Combing lush vocal harmonies and smart, dance-y, instrumental layers, Yoke Lore creates tunes that have the force of a formidable sonic front, but still manage to sound sincere. Though his tracks reflect a ready-for-airwaves sheen, there’s nothing about the Brooklyn-based artist’s music that seems rote, and his work is at once accessible and soul-baring. Recently, Yoke Lore made The Deli privy to his wide range of influences, and what goes on during his creative process.
What comes first: music or lyrics? [My father] taught me to see beauty in everything – anything from blades of grass to failure.
It depends on the day, or the temperature, and the movie I watched the night before, or the night sounds I listened to before I went to bed. Any art-making is about making the mundane meaningful–taking everyday things, feelings, urges, and voices, and indulging and exploring those things to the point where anyone could identify with it. So, I guess it depends on the world. Sometimes, I see a blank wall that really strikes me, and I try to take a moment to stop & consider it. My father is an artist and “feeler.” From when I was young, he taught me to see beauty in everything – anything from blades of grass to failure. There is a beauty in all things that people need to be reminded of. Sometimes, that comes in words – phrases or sayings that hold weight and time in their truth. Other times, it’s just sounds that I want to put words to. In college, I had a professor who made us listen to lawn mowers during class. I’m not sure I always want to hang around listening to lawn mowers all day, but the more one listens, the more one can find the subtle textures that make such a drone almost meditative. Anything, or sound, or person, or feeling can hold the seed of something to create and make real.
[My father] taught me to see beauty in everything – anything from blades of grass to failure.
What records initially pushed you towards making music, and what records inspired you more recently?
When I was young, I listened to show tunes. My parents were actors, my mother was a director, and both of my siblings are actors, so we spent lots of outings at the theater, theater summer camps, and school plays. We did it all. I grew up listening to really emotional theater music. I grew up on the songs from The Secret Garden, Les Miserables, Thoroughly Modern Milly, Rent, A Chorus Line, and The Phantom of The Opera. Then, I became a young middle school boy and didn’t want to do “sissy” theater anymore. Even though I had found some real love in songs from Hair, Jesus Christ Superstar, Tommy, and all the rock opera, I had to leave musicals behind. I didn’t go very far. I became addicted to Queen, ELO, XTC. I slowly moved through classic rock, the hard stuff from the 80’s, grunge, indie rock, and yadda yadda… you know where it goes from there. I think growing up doing theater not only taught me how to perform, and how to connect with an audience, but it gave me a foundation in songwriting that was really lyrical and really emotional, almost histrionic. Musical theater is cringe-worthy in its use of melodrama, but when I started writing my own music, I think I knew how to be sincere. I saw why people loved musical theater. I saw why people cried every time they saw Jean Valjean sing ‘Bring Him Home,’ whoever it is singing it. I saw how people were moved, and I wanted to do that. By this time in my life, I was listening to folk music. I was tearing up with Leonard Cohen and marveling at the stories that Roscoe Holcumb told. I found mothers in Sibylle Baier and Carol King. Folk music is about storytelling. I will always be telling stories–it’s what the folks need. I got the emotion from theater and the stories from folk, and now I’m trying to listen to everything. I try to listen to more hip-hop these days. I really love Anderson Paak, and I love what Thundercat is doing. I’m trying to just continue to educate myself.
You seem to be a one man operation, if so, where do you feedback for your music when writing?
Oh man, everyone…sometimes, no one. Sometimes, I’ll be hanging out and I’ll have written something, but just wanna show my girlfriend or some of my homies. Usually, people are nice about it, haha. I count on my community to give me feedback and to tell me when I’m delusional. It takes a village to raise a baby, and this music is my most beautiful baby. I need all the help I can get. But, then again, when you know you got magic, you just know.
Does your songwriting start directly on the DAW or do you sketch ideas with a real instrument first?
I almost never write in the studio. I mean, of course things change when they get recorded – parts get shifted and tweaked. But I think songs should be able to be played on one instrument and be just as powerful when they are recorded with 20. I have scores of really crappy Garage Band demos of mine. They are actually pretty special to me, in a way. They really show the conception of each idea with just me, a banjo, and sometimes some claps & stomps that later became songs with synths, four voices, and kettle drums. In order to build something huge, you have to start really, really small.
Are there any real instruments, pieces of equipment or musical toys that lately made you rediscover the playful side of creating?
I found an organ on the street a couple weeks ago, and that’s been incredible. A couple was moving out down the block, and they put a whole bunch of free stuff out on the street. Luckily, I happened to walk by and snag it. I really love organs. It’s making me want to write Gregorian chants.
Do you like synths? If so, which ones do you use in your recordings? I think there is an incredible relationship created when you find the perfect balance between acoustic and artificial sounds.
I think there is an incredible relationship created when you find the perfect balance between acoustic and artificial sounds.
I do like synths. I try to stick mainly to analog instruments, but I think there is an incredible relationship created when you find the perfect balance between acoustic and artificial sounds. One of my favorite toys lately has been the ARP Odyssey. It has a depth to it that is so moving and so defining. It hits the bottom of whatever surface you are exploring and gives a platform from which one can truly ascend.
What one piece of hardware/software would you most like to add to your recording setup?
I have always wanted to learn how to play the musical saw. I know it’s not necessarily software/hardware, but it’s a sound that I think is so haunting and distinctive. I feel like everyone I like knows where they were when they first heard ‘In The Aeroplane Over The Sea.’
Is there a person that’s been important in perfecting your recorded and/or live sound?
Well, my mom is always telling me to make my music more dancey, so… maybe. But seriously, my producer Ariel Loh is a wizard and an amazing friend of mine who has been instrumental in this whole process. His influence on me and our connection in the studio is what has given Yoke Lore a real sonic identity. He leans toward electronic pop, and I write strange folk music, so where we come together is what you get. I hope you like it.
How do you feel about the NYC scene after three years of brutal venue closings?
Those venues will be resurrected in one form or another. And, honestly, I didn’t love those venues anyway. There are new spots in Bushwick like Market Hotel that are picking up the slack and providing more spaces for young listeners. Those venues like Glasslands and 285 Kent had been blown up. They were being packed to the brim with Williamsburg yuppies and music industry people all the time. No shows were fun anymore. More and more, there are DIY spots opening up and closing and more public spaces, like churches and warehouses, being used to host live music. That’s where the future of music in NYC lies–in the community itself. Booking companies and industrial-looking-but-actually-fancy music venues will come and go, but the people in NYC who are willing to support their community by creating environments for people to experience live music will never go away. They are the ones keeping art alive in this city. It’s not Popgun or Bowery presents–it’s the board of St. John’s Lutheran Church for allowing me to play a solo banjo set right in the nave, flanked by Mother Mary streamed in blue. It was a really special show. It felt real. It felt for a second like NYC was not the center of the world because of its place as home to financial markets, movie stars, and big business, but because it allowed for moments like that. I hope to find and help create more moments like that.