By Brian Tucker
“A broken heart is a powerful thing,” Yarn’s front man Blake Christiana said of his fascination with relationships. It served the Grammy nominated Americana band’s latest album Shine the Light On well. Two songs from it – “Good Lady” and “Take Me First” cut deep lyrically, one as apology, the other as tribute to a spouse. Both are a perfect combination of lyrics that resonate and music fit for mass consumption.
“For all we know these songs could be written by the same narrator talking to the same girl, just a question of what phase of the relationship they’re in.” Christiana said.
The singer-guitarist wrote “Take Me First” for his soon-to-be-wife. But it’s also about his parents and people who spend their lives with the same person.
“I couldn’t imagine doing that and then losing them. I would have to go first, but if I didn’t, I know I wouldn’t last much longer,” referring to song’s stark centerpiece about being left alone and “the curse of a long and lonely wait” to be together again.
The songs compliment an album littered with colorful characters (“Bobby Weeks”) and writing born from observation and introspection (“Wasted Life”), what Christiana refers to as the craziness of life, people, and relationships.
Shine the Light On is a beautiful record – broken, smiling, and scarred. “Take Me First” is bittersweet, where violin augments lyrics that make the thought of aging not so bad, a bit more graceful. Christiana sings about how memories made together erase the lines in our faces, the aches and pains, and ultimately make us better. The chorus ends, “Getting old is a privilege we hold/And I’m so lucky I’m getting old with you.”
Christiana’s voice has casual demeanor with a rural feel, delivered like a whiskey soaked Garrison Keillor. Yarn’s music adds pages to the American songbook with songs echoing lives of people coast to coast yet sounding like its being played in a town square or back porch.
He cites Jacksonville’s Whiskeytown as inspiration and listening to Ryan Adams’ Gold album for nearly a year straight while riding New York City subways (the band was originally based in Brooklyn). He followed with Gram Parsons’ solo records and soon after was writing what would become the first Yarn songs.
The band built a fan base through heavy touring and audience interaction. Strangers in strange towns, they found themselves making friends with people at shows and the experience was a genuine eye opener, and later helping fund the new album.
“Humanity is good, who knew?” Christiana quipped. “Our fans, and people we’ve met along the way, have been the most generous and giving people I’ve ever known. I had no idea that kind of selflessness and generosity even existed. I love it and will never stop getting to know all these great people.”
Along the way Yarn also made friends with distinguished musicians. During a show in Nashville with John Oates the musicians struck up a friendship and later wrote songs for Shine the Light On. For Empty Pockets, Yarn’s second album, Christian sang with Edie Brickell on “I’m Down.” The duet happened with a simple MySpace email. Too hung over to write, Christiana and a buddy emailed famous people they admired to promote Yarn.
“Edie got back to us pretty quickly,” Christiana said. “She is an amazing talent, I am very lucky to have been able to do that. I don’t think that could have been possible any other moment in time. Almost everyone was accessible at the beginning of social media, it was pretty weird.”
More with Blake Christiana
What do you want to do for the next album?
Christiana: I just really wanted to get that record out there, with no delusions of success or making lots of money. I just hoped it would resonate with some people and I think it did. I think we will get together with a producer again and see what kind of magic happens for the next record. I have a bunch of material written, but still have no idea what will be on it, it just might be stuff I haven’t even written yet. Short answer, still trying to figure that out.
Was it harder to write songs spare at first then built up by the band?
Christiana: That has been the way since the beginning, although I would really like to try it the other way some day. Give me some Guns ‘n Roses Chinese Democracy budget and we’ll go into the studio with nothing and just start rolling tape, I would love that. But for now, being a very independent band, this is the way it is, and I think it works.
Would you say writing the record made you a more focused writer?
Christiana: I think so. I am not sure being a more focused writer is good for me or not, I feel like it might inhibit me from finishing things I would have been really happy with that five years ago. Writing something that satisfies me has definitely gotten a lot harder. I am way more critical, but hopefully that is because I have gotten better and hold myself to a bit of a higher standard now. Although, that being said, I am certainly not above writing a simple and cheesy little song and releasing it.
Does songwriting come from your life mostly or from what goes on around you?
Christiana: Both. Life is crazy. People are crazy. Relationships are crazy. It’s this really weird ride we are all on. The ones we are on are all a little bit different, but I’ve been pretty lucky and have gotten to jump on and off a whole bunch of those rides. They all make you smile, laugh, scared and sick, it’s really something.
Was there a real person that inspired “Bobby Weeks”?
Christiana: Definitely, a whole slew of them. That’s one of those rides I got to jump on and then off of. This world breeds some entitled, privileged, insecure nuts. I’ve never knowingly met or hung around with a cross-dressing serial killer, but I certainly might have. I have definitely known people capable of it.
John Oates is a fan of your music.
Christiana: We played a package show together in Nashville, Tennessee. He was backstage and I sang a song that he and Daryl inspired me to write. He liked it, so we started hanging. He’s an amazing guy, as humble as anyone I’ve ever met. He’s got a new record out; it’s called Good Road to Follow.
How often does the band perform at home?
Christiana: Home has changed quite a bit for most of us, there’s only one guy left in Brooklyn. I live in North Carolina now, a couple guys in Connecticut, and one in New Jersey. We only play New York City a couple times a year now. Our music has really caught on quickest in the Southeast, so I’d say we are busiest down there.
Early on, was there a clear idea of what the band was to be or not to be?
Christiana: No, it just became what it became, absolutely no rules. I was definitely writing more country sounding stuff, but we’ve never felt stuck in any genre or vision. We play what we want. Maybe that’s not a good thing, I don’t know.
Has Yarn exceeded your expectations and surprised you?
Christiana: I’m a pessimist, I certainly had no expectations of even making it this far. That being said, I’m never satisfied so we’ve got a long way to go before I’m happy and even feel successful.
Whiskeytown formed in Jacksonville, N.C.. Were they a strong influence on Yarn?
Christiana: I love Whiskeytown. Strangers Almanac is a perfect record to me. That’s the kind of thing that makes me insecure, but inspired at the same time. I can’t remember if I discovered Whiskeytown before or after I started Yarn, but I listened to Ryan Adams’ Gold record for about a year straight in my CD Walkman riding the subways of New York which led me to listen to Gram Parsons’ two solo records. And right after that I started writing what would become the first Yarn songs.