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20 Questions With Wonders Of The Yukon

The British alt-folk duo talk Abba covers, campervan repair and painting bunnies.

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A few weeks back, Wonders of The Yukon — who are actually an alt-folk duo from Britain and not a documentary about the Great White North, believe it or not — showcased their new single and video Cartoon Dreams in these pages. You can (and certainly should) read all about that song and clip HERE. Today, they share their snappy answers to my inane questions. As you might expect from a pair of Brits, there’s a fair amount of tomfoolishness, smartassery and pisstaking. Which is as it should be. Enjoy.

 


 

Introduce yourself: Name, age (feel free to lie), home base and other details you’d like to share — height / weight / identifying marks / astrology sign / your choice.
Both: We’re Wonders of the Yukon, aka Andy Campbell and Dave Langdale and we are both old enough to know better. We hail from the county of West Yorkshire, up in the north of England and not the wonderful Canadian province from which we take our name. If you know the 1980s film Twins starring Arnold Schwarzenneger and Danny Devito, the reference to the aforementioned actors may provide some physical reference for you if you lose the muscles and the hair. We’ll leave it to you to decide who’s who. We’re both keen ornithologists.

What is your musical origin story?
Andy: Long before meeting and forming WOTY both of us were in bands, signed to labels, releasing records etc. My band Hipkiss was signed to Columbia Records. Dave’s band Salako was signed to Jeepster records.
Dave: Looking at our PRS statements, it’s probably fair to say Andy had a little more success.

Andy: We spent time sharing stages with the likes of Bootsy Collins, Grandaddy, Sparklehorse & Pavement. However for years after our bands split we fell out of love with and drifted away from writing and performing music. Back in the mid-2000s though we got to know each other through our wives, life-long friends from school and recognised a shared love of music. We began to collaborate, starting to write songs together over a bottle of red wine or two, and re-found our love for writing. WOTY was born and the next few years were spent honing our sound, writing and recording and learning how to sing as neither of us thought we could and had never fronted bands before. It was a steep learning curve but one we were going to have to get our heads around if we were going to perform live. I guess therefore that if, and when, the WOTY biopic is filmed by some Hollywood movie mogul, it’ll be a love-story! The story of two individuals coming together and re-finding a shared passion: for music, not each other you understand.

What’s your latest project? Tell us everything we need to know.
Dave: Rather than producing an album we have been developing a series of songs using the nomenclature Songs of Mild Peril. There are 10 songs so far in the series, and as the name suggests there is a golden thread of minor threat permeating through each: they are drawn from the context of the comfort and terror of mid-life. You can find them all on Spotify, Bandcamp, etc. Our latest release within the series is Cartoon Dreams. It’s a tale of existential angst and pits religion against evolution, God against Darwin, prayer against genetics, luck against hope, all with a liberal sprinkling of surrealism and absurdism. Andy provides the squelching guitars and lead vocals, I provide the bass and backing vocals, with friend and photographer extraordinaire Kerry Harrison on drums and percussion. All recorded and produced at our home Wounded Wolf studio.

What truly sets you apart from other artists?
Dave: I guess as a relatively new artist, we come with plenty of life experience to draw on, unlike some of the other whipper-snappers out there. This provides a different lens through which to view life and gives our music a timeless quality combined with the edge and grit you’d expect from a new band with something to say and a DIY punk ethos. The range of influences we draw upon permeates our music too — not just musical influences, or influences from a specific genre of music, but lived experience, family relationships, nature, sounds, silence, literature, art. Without meaning to sound pretentious, maybe there’s something to be learnt from us as we navigate the mysteries and terrors of mid-life and share our experiences.

What will we learn or how will our lives improve by listening to your music?
Andy: You’ll get a warm feeling inside your tummy, a soothing sound inside your ears, and be scared witless about what the future holds for you.

What album / song / artist / show changed your life?
Both: Wow! There’s so many to choose from. I think we’d both say that without Bowie it’s unlikely we’d be doing what we’re doing.
Dave: The first band I ever saw live was a relatively obscure band from Brighton, England called These Animal Men. It was the early ’90s — think I was about 16 and they were loud and abrasive, with a punk-pop sound. Whether it changed my life, I’m not sure, but it certainly gave me impetus and belief that if they could do it, so could I.

