Tired of the tried-and-true boy-meets-girl ditty? Recently ruptured a relationship of your own? If so, Spring Breakup — the aptly named duo of Burning Hell frontman Matthias Kom and longtime musical accomplice Kim Barlow — may provide the perfect soundtrack for wallowing in woe. Pairing his blasé baritone and plucky ukulele with her rambling banjo and inherent sweetness, the pair tromps down the less-travelled end of the love trail on its sophomore album, It’s Not Me, It’s You.
“I don’t want to call them anti-love songs, but there’s a lot of space in the world to explore the topic from a different angle,” offers Kom. “Much of our lyrical material is based on personal experience. I’m not going to name names or single anyone out, but several of the tunes from our upcoming album are based on breakup stories people have told us. Usually when we tour, we bring along a tape recorder for short interviews and capturing anecdotes. Later, some of those end up set to music.”
Spring Breakup’s union dates back to December of 2008, during Kom’s first visit to the Yukon. After performing as part of the annual “longest night” celebration in Barlow’s hometown of Whitehorse, he stretched this out to comically literal lengths with a three-month stay. During this time, Kom learned that her local legend status might not net her free meals at the local café, but is still a topic of conversation.
“Kim keeps kind of a low profile, yet everyone definitely knows who she is,” he laughs. “I wouldn’t describe (her) as a rock star, though she might argue against that. Whitehorse is one of the smallest places I’ve visited for any extended period of time, and there’s definitely a lot of gossip. There isn’t a whole lot to do there, but there’s sure a lot of darkness. People stay inside, and the gossip gets out of control. It’s something like a Twin Peaks of Canada with more government money.”
From Johnny and June Carter Cash to Jay-Z and Beyoncé, the male-female duet is far from a fresh concept. However, what sets Spring Breakup apart from this storied sonic history is its unlikely marriage of instruments.
“I don’t know anything about the banjo and can’t play it to save my life, but Kim is absolutely phenomenal,” Kom says. “I actually think the ukulele complements it really nicely. The two instruments are quite different, so writing duets for them has been both easy and fun. They share the same finicky nature, are very difficult to keep in tune and have absolutely no sustain. Plus, depending on whom you talk to, they’re both equal part charming and annoying. Just like us.”
After 2010’s marathon of touring, performing and recording with the Burning Hell, one might think Kom would need a break from life on the road. Happily, he maintains that the talented company he keeps is a constant source of inspiration — the actual difficulty comes from staying in one place. He has lots to look forward to with Spring Breakup’s cross-Canada February jaunt, but seems most excited for an event that he feels blasphemously ill-informed about.
“As part of our return to the Yukon, we’re going to be playing a Hockey Day in Canada celebration,” Kom explains. “That’s really exciting because there are lots of other musicians that I love — Dave Bidini, Sarah Harmer, Buck 65 — involved as well. It’s going to be super fun, but I also must admit that I don’t know much about hockey at all. Happily, from my experience, there are more people like me than you might think.”