Jumping New Hoops

Between his successful rockabilly band, Sasquatch Prom Date, and his multiple other side projects, Ryan McNally is quickly becoming a key player in the Yukon music scene.

The release of his newly-finished, full-length solo album, Down Home, can only serve to solidify his position.

Recorded at BlueStar Studios and produced jointly by Chris Isaak and McNally himself, the album consists of eight original tracks and three covers.

“It’s kind of acoustic blues/roots kind of stuff,” explains McNally. “I’ve been working on it for just about a year now. It’s been a long time, with a lot of different hoops to jump through, but it’s finally done and it feels really good.”

Until now, McNally has done recordings and demos of just himself and his guitar. Down Home contains his first work arranging music for multiple musicians.

McNally admits it has been quite a learning experience to work with such contributing artists as local musicians Rob Bergman, Lonnie Powell, Brandon Isaak, Daniel Janke, Jay Burr and George McConkey.

“I arranged all the music, and did all the composing and writing,” he says.

“I’m in a lot of bands now, so I have quite a lot of things going on. I had to find time to work it out, so I brought it to everyone at different times. Everyone had their own versions of the songs, and when we put it all together, it really made me look at the songs in a new way.”

With positive feedback from his pre-release performance at this summer’s Dawson City Music Festival, McNally is excited at the official release party, which takes place Friday, September 2 at the Yukon Arts Centre at 8 pm.

“The album was done pretty much with a lot of help from Chris. We were making a lot of pretty substantial decisions which I’ve never done before,” he says.

“It was an awesome learning process. I’m really excited about the CD. I’m really proud of it; everyone did a really good job.”

The CD release party will be on the main stage, “on-the-wing” style. With the audience onstage with the musicians, the seating capacity is about 130 people.

“It’s like a cabaret style, with a bar onstage,” McNally explains.

“We’ll be playing three sets, and the last one we’re going to do is kind of a dance set, with lots of songs off the album. We’ll be recorded live by CBC, which is really exciting.”

McNally will be accompanied at the release by Bergman, Powell, and McConkey as well as “lots of special guests throughout”.

With various band commitments, performances, a CD release party and album promotion to juggle at the same time, some artists might be taking a well-earned break from tapping the creative flow.

But McNally is hardly one to just coast on success; he is already working on new material and forging ahead with his solo project.

“I’m going to be doing more albums for sure,” he says.

“This is the only thing I know won’t go away. It’s not like having a band where everyone’s life has to coincide with yours. Right now there’s no plan to stop… if anything it’s just going to get more busy and become more of a focus for me.”

McNally is even writing some new songs to perform during the Down Home release show, to “give people a taste” of what his next album will sound like.

And if that’s not enough, he’s also planning a trip overseas. To China, to be exact.

“I’m going to this jazz festival in China in October,” he says, laughing at the seemly random location as he explains.

“Grant Simpson at Music Yukon knew about it and recommended that I apply, which I did, and got accepted,” he says.

“It’s been quite a long procedure. To go to China you have to get all the visas to be able to perform there. You have to get an official invite from the Chinese communist government, too. I’ll be taking the whole band with me, and we’ll be performing the record over there.”

The jazz festival happens to land right before the Western Canadian Music Awards are being held, back in Whitehorse, so McNally will be hot-footing it back to perform in a showcase spot with Sasquatch Prom Date.

McNally may have an incredibly full plate coming up, but he never forgets to keep it light and have fun. Nor does he forget his appreciation for the Yukon music scene.

“The Yukon is a great place to play music,” he says. “I’m learning a lot from the band members I’ve been playing with. It’s such a compact group of talented people here that have so much to share.”

For more about McNally or to hear his samples of his music, visit his website at http://www.ryanmcnally.ca.

Willow Gamberg is a former What’s Up Yukon intern who writes about music and other arts-related topics.

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