“Be the reference.” That’s the mantra Yukon Blonde tacked up on the studio wall during the sessions for their fourth album, Critical Hit, and it emboldened them to rip up the indie rock playbook and embrace a synth-dazzled new sound that’s easy to love but difficult to pigeonhole. Now a decade into their career, Yukon Blonde are following no one except themselves.
Critical Hit began at a literal crossroads: after a tour, singer-guitarist Jeffrey Innes flew to Madrid to be with the woman he had met on tour in Spain, while his bandmates James Younger (bass), Brandon Scott (guitar), Rebecca Gray (keyboards) and Graham Jones (drums) headed back home to Vancouver. This kicked off an artistic free-for-all, as Jeffrey spent the better part of the next year and a half wandering Madrid, penning lyrics in art galleries and chronicling the rise and fall of his relationship. “Everybody in Madrid was so inspirational,” Jeffrey remembers. “There are folk singers on the street and everybody believes they’re an artist. Being there, the pressure was off for writing music. I didn’t feel like I was writing for anything — I was just happy and inspired to make music.”
Anyone who caught on to the slow-burn success of 2012’s desolately hook-laden Ancient Mars could sense that something in The Zolas was threatening to bubble over, and after a year of recording, 2015’s Swooner(Light Organ Records) shows an alternative pop collaboration at the top of their creative game. Original members Tom Dobrzanski and Zach Gray have been joined by another longtime duo Cody Hiles and DJ Abell and this is the first album they’ve completely self-produced at Dobrzanski’s Monarch Studios in Vancouver.
Swooner marks a major departure from both the cabaret rock of 2009’s Tic Toc Tic and the atmospheric minimalism of Ancient Mars. This time around the band dove headlong into vibrant, experimental pop, stirring modern production into the influences that surrounded them as kids growing up in the ‘90s. “This is the most ‘us’ of anything we’ve done,” Zach observes. “It’s fun to be in an era of music where people are ready to appreciate messed-up combinations of influences, and we had a good time pushing that.”