By Rhiannon Russell
Paris Pick’s pirate persona was born in a costume shop in Kitchener, Ont.
It was four years ago and the 18-year-old was busking and hitchhiking her way across the country, from her home on Vancouver Island to Halifax.
She’d noticed that street performers who were “loud and proud,” as she puts it, made more money than those who sat quietly. So she went to the store and bought a $75 marching-band outfit—a little red number that she thought looked like a pirate dress.
“If I spend this much money right now, I’ll have to make it back,” she told herself. “I hope my plan works.” It did. Playing her ukulele and singing in the dress, she made double the money she normally did, and wore it throughout the rest of her trip.
Four years later, she says with a grin, it still hasn’t been washed. “It looks so dirty and gross and I still wear it. It’s like my authentic pirate outfit.”
Pick is the founder, singer, and electric-ukulele player of the Whitehorse-based pop rockabilly band Ukes of Hazard, along with Cain Rogan on saxophone, Patrick Docherty on drums, Zacharie Pelland on electric guitar, and Aiden Tentrees on bass.
The get-up is still her signature stage costume. She pairs it with a pirate hat she got from a child she nannied when she first moved to Whitehorse—“I tell people I stole it from an eight-year-old French boy. Sounds even more pirate-like.”
Now 22, she came to the Yukon after her cross-country trip. She describes that original journey as a “hippie adventure,” during which time she worked on farms and in eco-villages — shaving alpaca and planting rutabaga in Prince George, B.C., in one instance.
How it ended: her grandma found out she’d hitchhiked all the way to Halifax, “lost her mind,” told Pick’s parents, who knew but were keeping it a secret from the grandmother, then bought her a plane ticket home.
Back on Vancouver Island, “I was like, good luck keeping me here. Where else haven’t I been? The Okanagan and the Yukon.”
She hitchhiked here with a friend in 2013. While she’d felt safe travelling across Canada, she ran into “a few weirdos” on her way to the Yukon, she says. At one point, after hitching a ride on the Stewart-Cassiar Highway, she had to pull out her knife and demand the driver let them out of the car. “Guys being creepy, asking for favours,” she says.
A kind couple in an RV drove them into Whitehorse. It was fall, and Pick remembers the sky: “The sunset was that magical, typical Yukon sunset, pink and orange.”
She got the nannying job, then started working at Baked. “And then, boom! You’re in the Whitehorse system.”
Nearly every night, she began playing open mics at different bars—even though she was underage. “No one seemed to ID me,” she says with a laugh.
People were supportive. “The musical community here is like its own tight-knit family. We always have each other’s backs. I was, like, 18 and very bad at first… Regardless, they would all clap rather than booing me offstage.”
Pick was inspired by the Yukon bands she saw, like Soda Pony and The Midnight Sons Band, and the musician Diyet. When she met Docherty, who also plays in The Midnight Sons, and bassist Jerome Belanger, they formed a band.
Their first gig was a 4/20 show at Paddy’s Place, and in the months leading up to it, Pick was desperately trying to come up with a name. On one of her breaks at Baked, she brainstormed “punny ukulele things,” she says. Uke Got Mail was one option. The Egg Ukes was another. But Ukes of Hazard won out.
The band started playing a weekly gig at the Dirty Northern Public House, opening for The Midnight Sons Band, “which was like my dream,” Pick says. During her first couple of years in Whitehorse, she lived “that typical musician party life” — getting drunk and playing gigs.
In 2015, the band released its first demo, followed by its first LP. Both were self-funded.
This year has been a big one for the band. In June, they piled into Docherty’s van and went on their first tour, playing venues from northern British Columbia to Vancouver Island, including Pick’s hometown, Port Hardy. She did all the booking herself — it took about six months of planning.
They also played three summer festivals: Atlin Arts and Music Festival, Folk on the Rocks in Yellowknife, and Dawson City Music Festival. For the first time, Pick could afford to spend her summer as a full-time musician, with no waitressing or cooking jobs on the side.
It feels to her like Ukes’ momentum is growing.
“It doesn’t all come at once,” she says. “I think people need to see that you’ve gone a certain number of years before you get a certain amount of respect from the community and other musicians in general.”
Pick doesn’t feel she can take a break, either. “Even though great things are happening, you want to keep those great things happening. You have to keep working.”
Two of the band members are going to school this fall, so the group will be on a bit of hiatus, though they’ll be playing the Blue Feather Music Festival in Whitehorse in November. Pick plans to start working on a solo album too.
It feels like a new chapter in her life has started, she says. She just moved outside the city limits, and will start a cooking job over the winter.
“I don’t know how to describe it,” she says. “Maturing? I’m only 22 but I feel like it’s adult phase or something. I’m tired of just getting drunk in the bars every weekend. I’d rather go home and hang out and listen to vinyl and quilt and go to bed at 10 p.m. sober.”
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