When I reach Jon Mckiel he’s in the middle of a New Brunswick snowstorm. I’m in the
Yukon, where the temperature has dipped below -30°C.
We talk about what to expect when he arrives in Whitehorse to perform at the Available Light Film Festival on February 13. He’s never been here, and I’ve never been there, so we’re unsure how to compare, but it sounds like the temperature will be similar.
While our groceries might be more expensive, he’s used to shopping in a town with only two stores that often run out of things.
“I don’t know what else to expect,” he says. “I hope to see the northern lights.”
But his impression of the northern arts scene does precede his visit. He’s aware that this place a magnet for artists; his latest self-titled album has even been produced by Yukon’s own Headless Owl Records.
He’ll be bringing his unique sound (which is said to channel Daniel Johnston) to a late-night cabaret this Friday alongside east coast indie legend Julie Doiron. And though Mckiel normally plays with a band, his Yukon debut will be a solo affair.
“I’m not going to be bringing those guys,” he says. “It’s a very long journey. It’s a plane-type journey. I’m just going to play alone. Which is going to be terrifying. Every time I do it I say I’m never going to do that again.
“Maybe I can get a band together in Whitehorse.” But his more recent pieces might suit the intimacy of isolation in the North — his latest album was recorded on an eight track in a small wood-heated cabinlike studio.
“It’s exciting to take the means of my own production back. It’s more handson, it’s not the kind of thing you can rush.
“You give more of yourself.”
Julie Doiron will also be performing solo — although she won’t be travelling that way. Doiron is heading to the Yukon with her eighteen-month-old daughter Elsie, who already has her own passport and has joined her mom on multiple tour stops.
Our conversation also begins with the weather.
Also hailing from New Brunswick, Doiron says the storm piled about six feet of snow in front of her back door.
“But it was so windy,” she says. “Our front door is totally clear.”
Doiron has been in the Yukon before; she played the Dawson City Music Festival in 2008. She left wanting to come back — looking up flights.
And it’s fitting she’ll be returning with a child in tow. After twenty years, Doiron is taking a break from music, sort of. She’s been focusing her energy on being a mom, and she’s totally enjoying it.
“I think I just really like being a homemaker,” she says, as she is taking a short break from hanging out with Elsie to speak with me.
“That’s kind of where I think I thrive. That being said I have this new song I’ve been waking up with in my head every morning…”
Doiron has been a mother for just about as long as she’s been a musician. Her oldest is twenty, and he came into her life around the time she began her solo career. This isn’t her first break from music — after her daughter Rosie was born she took a year off.
“It’s kind of the most amazing year I have spent,” she says. “Walking kids to the bus. Meeting them after school. I felt like I was doing what I wanted to do.”
“But,” she says, “If I had quit music entirely…I don’t know if I would have been happy.”
Doiron has produced 10 studio albums and participated in countless collaborations; she’s a Juno winner and a Polaris shortlister.
“It was worrying me last fall…will I ever write a song again? Will I care? What do I have to say anymore?”
But though Elsie was her reason for a break, she’s also brought Doiron back.
“I honestly think it’s because I’m seeing something through a toddler’s eyes again,” says Doiron. “She plays all the instruments and thinks they are the most amazing things in the world.
“It’s just really nice to just do it for fun.”
You can catch Jon Mckiel and Julie Doiron this Friday, February 13 at the Yukon Arts Centre Cabaret at 10:00 pm. Tickets are $17.