Print Edition: April 8, 2015
Jotham Yelle is a singer-songwriter from Mission. His most recent EP, A Thousand Years or More, was released at the end of 2014. A Thousand Years or More was recorded while Jotham simultaneously finished up his audio engineering degree at the Nimbus School of the Recording Arts.
When did you first start playing music?
Well, in grade seven we had a guitar class, so I picked up a guitar then and absolutely hated it. I played it for, I think, six classes, and we played “Smoke on the Water,” and I think “Yellow” by Coldplay. And it just sucked. So I hated the guitar. I was like, “this is a stupid instrument,” and I put it down and that was it. That was the end of that.
Well, what made you pick it up again?
To be honest with you, it was because of Jack Johnson. I heard his In Between Dreams album and was like, “Man, this is just so simple, it’s just a dude and his guitar, and it’s enjoyable!” I knew I could totally do that, so I did.
So would that be around when you started writing your own songs?
Well, that was when I actually started learning the guitar. Picture it: 17 years old, Jack Johnson album on, thinking to myself, “Okay, I’m going to learn this thing.” I taught myself to play the guitar and after a year of playing it, learning a bunch of covers and stuff I was like, “Okay, I think I’m good enough now to write my own stuff.”
Obviously Jack Johnson had a big influence on your music initially; who would you say are your biggest musical influences now?
The music I make today, you definitely don’t hear any Jack Johnson in it. I’d say my first big influence was Jack Johnson and now it’s more Snow Patrol, Broken Social Scene, and Sufjan Stevens. It’s funny because after those bands I kind of just stopped listening to music and just started exclusively making music. I don’t know whether that’s good or bad but at that point I was basically just building on my own genre.
Was the sonic difference between your newest EP A Thousand Years or More and your older releases intentional? Did you feel the need to strip down your sound?
Well, the songs on A Thousand Years or More are actually old songs! I had these old songs lying around from, I think it was 2013, and I just felt like recording this stuff acoustically to fit with that time. So yeah, they were just old songs written about an old girlfriend that happened to come back to life through this project.
So moving forward, you are saying you don’t think you are going to continue this more acoustic trend?
Yeah, the acoustic stuff was more about getting ideas out and saying some things that needed to be said. That was about it.
Does that mean you have some new music coming out soon?
I do! I have a full five-song EP recorded but it just hasn’t been edited or mixed yet. I did that with my girlfriend, Alexandra Derby, at Nimbus, so it’s nearly ready to go, I just need to finish it up.
Well I look forward to hearing that! I have a more personal question here: why do you make music? Why do you feel the need to write music?
I used to be very bad at expressing my feelings, like if someone was having a conversation with me and they could see that something was wrong, I wouldn’t know how to tell them. I was just really bad at that. So that’s where writing lyrics came in, because writing was easier for me, and I could write and say something easier than speaking it. So music became the in-between. It was like, “Okay, I’m going to write you something, I’m gonna write you a letter, but I’ll say it as well.”
I’m wondering if there was perhaps a song in your childhood that you remember hearing, that was like your first “ah-ha” moment in terms of connecting with a song, or music in general.
Well actually, both my parents were musicians, so they played a lot of music. There are actually home videos of us sleeping in the next room while my mom and dad are jamming, so that probably had an influence on me. But as for a specific song … well, “Banana Pancakes” from Jack Johnson. That song was super chill and made me want to write songs.
Yeah, what I’m thinking is like early childhood, one of the first songs to really strike you.
Yes, there actually is a song, and I find myself stealing snippets of this song over and over and over again now that I think about it. It’s actually hilarious, because it’s such a cheesy song. It’s a song by Donna Lewis, who’s like a Celine Dion / Shania Twain type of singer, and I think it’s called “I Love You” or “I’ll Love You Forever” or something to that effect, but it’s the straight-up cheesiest song ever. If a song could be a chick flick, that song would be a chick flick. It’s the goofiest little romance song, just a girl-singing-for-this-guy kind of thing, but instrumentally, it has all of these cool little things in it that always seem to come back to me.
This interview has been edited for clarity and length.