Hometown: Hiroshima, Japan
I might’ve only come across Jonah Yano’s music a couple of months back, but consider me an official member of the Yano fan club. By the time you read this, the Japanese born, Canadian bred singer-songwriter will have released his soulful debut album, souvenir, a moving collection of genre-blurring tracks that reflect on deeply personal experiences, including moving to a strange new country after his parent’s separation and his father’s years-long absence. One of the stand-outs on the album is ‘shoes’, featuring his musician father Tatsuya Muraoka and recorded when the pair reunited in Japan after 15 years. The track features a live recording from the ‘90s of Muraoka playing a song he had written about a pair of shoes he’d purchased for his young son, incorporating Yano’s own verses in-between. The result is a moving father and son collaboration; a call and response separated by decades, and made possible by their eventual reunion. Jonah is one of the most promising young songwriters we’ve seen come out of Canada in recent years, so let’s find out where he’s headed, what’s making him tick, and whether his mum could destroy him on the bass guitar.
What was the first song or record that had an impact on you when you were younger?
My memory isn’t very good at cataloguing stuff like that, in all honesty. A song that comes to mind that had an emotional impact on me early on was ‘Texas Flood’ by Stevie Ray Vaughan. My mom had it on CD, and the first time I heard it, I remember it rocking my world. Before that, I had never been able to feel someone else’s pain through their music. Also, that song absolutely rips.
‘shoes’ is a pretty special song. Can you tell us more about the decision to go visit your dad in Japan, and how his original recording ended up in the song?
Thank you! Well, the decision to visit my dad last year actually coincided with a trip to Japan with BADBADNOTGOOD to perform a couple of songs together at festivals. I figured if I was gonna go to Japan, I might as well go see my dad and do the whole reconciliation thing that I had wanted to do for so long. What’s funny is those shows with BBNG never ended up happening because a typhoon came through Tokyo on the weekend of the festivals, so they got cancelled. The original recording ended up in the song because that’s what I used to make the demo initially. The plan was to re-record the whole thing together but we just figured it made more sense to use the demo version with the original version. It just has something special about it.
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What was one of the most important things you learnt during that trip?
That no matter how long you spend resenting someone or something, when it comes time to reconcile there is always room to move forward.
Do you wish you could play bass like your Mum?
I wish I was even half as cool as my mom. Mum, Mom, Mim, Mem? What’s the correct spelling? Who cares, I guess.
You worked with some really amazing musicians on your new record, including BADBADNOTGOOD. What’s one your favourite moments from working with those guys?
Making music with those guys is just a really good time. One of my favourite moments with those guys was at my EP release party last year—we played like 30 minutes of improvised music and then all drank wine and listened to my EP with a bunch of friends at the Red Bull office.
You’re also really involved in the filmmaking process of your music videos. What’s one of your favourite scenes you’ve shot or edited?
There’s this song called ‘strawberry!’ on my record, and my friend Scott and I shot a video for it in one night during the winter in Toronto. It was the snowiest day in a very long time and we just ran around downtown at night, cold as shit and covered in snow almost the whole time. I think Scott caught bronchitis as a result of the extended time in the snow. It was so fun to make, though.
You’re an incredible songwriter. Who’s one of your favourite songwriters and why?
I feel like one day it’s going to be embarrassing to look back on all the times I praised her in the press, but whatever: Feist has my vote for best songwriter because, to me, she has proven time and time again that there’s always room for re-invention of your craft, even in simplicity. There’s a quality to her lyricism that I think very few people have; a soft-spoken voice that can convince you of their discontent without ever raising their voice.
What does the world not yet know about Jonah Yano?
I mean, it’s cool to do an interview with y’all because I spent a big chunk of my teen years skateboarding everyday. I think that’s something people don’t know about me. I was never really any good at it and I’m still not any good, but I enjoy it almost as much as I enjoy making music. I also try and stay up to date on all the new edits and parts that have been coming out. That guy Gustav Tønnesen is my favourite skater to watch right now, and that video, Credits, by Shari White was really cool. I think one of my biggest regrets in life is selling my VX2100… I miss that camera. Shout out to Menu Skateshop and Antisocial in Vancouver and Blue Tile Lounge in Toronto. Every skate community needs its local shops and those shops are definitely pillars in the Canadian skate world.