The way the New York-based Americana sextet Yarn works is pretty simple: They write songs, and then they record those songs, and then they pile into a van and drive around and play those songs for people who want to hear them.
And, yes, that’s the way every band should, in ideal terms, work. But Yarn seems different in that their approach translates as a great deal more pure; they are in many ways unsullied by the trappings of being capital-M musicians and, instead, do what musicians are supposed to do, which is — not to put too fine a point on it — to play music.
Led by singer-songwriter Blake Christiana, Yarn plays Manitou Springs’ Ancient Mariner tonight, after a triumphant appearance at this year’s MeadowGrass Festival. That show cemented well Yarn’s local reputation as dynamic performers, the sort of midlevel working band that seems more and more difficult to find these days. Without an image or packaged genre to sell, it’s just Yarn and their songs and instruments, and lots and lots of shows.
“We’ve managed to not kill each other,” Christiana laughs, after warning me that he’s hung over. “That’s the best you can do when you’re in a van 200-some days a year. I consider that a success, really.
“The amazing thing is that the people, the fans, the generosity is beyond anything I ever knew existed. Before we ever started going on the road, I never thought that a fan would just take you in and feed you and give you somewhere to sleep, and really just take care of you and welcome you as part of the family. The number of people who have done that for us on the road is really unbelievable. Those are the kinds of things that supplement a night where you’ve had a less-than-stellar draw at the door. It’s hard, but I think in order to do this, you’ve got to suck it up and be committed, because you’re gonna pay some dues.”
Yarn’s work ethic may be rare, but their strength as musicians lies in the effortless tendency toward the organic, and in Christiana’s ability to distill the big, annoying complexity of life into small, digestible and understandable vignettes.
None of the themes in Yarn’s songs are new or particularly surprising — loneliness, regret and longing seem to be favorites here — but they’re communicated with such clarity and atmosphere that it’s difficult to find yourself unaffected.
The six members are capable of pulling from a lyrical or melodic theme to give it its proper treatment on acoustic instruments, and while that sounds like a given for any band, Yarn does it with surprising subtlety and sophistication, whether it’s a barrelhouse stomper or a dirge.
It’s also refreshing to hear a younger roots-music band that isn’t delighted with their own detachment.
Christiana’s lyrics are bereft of the type of irony or tongue-in-cheek turn of phrase expected from Americana by hipsterdom, and it makes for welcome sincerity. These are songs meant to be understood and enjoyed on their own merits, not digested through a sardonic or retro lens.
Much of Yarn’s press spends time being baffled that the band’s roots are in New York as opposed to, say, deep somewhere in the Ozarks. But as Christiana explains, that’s the same sort of flawed thinking that makes it possible for a vice-presidential candidate to call parts of the country more “real America” than others. Americana, in other words, is American, no matter where you’re playing it.
“New York City has everything you want and need and then some,” he says. “I think it’s the perfect place for (Americana.) It’s a big melting pot of music.”
This makes sense, as Americana itself is a melting pot of sorts, drawing as it does from gospel and blues and country, and while Christiana clearly drinks from the well of Gram Parsons, the genre is large enough to provide stylistic elbow room while still sticking to the roots of what Americana should be, which Christiana insists is just rock:
“I think it’s a broad label,” he says, “so it covers a pretty large gamut. I see it encompassing rock and country, alternative bluegrass stuff, even more folky indie. It’s just a place for your nontraditional kind of music. Or even, where does the old, traditional-sounding rock ’n’ roll belong on radio today? If you listen to what they consider rock today — not to be a hater, but goddamn, it’s terrible. It’s just overprocessed, whiny crap. It’s a shame that they’re even calling that rock ’n’ roll, because it’s not. In my opinion, Americana is rock ’n’ roll. It’s just American rock ’n’ roll, and it’s what it should be.”
And rock ’n’ roll, in its purest form, performed well and stripped of frippery, is probably what fans at the Mariner can expect.
“We play for a good, fun, debaucherous crowd,” Christiana says. “It’s just fun. We’re not trying to reinvent the wheel or nothin’. We’re just trying to give people a good time.
“And,” he adds, “We can’t wait to get back to your state, ’cause y’all bring some love.”