I’ve just asked Aaron Burnie to describe his band’s music, and at first his answer seems puzzling: “It’s like asking your grandfather to tell you about how much he loves your grandmother … They’ve been together so long and of course he loves her, but when put to the question he just responds, ‘Oh, you know, she’s a good woman’.”
It’s a response that should have me scratching my head. But I’m not. I get it. I’m just not sure why.
Such is the appeal of Three Chords and the Truth, a two-piece outfit out of Dawson City, featuring Burnie and bandmate Jonathan Ostrander, who will soon be taking the stage at Frostbite.
But, don’t let the cryptic simile fool you.
Three Chords and the Truth are not out to confound you. In fact, Burnie seems equally comfortable with “Quirky, folky” when I tell him that’s how someone else described them.
The truth about “The Truth” lies somewhere in-between.
In a Yukon landscape that is threatening to reach the saturation point when it comes to quirky folk music, Burnie and Ostrander have endeared themselves to Dawson audiences and points south by combining strong musicianship and affecting lyrics with a healthy dose of foot stomping “Yo! Barkeep …” good times thrown in for good measure.
The result is something the listener can connect with.
With Burnie’s capable hands coaxing sounds from the banjo, autoharp, fiddle and even a saw, and Ostrander delicately filling in the gaps on guitar and harmonica, the band layers vocal harmonies on lyrics that cut to the heart of the matter.
In Silver Dagger, they persuade, “Oh, Katie dear, go ask your papa if you could be a bride of mine. If he says ‘yes’, come back and tell me. If he says ‘no’, we’ll run away.” Simple, direct and eminently listenable.
Among a growing catalogue of originals, the band has nurtured a soft spot for traditional folk ballads that they adapt to suit their preferred cadence and requisite quirkiness. At 29 and 25 years of age, respectively, Burnie and Ostrander can hardly be described as grizzled folk balladeers, but they make no apologies for producing music that hearkens to an earlier era.
“Just call us ‘old souls’.” explains Burnie. “I like to think of folk music as being universal and not restricted to age, and I guess we’re trying to prove that …
“The stories in folk music relate to anyone, regardless of age.”
As for influences, Burnie balks at dropping the names of folk big-hitters and looks, instead, to their surroundings: The North, Dawson City and it’s indomitable spirit … their adopted close-knit community is where they draw their inspiration from.
It’s also where they draw their motivation: “The best thing about being a band in Dawson is supplying good times for our community.
“It’s a sense of place that keeps me here,” Burnie asserts.
As for the worst thing about being a band in Dawson, Burnie points to the challenges of trying to expose themselves and gain a wider audience. With their debut CD set to drop this spring and a prime Friday-night slot at Frostbite, Three Chords and the Truth can expect to win over a few more believers soon with their foot-stomping, sentimental, folky quirkiness.
Check www.frostbitefest.ca for show times and ticket information.