"Compared to a city, Mara, B.C. was like living in a vacuum for a year."

photo by Lindsey Hampton
photo by Lindsey Hampton

Siskiyou certainly couldn’t have had more humble of a beginning. Last year’s self-titled debut emerged from simple collaborations between singer-songwriter Colin Huebert and guitarist Erik Arnesen, who also worked alongside each other in Ontario folk rock outfit Great Lake Swimmers. Following Huebert’s departure from Great Lake Swimmers in 2008, he moved to the West Coast and recorded Siskiyou at an assortment of informal locations around Vancouver. But with its membership having doubled since last year—drummer Shaunn Watt and bassist Peter Carruthers now fill out the roster—and their sophomore album, Keep Away the Dead, now available to the masses, Siskiyou is ready to break more hearts than ever before.

Their latest album wrestles with the question of mortality, supported by Huebert’s signature vocals, which instill feelings of hominess and sorrowful nostalgia all within the same note. Discorder recently caught up with bandleader Huebert on a park bench outside a fire hall in Kitsilano to discuss cultural vacuums, creepy community halls and the downside that comes with having expectations surrounding the release of your sophomore album.

Discorder: How about helping the readers out by starting with how you say your guys’ name?

Colin Huebert: Sisk-e-you.

D: I know you chose the name because of the Siskiyou mountain range that runs along the California-Oregon border, but what does the name mean to you?

CH: To be honest, at this point it just represents this band. It’s the only context I really think about anymore. There was a time I think where it had a deeper meaning for me, symbolically. That time is over [laughs].

D: The new album just dropped. How does it feel to finally get that out?

CH: It feels good. It’s more of a thing to just finish it and get it mixed and mastered and figure out the artwork. Then when it comes out, it’s almost like a non-thing compared to all the work I had to do personally to get it finished. I don’t have a lot to do with the releasing of the record so for me, it’s more about finishing the record. That’s more of a monumental moment than releasing it, though I’m glad that it’s out.

D: You recently lived in Mara, B.C. for about a year. How do you think moving to a place with a population of under 400 affected you musically?

CH: I was telling someone recently that, culturally, it was kind of like living in a vacuum. My wife and I don’t have a television and there was no internet except dial up. Compared to a city, it was like living in a vacuum for a year. There were lots of really great things about it, but culturally it was kind of meh. [But] you’re working on a song in Mara and you can just go outside and sit on your front porch because there’s no neighbours. Here, you have to close all the windows and close all the doors so that your neighbours don’t hear you. So there’s a difference. Whether that’s good or bad, I don’t really know, actually.

D: How was the recording process different this time?

CH: It was a bit more stressful, I think. And a bit less easy-going. Before, we didn’t even know if we would put out a record. It was kind of irrelevant how it turned out. This time you have a company [Constellation Records] who is going to put out the record, so there are certain expectations that come with that, and it becomes more of a stressful affair when there’s expectations involved—on your part and on everyone’s part. Not that it was a bad thing. It just is what it is, I suppose.

D: How was recording in the Mara community hall?

CH: It was good. It was a little creepy though because it’s this 100-year-old community hall and they rarely use it because there’s only 300-400 people in the town, so there’s only so much demand for it. It was dark, it was cold and there was no one around because I recorded one month by myself. When Erik was there, there was safety in numbers. It was pretty creepy at night and we couldn’t turn the heat on because it made too much noise, so it was actually really cold too. So it was dark and cold and scary, but enjoyable. [laughs]

D: The general theme of the new album seems pretty blatant with the title, Keep Away the Dead.

CH: It’s kind of metaphorical, obviously, but there are some themes that play throughout the record. I don’t think it’s consistently on every track, or anything.

D: I love the cover of Neil Young’s “Revolution Blues.” What made you choose to cover that one?

CH: I didn’t choose it; it kind of chose me. It just seemed like a good thing to do live, so we came up with an arrangement for the band that seemed to work really well. We did it live for about a month when we were on tour. I liked it, people liked it, everyone liked it. So we decided, “why not record it?”

D: Your music has been compared to the Pacific Northwest. Why do you think that is?

CH: I have no idea, I’m from Ontario. I guess I’ve been out here for about eight years, but I’m originally from probably the most southern town in Canada [Wainfleet]. I don’t know [about] the Pacific Northwest connection though. Maybe someone just said it once and everyone just stole it. I have no idea how these things get perpetuated. I identify with the Pacific Northwest, but I’m not trying to write songs about it. Maybe someone just took the name of the band and tried to extrapolate. We’ll make a sunny pop record for the next one and then maybe it’ll get compared to California rock.