bc act shows naked ambition on new CD

welkin out of the wilderness

2005.03.26 :: calgary sun

by mike bell

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It's something we all do, right? Strip naked and sing? Right? Maybe in the morning, when no one's around, we shut the curtains - not all the way, mind you - remove every article of clothing, and proceed to sing in front of a full-length mirror a medley of Kenny Rogers' classic storytelling songs beginning with Lucille, segueing nicely into The Gambler and winding up with a heart-wrenching, yet ultimately empowering version of Coward of the County.


Oh, come on. I'm the only one who does this?


Geoff Birch is with me - except for the whole Kenny Rogers thing.

The frontman for Vancouver band welkin professes to being a great believer in singing in the buff, admitting all of the vocal tracks on their latest release Strangers & Exiles were recorded sans pantaloons.

"It was something I stumbled across," Birch says a little sheepishly.

"It's sort of a concentration thing, and the vocal booth is hot, and I thought I'd try it when we were recording our first EP (2004's No Ordinary Elephant).

"I found that turning off all the lights and being nude and singing all of the vocal tracks it was absolutely just me and the music...

"I've found that it's incredibly freeing - and it's also good for some laughs.

"When the producer's like, 'Uh, Geoff, I've got to come in and adjust the mic - you're going to put your pants on, right?'

"I always promise and sometimes I don't."

Well, hopefully he and his band will be fully clothed and all mic adjustments will be done without fear of mixup - or cold hands - when welkin performs March 26 at the Night Gallery.

The show is part of a tour to celebrate the release of Strangers & Exiles, a massive, ambient art rock record full of gorgeous, often exhausting epics.

It's a mostly successful attempt at an organic Pink Floydian, Radioheadian album - a 70-plus minute journey inside of your mind, meant to take you far, far away from where you sit and into the furthest reaches of that wide open space.

"That's the goal," says Birch.

"Someone comes home late at night, throws on some headphones, puts one of our records on, and it takes them to another place.

"We also hope, too, it takes them to a good place."

Escaping to a better place is something that the thoughtful songwriter knows a great deal about.

He currently lives and writes with his wife in a somewhat secluded cabin in British Columbia's Cascade Mountains - where naked singing won't unnerve neighbours, mail carriers, churchgoers, etc.

It's a thousand miles mentally away from the place and job he held before heading for the hills.

For half a decade, Birch was a youth outreach worker in Vancouver's notorious east side.

His duties mainly included walking the streets and alleys at night dealing with what many would consider to be the hopeless cases - those kids trapped in a world of drugs and the sex trade.

Obviously, the experience affected him as a human being and an artist, and, despite walking away from it, still greatly affects both who he is and what he does.

"When I started that job I had my own ideas and I was a certain person at that point, and then after five years I think that it profoundly changed me," he says.

"I think I got more out of it than the people I helped.

"You felt like you were at the heartbeat of human suffering sometimes...

"I did that for five years, and then my wife and I moved out to the mountains," he says.

"We left behind a little of the madness."

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