Winter’s closing in. Try as the sun junkies might to deny it, there’s no stopping the season’s sure and unpreventable creep into our lives. After that week-long Indian Summer, the days are getting shorter, the temperature is dropping, and frost is beginning to appear, bright and crystalline on quiet cars each morning, before households across the country wake for commutes and school runs and whatever else.

If it sounds like I’m revelling in this, the prospect of ice and cold, it’s probably because I kind of am. In longing for ever-evasive light and heat, it’s easy to forget the beauty that winter can be host to. Keep Away The Dead, the latest release from Canadians Siskiyou, is just one such beauty, a record possessed of a stark loveliness that sounds like it could have been recorded in a freezing bathroom around an electric heater. Which is probably because parts of it were.

"I was living in this tiny town in the interior of British Columbia (Mara, pop. 350) that had this beautiful old town hall that was rarely ever used. I had some time on my hands and so I approached them about using it” says Siskiyou helmsman Colin Huebert. “It wasn't until I went in to test the acoustics one night that I realized how very cold and creepy it really was.” So cold and creepy, in fact, that the place worked its way inexorably into Keep Away the Dead’s bare bones from the record’s inception. “I actually wrote the second song on the album the night I was testing the sound” Huebert recalls, of ‘Where Does That Leave Me’, a song that manages to make sleigh bells, with all their festive connotations, sound chilling. “I'm not sure who that song is about, but it certainly isn't me.”

Much of the basis for Keep Away The Dead was recorded there in Mara’s town hall, in early 2010, before Siskiyou’s eponymous debut had even been released. When asked about the recording process, the first thing that Huebert mentions is the temperature. “It was actually really cold to be honest. Due to the sound of the furnace we (Huebert and Siskiyou cohort Erik Arnesen) had to keep the heat off the entire time we were working.” As enterprising in his studio setup as in his fleshing out of raw, stripped back songs, Huebert was not to be deterred from the task at hand, not even by a painful British Columbia winter. “I kept a space heater in the bathroom as a kind of chill out/heat up zone, ” he explains, “I actually ended up recording quite a bit in the bathroom to be honest.”

Whilst it’s logical to assume that Siskiyou’s choice of venue for the recording of Keep Away The Dead might produce a record similar in production to their debut’s endearingly scratchy, homemade sound, the new release surprises anyone expecting more of the same just a few seconds into its opening track, where bright synths add dramatic splashes of colour to an altogether fuller sounding mix than before. That said, this doesn’t detract from the band’s intimate sound, and Siskiyou’s setup in Mara did remain somewhat rustic. “Logistically, we did keep things pretty simple. Just a handful of mics, a laptop and a few instruments”, says Huebert. “I tried to get some nicer microphones and we had eight channels to work with instead of two. Much of the first record was recorded though the crappy little mic that came with my laptop, so really anything would be a step up in terms of fidelity.” Keep Away The Dead also marks a change for Siskiyou in terms of personnel, with Shaunn Watt and Peter Carruthers coming into the fold for the final stages of the album, at JC/DC studios in Vancouver. It’s pleasing to note that, far from being any sort of precious artist who’d rather can the whole thing than have anyone else touch his songs, Huebert seems particularly happy with the band’s growth. “Much of the record was actually recorded before Peter and Shaunn even started playing with us”, he admits, but he’s keen to stress the importance of the new recruits. “The two songs that weren't recorded in Mara were full band affairs though, Peter and Shaunn included, and I think they turned out great. There is an energy and a cohesiveness that is maybe absent on some of the older songs.”

It’s easy to romanticise the notion of tiny, snowed-in Mara, way across the Atlantic and eastern Canada, and re-imagine it in the vein of those isolated movie towns where everyone knows everyone, and outsiders are thoroughly unwelcome. “By the time we went in to record I basically knew the entire town” Huebert admits. “There is only one way in and out of Mara and it is over a one-lane bridge. The hall is perched on the river right beside the bridge, so whenever someone came or left Mara they knew whether we were working or not.” It sounds an uncomfortable position to be in, but rather than anything untoward happening to Huebert or Arnesen, it seems that they left an indelible mark on at least one member of the community. “Erik was recording this kind of dark heavy part for a song that never made it onto the record.” remembers Huebert. “The amplifier was on 10 and everything was shaking and rattling. Even I was starting to get a little scared when all of a sudden this little boy, maybe 5 years old, comes up to the glass doors of the hall and just starts staring in. He stood there for the entirety of the part and then just kind of stumbled away all wide-eyed.” Huebert seems confident that he and Arnesen weren’t unwelcome in Mara, though. “For the most part though, I don't think we did too much damage to the community” he asserts, before wryly venturing, “Oh, except for that church burning thing.”

