Interview: Jason Yates
Wed, 27 Jan 2010 09:56:10
Jason Yates doesn't mind the rain.
Looking out the window at an unseasonably wet Los Angeles landscape, he smiles, "Listen to that thunder. It's nice!"
When you sing the blues as well as Jason does, a little thunder and rain doesn't hurt. On his new self-titled album, Jason stirs up a storm of emotions through a combination of sensitive folk vocals and a palpable blues musicality. Jason's keyboard virtuosity has been heard on the road and record with the likes of Ben Harper, Macy Gray, Mazzy Star, G. Love and the Special Sauce and Natalie Merchant. Now, he's got his own arsenal of songs and he plans on cranking out a few more while touring with Citizen Cope this winter.
Jason sat down with ARTISTdirect.com editor and Rick Florino about his new album, feeling close to Jack Nicholson in Five Easy Pieces and how to sing the blues in the 21st century, all while the rain came down.
The album has a blues undercurrent. Was that something that you were really going for?
When I first started playing music, I was introduced to the blues by Barry Goldberg, who was in TheElectric Flag. He played with Dylan, and he's a Chicago blues guy. He's an old Jewish piano player—Chicago-style. Ever since I was kid, I played the blues. That's what I love. I went back, researched and listened to a lot of old blues guys. I fell in love with all of the acoustic blues like Mississippi John Hurt. That's where my musicality naturally comes from. Over the years, I've been influenced by a lot of other things, but I think that was definitely the starting point. That's naturally where I go. I didn't "decide" to make a blues record.
Your album isn't a traditional blues record though, it's your spin on the classic style.
Well, thank you! You've got good ears because it's buried in there. It's not like I'm doing any 12-bar blues changes or anything, but the elements are definitely there.
What's the story behind "Sing for You?"
Marc Ford and I co-wrote that song together. We were on a long tour of Europe. I think we'd been out for about seven weeks. Anybody who's been on tour knows that once you hit that six-week mark, you really become a shell of a man [Laughs]—especially in Europe. You're out there. You're not at home. You feel a little lost, and everything's a bit of a struggle language-wise and culturally. Everything's new and fun, but there's also a point where you feel really alien. Marc and I were definitely feeling that. He was missing his wife at home. I said, "Man, let's put this down and turn this into something." I brought a guitar into this hotel room in, I think, Brussels. Where's that statue of the guy peeing? I think it's Brussels. I don't know where the fuck we were that's how lost we were [Laughs]. "Sing for You" really came out of that sentiment of being away from home. It's hard to put what you feel in words over the phone. I think I captured that. Luckily, I recorded us wailing through it on a mini-tape in a hotel room. Then months later, I dug it back up. Whenever you co-write a song with somebody, it can be a really special thing. You're opening up your musicality to somebody else and you're finding a common ground. I like what we did so it was important for me to get it on the record and do it justice.
Do you tend to get personal with all of the songs?
Absolutely, these songs are all near and dear to me. I'm not one of these guys that just cranks out a song per week. I have friends that are professional songwriters, and they knock two or three songs out in a couple of days. My songs are labored over and they take a lot of time to develop. I wrote "I Run" thinking that I was going to give the music to Ben Harper for his next record, but Ben called me and said he wanted to try another approach. He also wanted to do the Relentless 7 project. That gave me the green light to push myself into recording these songs on my own. I realized I could live in a comfort zone or I could push myself and take chances. If I don't take chances, I can't sleep at night, so I had to do it. At that moment, I decided to pen the words to "I Run." I knew I had a story to tell here. All of the songs are really personal, but "I Run" is especially vulnerable. It's taking a look back at life and going, "Man, look at this pattern that I have." It's about anytime you're addressing it, owning up to it and being able to face it. I'm saying, "I see that this is what I do." Once you see that, it's the first step in recognizing whether you're going to change it or just let it be. I'm still running [Laughs].
If you could compare this record to a movie, what would you compare it to?
Good question, man! That's a great question to ponder over. Possibly, Five Easy Pieces…I feel close to that movie and the character that Jack Nicholson played, not just because of the piano either, but his wandering heart, his spirit and that non-committal feeling. I don't know if my record can stand up to that, but that's the first one that comes to mind. You caught me off guard [Laughs].
What's next for you?
I really feel another record brewing inside of me. I'm in a different headspace now. I want to continue the cross-pollination in my songwriting. I feel like I'm exploring some new territory in myself. I'm going to be on the road with Cope, and I'm going to try to write a new album during my downtime, in my hotel room and on the bus because it's a good place to get away from yourself. When you're up in a plane and you look down at home, you have a different perspective on life. I feel like the road's a good place for me to write my next record. Also since I'm playing his music, I'll be going, "I should be doing my thing!" [Laughs]. There's some motivation when you're out there working.
Check out Rick Florino's new novel Dolor available now for FREE here…