Hell is full of ukuleles

Whitehorse is going to hell. So is Dawson City, for that matter. And when it happens, there will be ukuleles.

Whitehorse is going to hell.

So is Dawson City, for that matter.

And when it happens, there will be ukuleles.

Coming to the Yukon on tour, The Burning Hell is not a blood-spewing, guitar-thrashing band of screamo Satanists.

The ukuleles should have been the first clue.

“People hear the name and it sounds like a death metal band, and I like the fact that it’s not,” said the Peterborough band’s frontman Mathias Kom, who was preparing to load gear into the band’s van after a packed St. Patrick’s Day show in Prince George.

Kom got the name from a religious pamphlet handed to him on the street in Toronto.

“The pamphlet was the burning hell — it was very extremist, very over the top, you’re all going to hell, kind of thing,” he said.

“I though it would be a hilarious name for a folk band.”

That was about eight years ago, during The Burning Hell’s Cambrian Period, when the band first “walked on land,” according to a brief historical timeline on its Myspace page.

Confused yet?

The Burning Hell even has fossil records.

During the Paleozoic Era, the band left behind a “significant fossil” called OPUS, a cassette tape that “sold out forever.”

Jump ahead to the Neogene Period, when it “discovers fire and senses the creeping inevitability of death” and the significant fossil is Happy Birthday, the 2007 CD the band is currently touring.

The bizarre timeline makes sense, once Kom reveals his alter ego — a history professor at Trent University in Peterborough.

“I was teaching history for a long time and got a bit burnt out,” said Kom.

Trying to do music and teach at the same time was too much.

“I couldn’t dedicate enough time to music, while doing a decent job teaching.

“So I decided to take a break, and do music fulltime.”

For the last three years, Kom has applied to grad school, for immigration and ethnic studies, and each year he’s decided not to go at the last minute.

“The only tragedy for me right now is it’s impossible to do both at the same time,” he said.

“It’s kind of all or nothing, one or the other.

“I really miss the teaching, but at the end of the day, I like music more.”

It wasn’t until last year that Kom really started taking the band seriously.

Previously, The Burning Hell was just a name Kom gave to recordings he did, and to whatever configuration of people played gigs with him over the last seven to eight years.

The 12 people who make up the current band have been together about a year.

“I just sort of woke up one day and realized there were all these people in the band,” said Kom with a laugh.

“Some of them I defiantly asked to play and others just started showing up.”

Vocalist Jenny Mitchell didn’t even ask Kom if she could be part of the band.

She just sent him an e-mail telling him she was joining up.

“It’s great to have a big sort of cast,” said Kom.

“And it’s incredible when all 12 or 13 of us end up on the same stage.”

But it’s rare to get the whole band together.

Only six of the members are currently on tour, packed into a small van with all their gear.

However, ukuleles don’t take up much space.

Kom’s dad started him on guitar when he was nine.

And it would be years until he discovered his true passion.

Kom walked into a guitar shop one day and saw a ukulele hanging on the wall.

“I knew what it was but had never played one before,” he said.

“So I picked it up, played it and loved it — and it was only $30.

“I’ll by anything for $30 so I took it home and didn’t stop playing.”

Kom adores the tiny instrument’s “innate charm — everything about it.

“It’s really hard not to smile when you pick one up or hear someone playing one — its personality is hard to resist,” he said.

It’s also easier to write songs on a ukulele.

“It reduces you to four strings,” said Kom.

“And although ukulele players will say four strings certainly don’t hold you back — in songwriting anyway, it gives you a slightly more focused or limited range and you end up writing totally different stuff than you would on guitar.”

Kom sings about aging cover bands, consumerism, the end of the world and love with lyrics like, “Love, it’s like a monster truck; it fills up whole stadiums and it crushes smaller trucks.”

But his songs aren’t meant to be silly.

“I try really hard not to write novelty songs, because I don’t want to just write a goofy song,” he said.

Kom is earnest. Maybe even to a fault.

“I’m a little bit serious and take a lot of things pretty seriously in life,” he said.

“But sometimes I can be, actually, a sort of fun person to hang around with,” he added with a laugh.

Songwriting is Kom’s way of expressing his dark humour and his earnest thoughts.

Although he’s sometimes misunderstood.

In Dinosaurs, Kom signs about old guys in Eagles cover bands playing dive bars all across Canada.

“People have interpreted that as me making fun of them,” said Kom.

“But I don’t think they get enough credit. These guys are doing it because they love it, and I’m not poking fun. There’s a little gentle humour, but I’m not trying to be mean.”

Kom’s politics also surface in his music.

“It doesn’t come out directly in my songwriting, but some of my worldview creeps in,” he said.

One of his songs called, What Do You Buy For The Man Who Had Nothing, is turning the idea of what you get for a man who has everything on it’s head.

“It’s kind of a song about over consumption and how it’s perfectly possible to live a happy life with much less than most people do,” said Kom.

“That’s the kind of thing that is important to me.”

But Kom is not “an overly political songwriter,” he said.

“I don’t have direct messages — I don’t want to preach to anybody.”

Instead, he’s taking his talent into the political realm.

Last year, Kom went to Israel to work with Ukuleles for Peace, an organization that brings Arab and Jewish children together from different communities through a ukulele orchestra.

“The whole idea is to foster co-existence through music and the ukulele is such a fun instrument and it’s so easy to learn the basics — it really works,” he said.

There is more than a ukulele in The Burning Hell — there are accordions, a banjo, rockenspiel, melodica, cello, organ, lapsteel, piano and trumpet.

“I always just say its folk music,” said Kom.

“I know that’s sort of lame and boring, but that’s the best I can come up with.

“People come up with all sorts of different little sub-genres and categories, which are great, but I’m not very good at doing that, so I always just say it’s folk music.”

After all, Louis Armstrong said, “All music is folk music. I ain’t never seen a horse sing a song,” said Kom.

The Burning Hell is playing at The Guild Hall on Friday, March 21st at 8 p.m.

The band will be in Dawson City at Diamond Tooth Gerties on March 22nd starting at 6 p.m. and at 10 p.m. it’s moving over to Bombay Peggy’s.

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