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Natural history 

While dividing life between coasts, Jon McKiel recorded his second album at the legendary Fort Apache Studio. We caught him before his next flight.

Local troubadour Jon McKiel is being pulled in every direction. While he ponders the great nature versus nurture debate, he finds himself home in Halifax for a few weeks—he holds postal codes both in town and in Calgary—with little free time on his hands.

On the brink of releasing The Nature of Things, a 10-track follow-up to his 2006 self-titled record, the scruffy musician professes his in-depth admiration for David Suzuki's educational scientific program.

"It's a way to sum up a whole album of sweeping statements and sentiments," says McKiel, over a hot drink at Coburg Coffeehouse. "I don't know, the record, it's about the nature of stuff, like the show. Hopefully people get the slight jest, and we don't get sued or anything, though I would fucking love to meet David Suzuki."

McKiel lives the great Canadian divide, as he spends the majority of his time in the air somewhere between Halifax and Calgary. Luckily his girlfriend works for WestJet, so pricey flights aren't an issue, but he can't help but fall victim to the Atlantic pipe-dream, as he just quit a well-paying landscaping gig out there to return east and release The Nature of Things at the Marquee on October 5.

"I usually end up being here about half of the month," he says. "Unless we're touring, for all intents and purposes, it doesn't really matter where I live, it's just some place to keep my clothes. Calgary is as good a place as any, although that flight does get annoying. I've taken it about 40 times since last Christmas—well, at least 40. I guess my morning commute is just extra long."

His daily commute will only grow longer mileage-wise, since California's Wednesday Records picked up The Nature of Things, providing McKiel and his fellow musical comrades—lead guitarist Mike D'Eon, bassist Josh Kogon, drummer Cory LeBlanc and Colin Crowell on trumpet and synth—with the opportunity to record in Boston at Camp Street Studios, formerly the legendary Fort Apache.

At the height of its success, Fort Apache was the birthing ground for a long list of prolific albums gracing the shelves of record collectors, including Radiohead's The Bends, Weezer's epic release Pinkerton, Mary Lou Lord's self-titled album, The Pixies' Come On Pilgrim and Elliott Smith's seven-inch, Pretty (Ugly Before).

"As a band, we really wanted to go away and record this one, all be stuck somewhere together," McKiel says. "We thought it would sound more like a band record, instead of a solo release. We got there and on the first day I was asked to bring up some reel tapes upstairs. I looked down and I was holding The Band, Rod Stewart, Aerosmith and Steve Miller's original tapes."

Happenstance is one beautiful beast. While these local lads were laying down tracks on the very mixing board Black Sabbath used to record their last two full releases, Manchester's musical demi-god Roger Nelson swung by to play some lap steel guitar on "Get Caught."

"It was pretty weird to have Roger stop by our hotel in Boston, basically out of the blue," McKiel muses on the subject of the guitar hero's appearance on the album.

Currently McKiel's shooting a video with director Tim McDonough (Ruth Minnikin, Shotgun and Jaybird), for the album's most noteworthy track "War On You." The thudding guitar/drum build-up opens with McKiel's vocals: "there's a war on you and it has to stop/call up the coast guard, call the cops/I'll tell you what I told 'em too/ just don't tell me what I've done to you."

For a fella with a lot of praise and success heading his way, McKiel is painfully modest, as this humble frontman can hardly take a compliment. He tends to veer away from the obvious Joel Plaskett and Wintersleep comparisons, saying he feels more akin to sounds such as Hayden's Elk Lake Serenade and Wilco's Yankee Hotel Foxtrot.

Time will be the only truth-teller for his place in music history, but for now McKiel will start things off with a show at the newly re-opened Marquee Club on Gottingen. Calgary's The Cape May and Montreal's Jason Bajada will also be joining him for the celebratory occasion.

Jon McKiel w/The Cape May and Jason Majada, Friday, October 5, The Marquee Club, 2037 Gottingen, 8pm, $8


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