturday Night” is one of your biggest hits! What was the inspiration behind the writing of this song? Did you expect this one to do as well as it did?

The inspiration is love and relationships. The idea of a once seemingly attainable and blissful relationship that slowly and systematically ruins your life. There are crazy people out there that do this shit. Essentially, the “one” turning out to be kind of vindictive and sort of evil.

You wrote a song called “Land You Love,” in regards to the 2015 federal election. Was this your first song touching on the topic of politics? What sort of reaction did you get from your audience?

Our friend Tim from Hey Rosetta actually wrote that beautiful song and we were humbled by the honour of performing on it. It’s not the first touching on politics, but it’s the first song we’ve been a part of that directly deals with a specific issue. There’s a song called “Starvation” on Yukon Blonde that is essentially about Donald Trump and at the time we kind of toyed with the idea that people like him would end up in a position of power and it would be accepted in our society. Just the idea scared the shit out of us. Who knew?

Writers block – we’ve all had some form of it. Would you say you believe in it yourself?

Of course, and it’s the worst! I have no idea how to deal with it except just to stop taking myself so seriously. If you want to pursue any kind of writing as a career or otherwise, I highly recommend getting out of your own head and getting out of your own way. Listen to people, observe, and get into nature. Think about the writing and feel as much as you can. You might not be able to write, but you can get out there and experience life. It’ll ultimately make you a better writer when you do finally get that ink down. As Sir Paul once said, “No input, no output.” Also, as much as I try and do this- there’s a more pragmatic method I use more often, and that’s just trying over and over a million times. You’ll make a million bad songs, but when the inspiration finally hits you, you’ve been effectively practicing and writing deliberately so you’ll be more inclined to see an idea through and you’ll be much more efficient in doing so than if you hadn’t been trying at all.

Is your family supportive of your career choice?

Yes of course they are. My mom had an incredibly hard life, spending about a third of it on the streets as a young native girl and the other third wrapped up in the terrifying social care system in the ‘70s and ‘80s. She had me when she was 17, raised me mostly as a single parent and did an extraordinary job. She always said, “As long as you don’t become a crackhead and pursue a happy life, I’ll be proud of you.” She’s always been supportive and probably my biggest fan. My brothers, sisters, uncles, aunts, grandmas, and cousins have always been the most supportive family to me and each other since I can remember. Lots of love in my family.

“Hannah” is one of my favourite songs! What is your favourite one to perform?

“Hannah” is obviously about Hannah Georgas. We helped each other through a very rough time in both our lives. This song is about welcoming her back after she went to play Guelph’s Hillside Festival that summer. My favourite song to play is probably “Favourite People” or “I Wanna Be Your Man.” I just love the crowd’s vibe on these tunes.

What inspires your writing?

Everything. The record we’re working on is split between songs of love, but not in a humorous or ironic way. I’ve never done that. Then there’s a few about how fucked we are right now – societally and politically. I mean, it’s crazy out there. If you’re able to believe what Kurzweil is saying about AI, or if you just look around and see the rises in power around the world and take a page out of our history books, it’s an incredibly scary time. Narcissism, racism and sexism have reached an all-time high. This sort of stuff is affecting me, and probably everyone, quite massively. The silver lining is the amount of ongoing protests. The best part is that it seems to be making a difference, and if we can just keep this going, past the goal lines and right out of the park, we can win all of this. We’re writing about the two best and worst things happening right now. What I wouldn’t give to write a song about pizza or clothes right now.

Is there any artist out there you would love to write a song for?

I’d love to write a song for U2 and keep all the writing and publishing royalties

What’s the hardest song you’ve ever had to write? Do you ever get emotional performing it?

My mom thought that the song “Iron Fist” was about the passing of my stepdad, and even though it’s not, not even close, it makes me think of him every time we play it. I feel like there’s a lot of songs that were difficult to write, but most of the ones that were the most emotional or introspective were on my solo record, High Ends “Super Class,” and I get emotional performing almost every song.

Besides song writing, have you ever considered writing in other genres?

Yes, I want to start writing more stories and get back into film. If you mean other genres of music, I do that too but not much of it sees the light of day.

How many hours a day do you write?

I try and write all the time, but some days I just don’t want to. Ideally, I’d spend about 3-4 hours a day, but sometimes I’ll have bursts where I’ll write for 12 hours straight, and then weeks of nothing.

There are many professional songwriters. Why not use their songs?

Good question ha-ha. There’s something romantic and pure about recording and performing songs that came from you, but really, it all comes down to ease and logistics. It would take me the same amount of time to write a song as good as it would to find a song I loved and could believe in. Also, if you pen the song that breaks you, you’ll see the financial reward of that as well, even though publishing royalties are virtually peanuts these days.

Is there a moment in your music career that you are most proud of?

There’s so many, but what I’m most proud of is a few little, nonpublic victories. We’ve had some rough times and some that made it nearly impossible to continue as a band. Either through financial difficulty, interpersonal relationships or simply an overwhelming shit-storm of events that most betting folk would have put their money on the demise of the band. And we’ve overcome them as a unit and a team. And I’m really fucking proud of us for that.

Do you ever Google yourself?

No. Seriously that FREAKS me out.

Have you ever had any crazy fan encounters?

Yeah there’s been a few, but then I think about the time that we met the Foo Fighters including Dave Grohl at an after party at The Troubadour in LA, and it’s hard to even imagine our childish giddy fan girl behaviour that night. Ugh. Anyways, it’s nice that people get excited about you. Sometimes, it’s a little embarrassing but I’m not one to judge here.

Where is the best money you’ve spent as a writer?

Anything that gets those brain juices flowing. Cool or weird instruments, a nice pen, my laptop, a good interface with a nice preamp, and especially my rented home on the Gulf Island away from the entire world. For practical reasons, anything that allows you to write or capture ideas on the go.

What is one thing aspiring writers don’t know about you that you could share with them?

I struggle and make terrible songs just like everyone else, but most people don’t love everything they release. Most people are self-conscious and it takes a lot of effort to sell yourself so people can hear these songs you might not even like. You’re honestly the only thing standing between your music and an audience, so get out of your own way and give a shit. Try harder. Get better. Let everyone see the process and just go for it. Don’t give into that asshole in your head.

What’s your next step in your career? Do you have any upcoming plans we can know about?

Yukon Blonde is working on record #4 which is awesome so far, and I’m making another record with a secret friend and I might start work on another solo record once all that dies down. Yukon Blonde will be touring as usual after the record comes out, only this time we’re going to get massive in China or South America. I can feel it.

Kaylan Mackinnon moved from Ontario to Vancouver, BC in 2013 to pursue a career in music and acting, while attaining her degree at the University of British Columbia. You can find Kaylan’s music online, and she is set to release her debut album this summer.

Instagram: @kaylanmackinnon 

www.kaylanmackinnon.com

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