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Way up in the True North, Iqaluit-based band The Jerry Cans are uncovering the beauty of Arctic life one track at a time. Combining rock, folk and Inuk throat singing, the five-piece band are gearing up for the release of their third studio album, Inuusiq/Life. With songs in both English and Inuktitut, the album centres on beauty, complexities and the challenges of living in Nunvut’s fast-changing capital city.
We caught up with frontman Andrew Morrison and throat singer and accordionist Nancy Mike to talk about life in the North, including their new record, their favourite Inuit soul food and where to snap the best Insta.
What did you love most about growing up in your hometown?
Nancy: I grew up in a place called Panniqtuuq, where I lived in a four-bedroom house with my parents, four brothers and three sisters. We often went out caribou hunting in the fall months and would hike for hours with my brothers and my late father. We’d hunt bull caribou and carry our catch back to our campsite, it was a beautiful family time and I learned life skills from it.
Being out hunting meant I would miss the first week of school, but that was seen as okay because it’s cultural education. What I liked about my hometown was the close-knit community feeling and how you can walk to your friend’s house or to the store whenever you want, but also having the access to the land was a vital part for me.
Andrew: I have always loved the community feel in Iqaluit. There’s a sense of community here that’s unlike anything I have found elsewhere. As the town grows this is starting to change a bit but the way people help come together to celebrate good times and help each other out through the challenging times is pretty amazing. We can’t really imagine living anywhere else in the world.
I have always loved the community feel in Iqaluit. There’s a sense of community here that’s unlike anything I have found elsewhere.
If you could only take one photo in Iqaluit, where should that be?
Nancy: I would probably choose a photo out on the Floe Edge or somewhere close by but a little further from the city, just because it’s where I feel at ease. It’s so relaxing.
Andrew: I would have to say the best photo of Iqaluit is the top of the mountain heading to its apex. You can see the beautiful small town, but it also gives you an idea of how vast the land is up here. Lots of rolling hills, endless tundra and beautiful ocean. We look out on the bay often to see how conditions are for hunting. Whether we want to go out or some of our friends are out on the land, we know that usually means we will be eating delicious northern country food.
What’s your favourite thing to eat in Iqaluit that isn’t the same anywhere else?
Nancy: Mattaaq, or whale skin, is my favourite. My father used to be a full-time hunter and I grew up with him going out hunting often. It’s very much Inuit soul food for me. I love it fresh or frozen, and Andrew makes a really delicious Chinese-style hot and sour soup with it. Wherever we go outside of Iqaluit we always try and bring some along to share, no matter how…. different… others might think it is!
Andrew: No doubt, nattiminiq uujuq mamaqtuq! Seal meat stew is my most favourite meal, but also frozen caribou meat with soya sauce and sriracha is a fine delicacy in our house. Nancy’s dad would also fry young seal in butter. That was unreal. There’s a really amazing food culture in Nunavut and seal meat is definitely one of the staples. Man, it’s lunchtime right now and this is making my stomach growl.
How did Arctic Life and your hometown of Iqaluit and influence your new record?
Nancy: To be honest, the influence is all over the record. The opening intro is a recording of our neighbours dogs howling with the rest of the dogs across Iqaluit, but also the life we live is not the same as someone who may be living in a city in southern Canada. Our history is so unique in that colonization only happened 60-70 years ago and it’s so recent so we do see a lot of issues and benefits to pertaining to this. A lot of the songs we write relate to our life/inuusiq here in the arctic.
Andrew: I agree with Nancy, the songs are very deeply rooted in life in Nunavut and especially Iqaluit. We try to tell stories of what life is like up here with both the positive and negative side. There are some heavier songs that encourage young people to love life but also songs about how working in an office sometimes really sucks and we would all rather be out on the beautiful land. We try to help audiences expand on what they think about the north and the people that live there.
What was it like recording Inuusiq/Life, an album about home, in Toronto, a city so far from Iqaluit?
Nancy: It was a bit strange! Toronto is pretty big, sometimes anonymous-feeling city, but we usually don’t feel too out of place there. We’ve started to make some good friends there. I think part of our music is also changing a bit as we are getting more attention in the south. We’re now starting to include more songs with the hope of educating southerners on what life is really like in Nunavut. We don’t mind being away from home because anywhere we go we are doing this and we think it’s really important to do.
On that note, what did you miss most about home while you were recording in Toronto?
Nancy: I absolutely missed the quietness of our town but also the nice cold fresh arctic air…
Andrew: I missed the pace mostly. Toronto has lots of very cool things going on but it always seems like it is in a rush. Iqaluit time is a bit of a different pace and whenever we get back home after being away I always love just resetting the pace we do things. It’s cool to see some musician friends from the south experience this, they actually mostly really love slowing down a bit.
What are three must-see places or must-do activities tourists should experience in Iqaluit?
Nancy & Andrew: We strongly believe that Nunavut is one of the most beautiful places in the universe. Some people come up and don’t have a chance to experience the real beauty of the place. First, you have to go out on a boat seal hunting, berry picking, or campin—This is the essential Nunavut experience. Next, a Jerry Cans show at the Iqaluit Legion is a pretty special event to be at. That’s where you see Elders and their grandkids rocking out together. It’s pretty awesome. Last, you should probably come visit our house for lunch to experience some delicious traditional food. We’re having seal stew today, maybe some baked Arctic char tomorrow and our community just successful harvested four walruses so that will be on the menu this weekend. Don’t forget to bring your own pocketknife and some delicious tea or coffee for us—we will provide the bannock.
Like this post? Check out The North’s Best Kept Secret: The Long John Jamboree and Must Do: 3 Iconic Experiences In Canada’s North, too!