On his latest CD cover, Dan Halen clutches a guitar and a hunk of wood while wearing nothing but a Stetson and a pair of slush-covered bunny boots.
Fortunately, he was wearing more than that when we met to talk about the album at a local coffee shop on Tuesday.
“It’s just a better mousetrap,” said Halen of the saucy cover shot.
“The idea is that if you see it in the store you’ll pick it up and go, ‘What the hell is this guy up to?’”
He hopes the cheeky, bare-it-all approach will help sell CDs because when it comes to marketing a product, the rule is: The stranger, the better.
“Never overestimate the intelligence of people,” said Halen.
“I got suckered in once at the Red River Exhibition in Winnipeg.
“The sign said, ‘Six foot man eating chicken’ and I thought, ‘No way.’
“So I paid the fee, went in and sure enough there was a six-foot-tall guy eating chicken,” Halen said with a smile.
Though Halen’s latest CD, Trapper Dan The Bear Essentials, is far from carnival sideshow fare, it does contain elements of the kitsch and the playful.
The first half of the CD is a ramblin’ country tribute dedicated to the North.
In the lead song, Ice Roads, which Halen co-wrote with Don Bishop, he croons: “I’m a double clutchin’ gear slammin’ son of a gun / drivin’ away my life in the midnight sun.”
The album’s second tune, Leo Loves Sarah, is a tragic tale of puppy love between a “dumb” dog and a “high-class canine.”
“It’s a love song about my dog being in love with my friend’s dog and she wants nothing to do with him,” said Halen.
“It’s a true story and just a terrible situation. He bounces around like a teenaged boy and she doesn’t even want to see him.”
It’s also the song that helped get the CD off the ground.
Yukon’s Film and Sound Commission gave Halen a $2,000 demo grant to develop the tune, which he used toward footing the bill for pressing the disc.
The album’s playful lyrics touch on every Yukon stereotype from living in the bush and drinking ice cold Chilkoot to Yukon staples like the story of the Princess Sophia and Sgt. Preston the singing Mountie of the North — “He’s out to arrest ‘em, he’s a one man force / ‘neath the northern lights / evil doers he will fight.”
The second part of the CD is an audio road trip tour that guides viewers down the highway between Whitehorse and Skagway, Alaska, on a treasure hunt for the 21-century.
It begins with the sound of a car starting up and driving away. Then Halen acts as an “invisible tour guide” who tells listeners snippets of the history of the various sites along the way like the Chilkoot Trail.
Listeners are to use the disc’s liner notes, a GPS or compass, and the songs’ lyrics to decipher clues and find treasures hidden along the highway.
Halen calls the treasures “Geocaches.”
Each cache consists of a plastic container full of items like key chains, playing cards and drink umbrellas.
Visitors are to take an item from the cache and leave behind something else. Then, at Halen’s website — www.danielhalen.com — they are to share their experiences.
The caches at the beginning and end of the trip also contain disposable cameras, funny sunglasses and instructions.
Visitors are asked to take photos of the oldest or youngest members of their groups sporting the shades.
Halen plans to check the bins periodically and post the photos on his website.
The hunt is meant to get people out of their cars, and to get them exploring the sites and stories of the territory on their own.
It’s also an example of “edu-tainment” — a technique Halen picked up after years of teaching at Porter Creek Secondary.
“I work with kids, so if you’re not juggling chainsaws and breathing fire they’re not interested,” he said.
A history buff, Halen came to the Yukon 12 years ago to stake a claim in Dawson.
And as an avid outdoorsmen and innovator, Halen lived off the grid for a decade of his Yukon stay, juicing his home with power from a vegetable oil generator.
It’s the same fuel he uses to power his car.
“I figured out that it was pretty easy to do and it wasn’t environmentally destructive,” said Halen.
But these days he’s set aside his mechanical abilities to focus on music.
“It’s way more creative,” he said with a smile.
What’s next for Halen?
Another Trapper Dan CD, but next time the audio tour will run from Whitehorse to Dawson.
He’s already written three songs for it.
And the cover will feature a half-naked Halen clutching a gold pan over his, er, sensitive areas.
The new disc is available at local stores and online. It costs about $17.
A portion of the proceeds will go towards the Canadian Cancer Society and Green Bean Bio-diesel Research.