A ‘lost soul’ trapped in a unitard

These days, Whitehorse fans may be excused if they don't recognize Ben Mahony. Once, he could be seen around town performing in a unitard, a la David Bowie.

These days, Whitehorse fans may be excused if they don’t recognize Ben Mahony.

Once, he could be seen around town performing in a unitard, a la David Bowie.

“We used to play Ziggy Stardust so it kind of went with the look,” he said.

Now he’s ditched the grey, one-piece spandex suit in favour of a navy blue athletic sweater with two white stripes down the sleeves

“It’s got zippered pockets so I don’t lose things.”

That same sweater – the one that safeguards his passport and Visa card – is featured on the cover of his new album, Yukon Love Ghosts.

He also wore it during a phone interview from Winnipeg.

“I’ve been rocking that everyday for a while. Maybe I need a team to think about my new image,” he joked.

His apparel isn’t the only thing that’s changed since his days as a vocalist and guitarist for Big Eyed Beans From Venus, a Whitehorse-based rock and soul band during 2002 and 2005.

“It was a pretty intense band, a party band as well and we had a lot of fun.”

Cross-dressing was a common occurrence with the band’s members.

“It was supposed to be ironic, but it kind of took over.”

One member wore a Viking costume.

Another wore a muumuu, a large, shapeless dress.

“Oh my God, I can’t believe we’re talking about this,” said Mahony.

The days of shopping at Salvation Army and other discount stores feel like long ago.

“It seems almost like high school,” said the 40-year-old musician.

But the Big Eyed Beans members have grown up and moved on.

Mahony’s solo work features a lot of the similar alternative rock sounds as his previous band but also incorporates some folk tunes.

“I think we’ve all shifted a little more into being songwriters and there’s some balance between energetic rock and roll and trying to write good songs,” said Mahony.

“Maybe the bar scene changed and, as a person ages, it’s fun for a while to meet people and be up late but then it’s fun to focus on actually the music and the songs for the sake of the artistic impulse behind it all.”

He also mentions the bar scene in his song Set Your Heart.

“Up to the mountain, down by the bar,” he sings in the folk-rock tune, which was inspired by the clay cliffs when Mahony lived on Alexander Street.

It’s about Yukon’s juxtaposing outdoors and nightlife in the summer.

“Some of that high-energy stuff comes out of the long days in the Yukon summers and some of the more mellow stuff comes from getting through the winters which are long, dark and a little more solitude and reflections with that.”

The Dark Wit of Winter, Set Your Heart and As the Angel is Overcome all look at the “struggle to be clear-headed” during the dark days of winter in the North, he said.

Creating the album in a Whitehorse studio with producer and sound engineer Chris Isaak was “a largely winter experience.”

The two of them spent endless winter days in the studio together, mixing sounds and putting the album together.

“It was just Chris and myself spending hours and hours down there together in our little alternative universe,” said Mahony. “It was a unique experience for me because he’s pretty talented and has a lot of experience that he brought to the recording. There was a certain amount of humility and challenge involved for me, which was really great.”

But he assured none of the Big Eyed Bean antics ensued.

“There was no cross-dressing down there though. A little tequila, but no cross-dressing.”

The flow of the album was an essential aspect, and he wanted to have “some hills and some valleys”- a range of energetic and quiet moments.

“We spent a lot of time, Chris and I, sitting with the record, listening to songs up against one another trying to get some sort of flow, which I think exists. If anyone likes the first couple tunes, they’ll probably like the entire thing.”

Track 6, Set Your Heart, is a folk song followed by Montreal, a dance tune.

It started as an acoustic song, but became “dance-y,” said Mahony.

An appropriate groove would be like pop group The Ting Tings dance in their Great DJ video.

“It’s more like a 20-minute workout,” he said, adding he calls it “a secret weapon” because it has a “laser battle” in the middle of it.

Between the aerobics-worthy dance tunes and the easy-listening folk ballads, Mahony felt it was important for the songs to mesh together smoothly, even if people don’t take time to listen to it all at once.

“We attempt to make a whole listening experience, which is kind of rare these days. We’re all so busy we don’t really sit down and listen to whole records anymore. I know I don’t as much as I’d like to.”

Instead, he spends time walking around, trying to fit in some yoga and keeping up-to-date on the Red Sox’s stats.

He also worked in a Grade 8 class as an educational assistant. That experience helped him concentrate on the record.

“There’s definitely a human aspect to working with kids. There’s a stabilizing aspect of having a day job that was useful. There’s a certain discipline that goes along with it. I was tutoring at night and basically spending the weekends recording. It was a little frantic but it was good.”

Yukon Love Ghosts, Mahony’s fourth record, was released earlier last month.

Now he’s in Winnipeg working with other musicians and promoting the album by doing some solo shows, opening for other musicians and contacting radio stations.

He’s also working on a tour from Lethbridge, Alberta, to an unknown western destination “depending on how the booking goes,” he said. It will begin in late October.

But when he’ll be back to Whitehorse, he’s not sure.

The musician has moved around between Whitehorse, Dawson, Vancouver, Victoria, Lethbridge and back to his hometown of Peterborough, Ontario.

“I’m a lost soul I guess and I’m never happy anywhere,” he joked.

But he calls Whitehorse home.

“My friends there know my nature, which is somewhat restless. But I’ll always be back.”

Contact Larissa Robyn Johnston at