Dawson City, Yukon Territory, is a hard place. It might seem all fun and games in the summer, when tons of students and hippies and tourists show up for the midnight sun and the Dawson City Music Festival, but in the wintertime it can get pretty cold and dark. Unless you’re one of the many ghosts that allegedly haunts this old Gold Rush town, there’s not a lot to do besides drink and fight and make mistakes.
But one of the things you can do instead of (or during/between bouts of) drinking and fighting is tell stories and sing songs. The Naysayers do just that, as they capture the gritty energy of this Klondike oral culture on their rockin’ new record, Hope. They walk a fine line, sounding muscular but unhinged, wild but masterful, angry but vulnerable. These are songs for the start of a long, sad binge—or maybe for the end of one.
You can listen to and buy Hope on their bandcamp page. The Naysayers are currently planning a big cross-country tour for the fall. Until then, learn about their hijinks in Whitehorse where they recorded the new record, after they helped to build the studio — and about the vigilante culture of their beloved northerly home.
Noisey: Did you record your new record in Dawson? It sounds great, by the way.
Jonathan Howe: Thanks. No, we didn’t. [Pause. Laughter.] We went to Whitehorse to record it, because there isn’t any real recording facility in Dawson. Which was an adventure in itself.
Jonathan: Yeah, well, our bass player promised us that we could get down on one tank of gas. And we discovered that we couldn’t. [Laughter.]
Drea Nasager: First chance, throw [Dan] under the bus, holy.
Where did that idea come from, to drive with just one tank?
Jonathan: Well, I think that in the past he could. But he didn’t account for the eight hundred pounds of stuff he was pushing along with him, right?
Dan DeGroot: Also, I was told that there were pay-at-the-pumps in Carmacks by two band members, which was a lie. [Laughter.] So, we’re all idiots.
Jonathan: But it was really funny, because there’s no cell service between any of the communities. And so every so often we’d be driving along silently, and the needle’s on E, and Dan’s like, “Oh boy.” And then finally my cell phone went “ding ding,” and so when we did run out of gas we were able to phone a taxi to go buy a jerry can, fill it up, and bring it to us.
Did everything run smoothly once you got there? Most of it a live-off-the-floor kind of thing?
Drea: Yeah, after we soldered all his wires for him and set up his studio! [Laughter.]
Soldered his wires?
Jonathan: There was a bit of soldering going on early in the game.
Drea: It was a new studio—let’s just say that.
Matt Sarty: But, to answer your question, a lot of it was live off the floor when we got there.
Once you built the floor. [Laughter.]
Dan: Yeah, at the end of this long day of helping set up the studio, and then sitting around drinking and getting upset—
Drea: Watching my money burn away.
Jonathan: The first thing Dan did when he walked through the door to the studio was look around and crack a beer. [Laughter.]
Drea: We were there six seconds. Oh man.
But you got it done!
Dan: It was like ten- or thirteen-hour days, and then four-hour nights, then four hours of sleep, and then up the next day.
Did you get to go out at all?
Matt: You know how squirrelly you can get, in Dawson in February. A big opportunity, to go to the city—even though we were working the whole time, we still wanted to go out and party every night, in places where we don’t know everyone.
Like at The Sixty-Nine?
Matt: The Ninety-Eight?
Jonathan: [Laughter.] “The Sixty-Nine”! That’s an after-hours club!
Matt: We actually ended up at a women’s arm-wrestling tournament at some house in the subdivision.
Drea: And I made Dan rip off his shirt—and he got laid because of it.
Dan: It was all Drea.
Drea: And I was not drunk the whole time. I just smoked an ounce of weed in four days.
Sounds like an intense time in Whitehorse. Last time I was there I saw a mangy wolf downtown, just walking down the sidewalk…. So none of you are originally from the Yukon, right? Why does a musician move up to Dawson City?
Jonathan: It’s a long story why I came up here. But the reason I stayed is pure inertia. And it’s been that way for a long time now. There’s no good reason why I stayed.
Matt: Yeah, one thing leads to another. And then, all of a sudden, years pass.
Drea: Being from Peterborough and, playing there for a long time there and in Europe, I was tired of being a small fish in a big pond—a big pond of, like, shitty folk singers that I didn’t fit in with. And I couldn’t make a break because I was too much like them but not enough like them. So I came here, because I could really flex my muscles…. This was my last opportunity, in my mind, to get established in Canada, and within a year it started happening. For me it was a real legitimate and conscious choice: half of it was Pearl, my daughter, I wanted to raise her here, and half was because of the music.
Jonathan: The thing about Dawson, though, that really defines our style is that in Dawson City there is no room for bullshit. There is no such thing as pretension here. Or, if there is, you get run out really fast. So that’s why our style is just kinda straight-up rock ‘n’ roll. There’s not going to be any room for large string arrangements, because people won’t tolerate that sort of thing. They just won’t. And because the feeling here is so raw, and cuts so close to the bone, that kind of informs the music.
How do you guys run people out of town?
Jonathan: We just tell them to leave. [Laughter.] It happens!
Drea: I dunno, I think people get run out of town because life becomes so fucking uncomfortable for them that they finally figure it out and leave, like my ex-husband. Or the snow flies and they realize they can’t live like a fuckin’ free bird forever, you know?
Jonathan: The cool thing about Dawson is that it doesn’t matter what you do or how much money you have; it only matters what kind of person you are, right? And so if you’re not a good person, and you don’t follow up on your commitments, you’ll just run out of room. Really fast.
Does this self-policing quality in the town ever make any of you guys uncomfortable?
Jonathan: No, but I have a personal rule. My rule has two sides of the coin. One is “Don’t believe anything until you hear it three times from three different people.” And the other one is “Never do anything that you don’t want everybody in town to know about.”
Dan: Which I’ve made the mistake of doing several times. [Laughter.]
Drea: But if you do something really crazy, in the summertime, give it a day and by the next day you’ll hear of someone doing something even more obscene and terrible. In the winter it’s like three days. As someone who was legally not allowed to go into a certain place all winter, I thought that was horrible, and then two days later I heard someone punched someone in the face and it was really bad. So, that’s pretty crazy. I did not do that.
It’s like politics.
Jonathan: We just Rob Ford our way through life.
Henry Adam Svec's favourite Ford brother is Doug - @performingtime