It is difficult to say exactly how long it took Siskiyou to record their debut, self-titled album. It was during downtime from the ambitious tour schedule of his former band, Great Lake Swimmers that Colin Huebert began unofficially recording ‘ideas’ at his home in Vancouver, British Columbia. It wasn’t until his final departure from GLS in the summer of 2008 that Huebert found the time and energy necessary to begin crafting Siskiyou’s forthcoming album, a record described as perfectly capturing the lush, yet often-chilly landscape of the Pacific Northwest.
Even as their first record was delivered to Constellation in early 2010 and being prepped for release that fall, Colin remained holed up through the winter in Mara, BC (pop. 350), writing more songs and eventually being joined by his Siskiyou co-conspirator Erik Arnesen for a few weeks of intensive recording. Unlike the material on their eponymous debut, which was largely recorded in nomadic fashion while Colin and Erik toured with Great Lake Swimmers, the Mara, BC sessions found the pair settled, rooted and with keys in hand to the century-old Mara Community Hall.
With the addition of Shaunn Watt and Peter Carruthers, Siskiyou coalesced into a superb, incisive four-piece band, honed through extensive touring in Europe and Canada. Coming off a season of live playing, the quartet hit Vancouver’s JC/DC Studio (Destroyer, New Pornographers) in early 2011, adding to the previous year’s Mara sessions, cutting a few new tunes, and running a couple of mixes with Dave Carswell (“Twigs And Stones”, “Revolution Blues”). Colin Huebert self-produced the remainder of Keep Away The Dead (as he did on the debut album).
Siskiyou is not a folk band. Sure, behind the distinct shiver of Colin Huebert’s whisper/wail you’ll hear pleasantly plucked acoustic guitars, banjos, slide guitars, and gently brushed drums. But listen closer – there’s something more sinister here, in the sound, in the words. From the crackling of old AM radio tuners, to the squelching feedback of some electric guitar abandoned by its amplifier, the band’s songs play with conventional arrangements like a spectre would some weary travellers in an old hotel. The narrator of Huebert’s songs is as circumspect as the sounds on Keep Away The Dead – shifting from pensive allegory to cautionary tales to gentle threats. These are songs about death, but not in a self-serious Gothic sense. There is an agnostic and gorgeous resignation to this album, at once atheistic and hymnal. Under Huebert’s direction Siskiyou employs the simplicity of pop convention to deliver something subtly bizarre and evocative, creating an album that is both strange and familiar.