Photo taken by Landon Bailey
The Blue Sky Miners are a folk-rock band based out of Toronto. I had the chance to catch the first night of their residency at the Dakota Tavern. Following the opening band of multi-instrumentalist folk and bluegrass group The Lifers, the Miners immediately upped the energy in the room with their mix of folk, soul, and rock that’s well suited to the Dakota. In comparison to their folkier EP, the group has refined their sound to have more of a hard hitting raw electric sound, which seemed to suit the Miner’s strengths. The band’s songwriting is clearly connecting with their fans as well, as when it came time to perform their most popular song, “Cold Water” they were audibly backed up by the crowd.
The band has a big dynamic range going from softer ballads to blow-your-hair-back rock. Jay Mitchell and Jena Gogo traded lead vocal duties while backed up by Jeri, who teamed up with her sister Jena for a mesmerizing duet. Lead guitarist Eric Duquette provided blistering southern-rock style guitar solos along with a singing a verse here and there.
Having only heard the music from EP and previous live performances on YouTube, I was surprised to hear how they’ve reworked their songs to have a 70’s rock and roll dance element. In particular, the dancing in the room kicked up a notch during a cover of Fleetwood Mac’s “Monday Morning”.
Before their performance I interviewed them outside the Dakota Tavern
How are you doing guys?
Jay: I’m doing really well
Jena: Feeling pumped
We have Jena, Jay and Eric here. Now your band name is the Blue Sky Miners. You’ve described your sound as rocky mountain desert rock. You have the vocal harmonies and the acoustic instrumentation that is really evocative of a western sound, but is still very much so modern in 2016. Why do you think your sound connects with people today?
Jena: We try to write truthfully about how we feel and about what's happening in the world currently around us. So I think we draw a lot of inspiration from the music that we grew up with, but we’re still writing about modern day times, so hopefully that connects with people that are still alive and kicking with us.
What kind of music did you grow up with?
Jena: All kinds. We actually come from an array of backgrounds. Obviously The Beatles, Jay grew up with the Rolling stones. My dad had every Beatles record, and Jay's family had every Stones record. Fleetwood Mac- absolutely, the Byrds- for sure, Gram Parsons, Tears for Fears, Tom Waits...
Jay: I’m a Cat Stevens guy
Jena: Tears for Fears was huge.
Eric: Tears for Fears is a great band.
Jenna: They were on heavy rotation in the living room growing up.
Would you be able to tell me about how the band first started?
Jay: We all come from different parts of Canada. I grew up on a farm in the middle of BC. Jena’s from Vancouver Island. Eric’s from Moncton. We all kind of ended up on our own paths here to Toronto. Jenna was working at a small bar on College street and she started a music night. We had met and run into each other a few times in Victoria when I was going to school there. She put out this post saying I’m doing a music night, and I walked in the door and we started playing together, and she was already jamming with Eric so it all sort of came through that. So when we started putting together our full band it was all about Craigslist.
Jay: We’re a giant Craigslist ad.
Jena: Yeah and we really hit the jackpot. For a lot of people, who don’t know, musicians use Craigslist to find other musicians. People are like wait... what? But yeah “Musicians Wanted Ads” we found Stefan and we’ve been really lucky.
You did mention that some of you are from BC, and also from Moncton and converged here in, not quite in the centre of Canada-
Jena: But we like to think we’re in the centre of Canada (Laughter)
You definitely have a folk feel, do you find drawing from all those disparate communities brings you a unique perspective that other bands might not have?
Eric: Yeah I think so. I think it can be a challenge to figure out how all those things work together sometimes, but when it works I think its cool and it creates something new and fresh that maybe wasn’t there before.
Jena: Moncton is a slower friendlier place than a lot of places we come from. Not that they’re not friendly but its different paces of life, I feel like, that we’ve come together and can match each other's vibes. Maybe that’s different than other bands.
On your one song “Are you lost?” I got a real Ennio Morrocone vibe from it, a sort of cinematic sound. It sounds like something that would be closer to the Mexican border rather than the Canadian border. Where do you draw the inspiration or musical instincts for that sound?
Eric: Good question. I think that song came from a guitar lick that I was coming up with. I listen to a lot of southern rock and that kind of stuff, but it’s interesting that you mention a composer like that because our record was produced by Todor Kobacov who scores a lot of films. A lot of the sound and the scope of what the album came to be, came from him, and the soundscapes and sound effects, he was very instrumental in bringing those elements out.
What do you hope listeners of your music, and people who see you live, will be inspired to feel?
Jay: I think the biggest thing for me as a songwriter and musician is just that genuine moment you reach with an audience member. There’s been so many people that we’ve talked to and they’re like “This song totally reminds me of this” And I wrote it about something completely different, but it's that interaction you have with an audience when you are coming from a storytelling place, and if you’re writing from the heart, hopefully you reach somebody else’s when you’re playing live or while they’re listening to your record.
What are some things we can look forward to from the Blue Sky Miners?
Jenna: A full length, man. And lots of touring. We’re writing a lot this summer. We’re really happy with how our EP turned out, but we’ve been writing a lot since its release in October. I think a bit more more rock n’ roll is on our horizon. I think we can all agree on that.
Jay: We’re back to the drawing board writing a bunch of new tracks. We’re going to be trying out new stuff while we’re playing the Dakota (Tavern) and just seeing what’s going to make the next record.
Hear the interview audio here:
Check out the Blue Sky Miners’ song “Cold Water” below: