Shotgun Jimmie prefers to go it alone

Sarah Smellie
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Jim Kilpatrick, who performs as Shotgun Jimmie, will perform in St. John’s Friday as part of the Lawnya Vawnya music
festival. — Submitted photo by Kevin Bertram

The last time I saw Shotgun Jimmie, he made a church full of quiet listeners unclasp their hands and throw up the horns.

It was 2005, at the Dawson City Music Festival. We were all in an old wooden church at the south end of town watching a clutch of musicians perform as part of a festival workshop: they all had to take turns playing songs from their favourite musical moments in film.

They sat on stools with banjos or acoustic guitars and played soft, happy songs, one by one.

When it was his turn, Shotgun Jimmie stood up and played Chuck Berry’s “Johnny Be Good” from “Back to the Future.”

“Totally my favourite moment,” he says.

Two summers before that, Jim Kilpatrick, a.k.a. Shotgun Jimmie, had gone up to Dawson City, a seasonal tourist town at the north end of the Yukon, to retrieve his friend Fred Squire.

They started a band called Shotgun and Jaybird and made an album called “The Dawson Towne Recordings,” a collection of nine quiet indie rock songs recorded by a math teacher at the town’s only school.

There were songs about paddling the Yukon River, trudging up the Top of the World Highway and walking around a small town with big hearts in big love.

Though every summer kid left with a copy, it was more than just a seasonal soundtrack: it was a genuinely good album.

Julie Doiron covers “Spill Yer Lungs,” the second track, on her album “I Can Wonder What You Did With Your Day,” and Bry Webb, formerly of the Constantines, cited it as an influence on his solo record in an interview with the National Post.

By the time Kilpatrick belted out “Johnny Be Good,” in that church, Shotgun and Jaybird had started playing with Doiron and had picked up Paul Henderson to play drums (the rumour up North was that they took on Henderson, a long-time Dawson resident who had no drumming experience,  because they were going to open for his favourite band, Songs: Ohia. Kilpatrick says that’s only half true.)

They played together for another two years and then split, and Kilpatrick began to find his voice as a solo musician.

He released two albums and an EP and then, in 2011, he released “Transistor Sister,” a flat-out rock record with a bit of synth and a lot of rich backing from Ryan Peters, who plays drums for Ladyhawk, and his long-time friend Jay Baird, who played bass for Feist.  

“Transistor Sister” was 12th on Earshot’s list of the top 200 albums of that year, and it made the long list for the Polaris Prize.

“‘Transistor Sister’ was really well received,” says Kilpatrick. “But I had given up two of the main things that I do — recording and performing — and I trusted them with other people. The result was that everybody loved it and raved about it more than anything I’d ever done before.”

He had mixed feelings about that.

“Part of me felt like, oh maybe I should always hire someone else to record or to play on my record, like I felt a little bit of disappointment almost,” he says. “So on my next record, I decided that I was doing it all myself again and see, well, what it’s really about. Is it about the songs or is it about how they’re performed or how they’re recorded or what? What is about this that I’m actually trying to do?”

He found himself a cabin just south of Brandon, Man., and recorded his next album, “Everything, Everything,” entirely by himself.

“I’d seen this cabin and I knew that it would be a perfect little studio and it was,” he says. “It was like being in Dawson again. There was no running water, same as our cabin Dawson, and there was a wood stove and there were all these trees out there that I could chop up. So I was out chopping wood every day to stay warm and then I’d record all day and in the evening, I’d write.”

In the same spirit as “Transistor Sister,” “Everything, Everything” is a tight collection of quick, solid, buoyant rock songs that Chuck Berry would, no doubt, nod along to. But Kilpatrick doesn’t have any conflicting emotions about it.

“I love it,” he says. “It’s more of my one-man band kind of thing. I laid down all the instruments on it and I recorded it myself. I love the way it sounds. I had a few months to work on it, so I was able to do as many takes as I wanted and make it sound exactly the way I wanted it to.

“I feel like it’s a nice progression from ‘Transistor Sister,’” he adds. “On ‘Transistor Sister,’ there are a bunch of little ideas that aren’t really full song ideas. ‘Everything, Everything’ has the same amount of tracks, but the ideas were a little more finished when they were recorded.”

When he plays the songs live, he sings, plays guitar and kicks a drum pedal all at once. And though he’s collaborated and played with artists like Joel Plaskett, Kilpatrick says being a one-man band is exactly what he was meant to do.

“If I play with other people, it’s really fun and I truly enjoy it and I feel like I push myself to rise to the occasion,” he says. “But when I play by myself, the freedom of it results in this spontaneity that enables me to do anything. That completely transforms even what playing and performing is so that it’s totally a different thing. It’s more about having meaningful interactions with a group of people.”

“I love it, I really love it,” he says. “I think it’s so much fun, and I also feel like it’s meaningful, like I’m contributing. When I’m performing solo, it’s work, but it’s rewarding work. I feel like it’s significant and it’s unique and that it’s my calling.”

And I think every single person who saw him play in that Dawson City church would agree.

Shotgun Jimmie will play as part of Lawnya Vawnya Friday, April 19 at The Ship at 10:30 p.m. with The Mouthbreathers and Mark Bragg & The Butchers. Lawnya Vawnya runs from April 17-21.

For more information, see www.lawnyavawnya.com.

Organizations: Dawson City church, The Ship

Geographic location: Dawson City, Yukon, Yukon River Brandon

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