A Yukon state of mind
FFWD Magazine - Kenna Burima

Posted by on 10 May 2004

Kim Barlow brings stories of the region and its people to l ife in song

Whitehorse-based songwriter Kim Barlow always tries to avoid writing the standard love song, instead drawing inspiration from the people around her. According to Barlow, fascinating people make for fascinating characters and her songs are vivid stories of the people of the Yukon.

"The cultural community here in Whitehorse is pretty rich here for the population," says Barlow. "Ever since I’ve been here, there has been a high ratio of musicians per capita. I think it stems from a need for your own entertainment sources because a lot of people here live in the bush."

Barlow’s latest album, Gingerbread, includes vignettes of both cabin and city life. From the story of adventurous exploration of the Yukon’s mountain ranges found in "Anthony’s Summer" to the story of an anorexic cheerleader in "Like a Baby," Barlow weaves colourful observation with evocative storytelling. Praise for her imagination, songwriting skills and musicianship on the album led to her Juno nomination in the Roots and Traditional Album of the Year category earlier this year. Barlow’s music pushes folk music to the extreme. Her innovative playing style combines her extensive training in classical guitar with roots and contemporary influences such as John Prine.

"I try to use my classical guitar skills as much as possible," says Barlow. "I just feel it would be a shame for them to go to waste. How I combine the classical esthetic with the folk esthetic is still evolving, though."

That evolution includes picking up other instruments and styles, like the clawhammer banjo or fingerpicking guitar, all of which had plenty of time to develop in her newfound home.

"For a while, I had no electricity, so there were lots of campfires happening. That’s kind of how my music evolved – playing around a campfire." Diversity is an important aspect of Barlow’s artistic expression. She has collaborated with various multi-disciplinary ensembles such as the Women’s Experimental Theatre Project and the Engendered Species Project in Whitehorse, composing and performing new music to complement dance, storytelling and theatre. Barlow admits that sometimes it’s just a matter of working with what you have.

"The artistic community may be rich here, but it’s still a small population, so you have to work with the resources available," says Barlow. "The people that I might click with esthetically may be people in film, for example, instead of music. That leads to a lot different multi-disciplinary collaborations."