With the vogue for downbeat folk-rock, back-to-basics recording techniques, and wintery, remote locales that has arisen since the combination sent Bon Iver hurtling into the indie-rock stratosphere with the release of For Emma…, it’s refreshing to discover that Huebert had no intentions of following the beaten track when it came to the recording of Keep Away The Dead. “I wouldn't say there was any premeditated intention for this record,” he notes, and when queried as to whether the place of the record’s conception shaped its sound as a by-product, or whether Huebert chose to record in Mara because he wanted his surroundings to match or influence the record’s mood, he’s sure that “the former seems closer to the truth.” In fact, it seems that the formative stages of Keep Away The Dead were largely without any sort of outside influence whatsoever. “My wife and I had just moved to this tiny town that basically had no amenities or for that matter, even the internet. We don't have a television, so our only real cultural influences were the records we already owned, books and the radio.” It sounds a particularly claustrophobic, insular setting, cut off from the world beyond the tiny town, and Huebert is more than willing to admit that, in this sense as well, Mara found its way onto Keep Away The Dead. “If I had to be honest it was maybe the least influenced time, culturally speaking, that I had spent up to that point. Kind of like living in a vacuum. Perhaps that has something to do with some of the themes or sounds on the record?” Huebert is eager to point out a particular facet of the record-as-informed-by-setting discussion here. “One thing that I will mention”, he says, “is how different the environment was where many of these songs were conceived, compared to the first record. In Mara, if you felt a moment coming on you could just walk out onto the front porch and there you were, sorting things out by the river, with birds singing, horses, trees.” Frankly, it sounds lovely, a far cry from the haunted, frigid atmosphere that Keep Away The Dead creates. “In the city,” Huebert continues, “where the first record was conceived, if you felt a charmed moment approaching it was like "Baton down the hatches!", and you'd close all the windows and doors so that your jerk off neighbour wouldn't hear you sorting out a song and screaming like a madman.” The singer does reveal himself as something of a glutton for punishment here, for the tension that these situations create, remarking as an afterthought “I think I prefer the latter.”

Maybe it’s Huebert’s time spent with only than his existing record collection for reference that resulted in Siskiyou covering Neil Young’s ‘Revolution Blues’. When I first read the title on Keep Away The Dead’s track listing, I was certainly dubious as to quite how any band, even a band I like as much as Siskiyou, could attempt to contribute to a song so firmly ensconced in musical history. “It just kind of chose us to be honest”, says Huebert. “The first time I ever tried playing it I sang it the way I sing it now and it always felt right.” Didn’t he find it a daunting prospect, reinterpreting a song so near-perfect in its original incarnation? “I suppose because it ‘chose us’, it was very easy to sort out a novel arrangement” Huebert replies, before elaborating on the matter. “In my opinion it is only acceptable to record someone else's song if you are going to do something drastically different with it.” The man is confident in his band’s skill, though, not failing to add “I think we achieved that with Revolution Blues.” With their interpretation, Siskiyou forego Young’s strutting, overdriven chords for Huebert’s delicate fingerpicking, occasionally exploding into edge-of sanity bursts of banjo, accordion, and percussion. Huebert’s characteristic wail trembles fearfully over the top, backed by an ethereal, ghostly moan. Listening to the overhaul, it’s hard to argue with Huebert’s conviction.

Bearing in mind that he’d already ensconced himself in Mara and begun writing Keep Away The Dead before Siskiyou was even released, Huebert seems content to take Siskyou’s future at a steadier pace, and put in the necessary groundwork. “We're going to tour through the fall and maybe the spring and see what happens with that,” he says when asked about what’s on the horizon. “As far as records go, I think it will be a bit of a longer break between Keep Away The Dead and the next release. Although,” Huebert hints, “we've got lots of new songs that we've been working on, I think I'd like to flesh them out a bit more before we start putting them down on tape.” Judging by the musical leap that Siskiyou made in the short distance between their debut and Keep Away The Dead, it’s difficult not to get excited about what’s coming next.

Keep Away The Dead is out now on Constellation.