Musician and poet finds her muse in the Klondike

Jack London once said, "You can't wait for inspiration. You have to go after it with a club." For Christine Fellows, she found it in a frosty Yukon car.

Jack London once said, “You can’t wait for inspiration. You have to go after it with a club.”

For Christine Fellows, she found it in a frosty Yukon car.

Four years ago next month, the multi-platform artist was in a vehicle that was heading up to Dawson City from the Whitehorse airport.

The 47-year-old Winnipegger had been chosen to take part in the Dawson City Music Festival’s songwriter-in-residence program.

Each year, the program brings a Canadian songwriter to Dawson City for a month-long stay and provides living and studio space at the Macaulay House.

It was while sitting in the back seat of that car, its windows covered in frost, that all these different ideas began coming to her.

There was a moment when she pressed her hand into the window, peered out and saw a face staring back at her.

That’s when she began developing a female character. These early ideas set the foundation for what would eventually become Burning Daylight, Fellows’ sixth full-length studio album, released last September.

Fellows is coming back to the Yukon to perform the material for Dawson City and Whitehorse audiences on Jan. 18 and 20 respectively.

“I think it was the right time for me, to come to the Yukon and be inspired,” she said of the 2011 trip.

“It’s one of those things where I arrived and right away I had all these ideas come to me.”

Fellows said she’s excited to return and keeps very fond memories of her trips to the territory, which started in 2006.

During her residency in Dawson City she drew inspiration from Jack London stories, especially To Build a Fire.

The story is about a man who succumbs to hypothermia while travelling with his dog to meet a group of men.

“There’s something different about reading that story when it’s minus 46 degrees Celsius outside and the wind is howling,” said Fellows, who read London as a child.

“The London stories hit me at a time when I don’t think they would have had the same impact if I’d read them in Winnipeg. They stayed with me in a special way.”

Fellows also bought Women of the Klondike, by Frances Backhouse, which inspired her to develop the character of a woman who would play a central theme in her songs.

When she got the opportunity to visit and perform in Old Crow, she said it became the highlight of her trip.

“It was all little log houses, the wide-open Porcupine River, the wind howling, dog sleds going through town, fish drying on racks outside of houses,” she said.

“We played in the tiny community centre and it was 90 per cent kids. Some guy took me on an epic snowmobile trip; I’ve never been so cold before.

“It was very special.”

Fueled by those stories and experiences, Fellows created what she calls “minimalist Klondike show tunes.”

On “Circling Darkness,” she sings about nostalgia in the depths of winter.

“Grey wolf / circling the darkness / a crooked light in her eyes, grey fur bristling with frost. She leans into the night, remembering,” she sings.

A minimalist by nature, she said she enjoys peeling the layers off an idea until she’s left with the bare essentials.

It’s reflected in her songs, which feature only a few instruments, such as the piano, ukulele and cello.

Burning Daylight is also the name of a poetry collection, Fellows’s first, which was conceived a little later and mostly inspired by a trip to Igloolik, Nunavut in 2013.

Fellows will be performing alongside two cellists who played on her album, Alex McMaster and Leanne Zacharias. She said she would read snippets of Jack London in between her songs, pairing them together, which “seemed like the right way to present that work.”

The Dawson City show on Jan. 18 is at the Odd Fellows Hall and doors open at 7:30 p.m. There will also be a songwriting circle hosted earlier in the day.

The Whitehorse show on Jan. 20, part of the Pivot Festival, is also at 7:30 p.m. McMaster and Zacharias are also running a master class for the string musicians, with details to be announced.

Contact Myles Dolphin at

myles@yukon-news.com

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