A few years ago, Teagan Johnston sat in her kitchen, her face covered in fake blood. Her
husband took the photo in their Toronto apartment for the cover of her second EP, Blood and Bones, released in 2014.
When they were barely out of high school, the two moved to the big city from Victoria so Johnston, also known as Little Coyote, could grow her music.
The Yukon-born artist recalls a difficult and lonely time.
“That album cover was really me being beat up by Toronto,” she says of the blood. “We moved and I think I had two of the hardest jobs I’ve ever had in my life – café jobs with extremely abusive employers and a really hard work environment… working like 11 hours without a break – which is craziness. And then just trying to meet people in a whole new city that I didn’t really know. And we had mice in our apartment. It was probably pretty typical, but it was definitely tough to transition.”
The songs and videos from that time have a mournful quality, with Johnston singing alone, playing spare notes on a piano.
Now at 21, she is still attracted to dark themes in her music, but her life feels more settled. That is if you call touring and playing nightly gigs, while still serving espresso during the day, a settled life.
She has expanded Little Coyote to a band, with guitarist Byron Patterson and drummer Mike Poisson, and is working on her first full-length album, The Trouble with Teeth.
This time, instead of a bloody face, the album cover will show Johnston with an athletic Yukon husky named Nutter.
“He’s done four Yukon Quests and yeah, a pretty cool dog… he was just so stoic, really wonderful.”
Shooting the cover was one reason for her return to the Yukon, her first visit since age five. She was also curious about the arts and music scene. She feels the land of her birth is in her songwriting, somewhere. She was in town for the first half of October.
“My first morning in Whitehorse, I got up early and went for a run and was listening to the album. It was really special to hear it in this venue.”
For now though, home is Toronto. The city is no longer beating her up, but instead feeding her with contacts, opportunities and a smorgasbord of musical influences.
“It’s huge. There’s a lot of weird stuff that I filter in and tone down,” she says with a smile. “I think Toronto’s shakin’ right now… I think music is the most accessible it’s ever been, so there’s a lot of people making music.”
This also means there are live shows everywhere and many chances to play, which she has taken.
“Meeting people by going to other people’s shows I think was the most beneficial. Toronto’s also really great for online forums, so posting and watching out for someone who’d say, ‘We need a band for a show.’ I’d always be, ‘Us!’”
She’s happy as well, to leave behind the days of rehearsing and performing solo. “Sometimes it was kinda hard and really solitary to play with just you up there — to get your energy up and talk to people,” Johnston says. “To have two other people who are there for you, who you can share the moment with, is really special.”
Little Coyote releases the first single from The Trouble with Teeth, called “Delirium” on Oct. 30. It will be on Spotify and iTunes.