Andy: I was just too young for punk but the New Wave bands that followed such as Joy Division, New Order, Magazine had a huge impact and led me onto listening to Kraftwerk, Brian Eno and Iggy Pop. I hastily sold all my Rush, Queen, AC/DC and Yes albums but then regretted doing this and reinvested in them in subsequent years. Although I still said no to Yes! I also have vivid memories of being hunched over my dad’s old Dansette record player aged about 7 or 8 listening to old 7 inches and LPs — Elvis, Beatles, Gene Vincent, Stones, Eddie Cochrane, Beach Boys. I guess though the main thing that really opened my eyes was working in a record shop in my early 20s which is when I realised I’d been a naïve, pretentious tit. For example my previous thoughts that all country and reggae music was crap were blown out the water. I got really into Dub and people like Gram Parsons, Johnny Cash, plus a whole plethora of great ’70s funk and soul music.
Dave: So in other words there’s not one thing that Andy’s never been influenced by.

Tell us about the first song you wrote and/or the first gig you played and what you got paid.
Andy: I guess the first thing that comes to my mind was a gig with my first band at our local college. We played with another band who had a huge audience (to us) of a couple of hundred people. They were more than a little twee however and actually had a tea-party, complete with china tea cups, pots and all, on stage, whilst their audience politely sat down on the floor, crossed legged, each resplendent with a Morrissey-style Gladioli in their back pocket. Then we came on, all feedback and noisy sequenced synthesizers — something like a cross between The Stooges and Suicide. The packed auditorium soon emptied in a swirl of pollen and Gladioli petals. However we were fantastic — we rocked. It was pure rock ’n’ roll. I even threw my guitar across the huge expanse of empty space that was now the auditorium. The following day we listened to the tape. We were shit and my guitar was broken. About 20 years later I recounted this story to my brother-in-law who informed me that the twee band was in fact his, and they were called Cherry Bus Pass. Luckily for all concerned he is no longer considered twee and it turns out he never liked tea so we asked him to drum on our tracks.
Dave: The first song I can remember writing was some god-awful Suede pastiche called Atomic Skies. I was about 17 and it was truly horrific. I’m squirming with embarrassment even thinking about it. Thanks for reminding me about it!

What is the best / worst / strangest / most memorable performance you’ve given?
Dave: I think Andy’s already provided his most memorable performance in the previous answer.
Andy: Forgot to say though there was no payment but there was a hefty bill from the guitar repair shop.
Dave: Back in my time in my former band Salako, we played the Camber Sands Festival in the UK — 1999 I think. The festival was held on a holiday camp and all the artists were staying in chalets in a dedicated area of the site. As we were only a small band we kept all our equipment in our chalet, and each night we got it all hooked up and gave impromptu performances, usually just making up songs or performing dodgy cover versions of songs we didn’t really know how to play. Sometimes the other artists would get involved. In possibly the most surreal moment of my life, I remember performing a highly inebriated rendition of Abba’s Dancing Queen, accompanied by the Japanese experimental artist Cornelius. I think in some ways, this covers all four parameters of the question — it was possibly the best, worst, strangest and most memorable performance I ever gave.

What is the best / worst / strangest / most memorable performance you’ve seen another artist give?
Dave: I once experienced the Japanese experimental artist Cornelius perform Abba’s Dancing Queen outside a chalet on a holiday camp in the UK accompanied by some drunken English idiot. Wonder whatever happened to that intoxicated fool. Me, I mean…not Cornelius.

What do you want to be doing in 10 years?
Andy: Maybe writing and recording songs from the discomfort and sheer terror of later life?

What living or dead artists would you collaborate with if you could?
Andy: Bowie. Iggy. Velvet Underground. Lucinda Williams. Johnny Cash. James Brown. De La Soul. Fat White Family.
Dave: E from Eels. Elvis. Lennon. Super Furrys. Brian Wilson. Angel Olsen. Kelis. Josh Homme. Nile Rodgers.
Andy: Carole King, Carole Kaye. Or any other Caroles with a surname beginning with K. Neil Young and CSN. Nick Cave. Warren Ellis. Funkadelic. George Clinton. Leon Theremin. To name a few.

What artist or style of music do you love that would surprise people?
Dave: This is an interesting question and I’ve thought about this quite a bit in the past. I wonder why we get surprised when people like a certain thing. Is it to do with the impression they give off, or the way that we as outsiders perceive them? And what influences that? Is it because we don’t know them, or don’t know them as well as we think we do? Does the fact that we produce an alt-folky style of music mean that people get surprised that we might like music that falls well outside of this genre? I don’t really think there is any need to be surprised by people’s likes, dislikes or influences. We should all aim to be individuals with a wide range of tastes, influences and guilty pleasures. It makes us more interesting as people. But, if you’re going push me I’ll admit to having a penchant for Celtic music.
Andy: For me it’s yodelling and our album of Steely Dan covers performed on African Nose Flute. But we draw the line at Pan Pipes.

What are your favourite songs / albums / artists right now?
Dave: I’ve got a few ‘go-to’ albums at the moment, particularly Ghosteen by Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds, the Desert Sessions Vol. 11/12, and Shortly After Takeoff by BC Camplight.
Andy: I agree with those, plus I’m really loving Michael Kiwanuka.

How about some other favourites? Authors / movies / painters / philanthropists / you name it.
Both: We’re both big fans of the Scandi-Noir genre — both books and TV and films. Jo Nesbo, Arne Dahl, Stieg Larsson, The Killing, The Bridge—– that sort of thing. It’s that gritty realism combined with the free ’n’ easy liberal attitude and those landscapes — and it probably really permeates into the music we write.
Dave: Funnily enough, I just started watching Cardinal before we found out about this interview. The Scandi-Noir/Canada vibe seemed a really fitting context for our chat! I also love the writing of George Orwell and Joseph Heller — really enjoyed the recent TV adaptation of Catch-22. In terms of art, I love graphic art and I’m intrigued by the style of the propaganda images which came out of Soviet-era Russia.
Andy: I really like movies from the ’70s; Scorsese, Francis Ford Coppola, Apocalypse Now, Man Who Fell to Earth. But also film noir: Bogart, Hepburn and so on. Modern stuff I like is things like Wes Anderson, Nic Roeg. Artwise I especially like Liechtenstein, Keith Haring, Daniel Johnston. And, like Dave, graphic art.

What’s your favourite joke?
Both: It’s a toss-up between Trump and Boris Johnson. Oh, sorry, we thought you said least favourite joke.

What do you drive and why? What do you want to drive and why?
Dave: I own a 1970 T2 Bay Window Volkswagen Campervan. She’s my pride and joy. I don’t drive her too much, but I think it’s fair to say she’s what I want to drive. Why? It’s proper driving man! You’ve gotta think and anticipate, listen to the engine, feel the road, the shakes and the shimmers and ease her around the bends. Plus she just looks so cool.
Andy: Cars don’t really appeal to me. I spend my time drooling over guitars and my cash buying them.

What superpower do you want and how would you use it?
Dave: A bit obvious but maybe time travel. I’m an historian so I’d love to just experience what it felt like at different times.
Andy: I wish I could fly right up to the sky. But I can’t.
Dave: Yes you can.
Andy: No I can’t.

What skills — useful or useless — do you have outside of music?
Dave: I’m increasingly knowledgeable about the workings of VW campervans. Whether I would say I have ‘skill’ is another matter. I also reckon I cook a mean BBQ.
Andy: I can fly right up to the sky.
Dave: No you can’t.
Andy: Yes I can.
Dave: This is what it’s like being in Wonders of the Yukon. One constant piss take. You’ve gotta have a sense of humour.

What current trend or popular thing do you not understand at all?
Dave: Reality TV, especially stuff like The X-Factor, Britain’s Got Talent, etc. It does nothing for me. Cheap TV, pointless TV, in my opinion. Although I guess I can see why other people may like it.
Andy: Which sort of undermines the point of the question. I’m gonna say social media. Well maybe not all social media but that whole idea of instant gratification and fame. You know the neediness of being accepted in such an artificial way when we spend most of our time being blind to the people and everyday life around us. Like the birds singing.
Dave: And it feels even more grating for us because we have a real need to engage with it in order to promote our music.
Andy: I’m not saying there aren’t benefits to it but I’m increasingly aware of the effect I see it having on my kids and I don’t like it. I also don’t get my nine year old’s maths homework and I’ve got an A-Level in maths.
Dave: You should see my 15 year old’s maths homework.

Tell us about your current and/or former pets.
Dave: Given the name of the band, I guess we should say something really relevant and cool here. You know like we owned fauna native to the Yukon — grizzly bear cubs, or marmots, or maybe we had an aviary full of pileated woodpeckers. The honest truth is these animals are a little hard to come by in English pet shops, so we both settled for rabbits.
Andy: Yeah but we painted them white to resemble arctic hares. And we’ve both recently acquired tadpoles in our garden ponds. Do these count as pets?

If you could have any other job besides music, what would it be and why?
Dave: We both do have other jobs besides music but these aren’t the jobs we would ideally choose to have. Mine would be something outdoorsy, in the countryside or mountains or somewhere wild. Maybe a ranger or conservationist, something like that. In fact I was up in the English Lake District earlier this year and learnt of a guy whose job is it to climb a mountain called Hellvellyn everyday to check what the weather is like on the summit. Something like that appeals to me. Maybe in the Yukon?
Andy: That’s always been my problem. All I’ve ever wanted to do was play guitar.
Dave: You said earlier you wanted to fly.
Andy: But I can’t fly.
Dave: You can’t play guitar but it doesn’t stop you trying.

What’s the best advice and/or worst advice you were ever given?
Wife to Dave: “I think you should meet my best-friend’s boyfriend, Andy.”

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