INTERVIEW: Jasper Sloan Yip

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There is a sense of familiarity in listening to Jasper Sloan Yip’s music that is as comforting as having a conversation with an old friend.

Perhaps this is due to the heart-on-the-sleeve nature of his songwriting, which is as confessional as it is reflective. Cue the creation of his sophomore album, Foxtrot, which chronicles the ending of a relationship while piecing together the fragments of the life that once framed it.

In the three years between his debut album, Every Day and All At Once, and now, Yip has fine tuned his songwriting craft which is certainly evident in the details of the nine tracks that map out Foxtrot. The first song off the album, ‘Show Your Teeth’, won Shore FM’s Best of BC contest this past May.

We recently had the opportunity to chat with Jasper on the new album, the local music community, and the upcoming cross-Canada tour. Foxtrot is out as of tomorrow, and the release party for the album will be at The Media Club this Wednesday July 17th. Don’t miss out!
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asapmusicblog.ca: If you were asked to introduce yourself and your music to someone who has never heard of you before, how would you describe it?

Jasper Sloan Yip: I get that question a lot – I usually say it’s alternative folk-rock, folk-pop. A little bit progressive, at times a little bit psychedelic, but mostly it’s straight ahead alt-folk-rock… these days.

a: When I was looking over the lyrics for Foxtrot, I noticed that your lyrics read like poetry. They have a real poetic sensibility to them. What is the songwriting process like for you?

JSY: For this album, I wanted the lyrics to read really well on the page, almost like a story or in unbroken sentences – I wanted them to be very vivid, I really wanted to paint a picture of our life together with economy. I tried to be poetic, so I’m glad you say that. The songwriting process for me is generally the same – I’m very slow, I dwell on lyrics for a very long time. Usually a melody comes first, and then I dwell on it for a long time, and I walk with it. I do a lot of writing while I walk or ride my bike – something about the rhythm of movement that helps me get the words out.

And often I’ll write a ton of songs – I wrote a lot of songs for this record. I cut up songs and I put all the best parts together to make these Franken-songs, and that’s how I’ve always done it. I write a lot of material, I take the best stuff, and then I put it all together and then I just dwell on lyrics forever. It takes me a long to say what I want to, to find the right way to say what it is that I want to say.

a: You mentioned briefly about the narrative. With this particular record and your last one – both albums do contain narratives of very personal experiences. Do you find that at times it’s difficult to write from such a personal perspective?

JSY: I did. It used to make me very anxious, because it’s kind of scary being that honest about your own life. I find it hard to do that just in conversation with friends, I’ve always been pretty private, and this is really the only part of my life that isn’t that private… which is odd. I really have always just written about my own personal experiences. I mean, it sounds really self-involved and I suppose it is, but I’ve never really been able to write about things that are outside of myself. I’m just that kind of writer – I’ve always focused on my own stories and my own personal life. I don’t know why, a lot of people write about social issues, and they make up fictional stories… I’ve just never been that kind of writer.

a: What I’ve noticed about the local music scene in the past while is that there’s six degrees of separation – everybody knows each other and supports each other. How does it feel to be a local musician in Vancouver in this day and age?

JSY: It’s cool. You’re right on, there is a really close community and I find it’s really nice when you play a show, and other bands come to see you play. That to me, it’s a major compliment, especially if they’re bands that you really admire. All of my bandmates now, every single one of them, support other local bands that we’ve met playing shows together or whatever. Like Marcus [Abramzik], our bassist, he plays in several bands – he plays in The Belle Game, plays with JP [Maurice] sometimes. Stephanie [Chatman] plays with JP, she plays with everybody, Skye [Wallace], Alex [Hauka], the cellist – everybody!

At times I rely on other musicians too, to fill up my roster when certain people are unavailable. I feel like at this point, if I have a show coming up and half my band isn’t available, I could find people I need who would be willing to help me out and flesh out my band. It’s great – I have nothing but good things to say about it.

a: One of the things that connects a lot of local artists together is The Peak’s Performance Project, which you were a part of in 2011 – what was that experience like for you?

JSY: It was a really good thing for me. I met a lot of people that I feel fortunate to know, got a lot of good exposure, got a little seed money, but most importantly I learned a lot about the business side of things that I just didn’t know. Being a musician, especially when you’re doing it all on your own, there’s no way of finding these things out unless someone tells you – and it’s really just common sense, a lot of it, a lot of the business side of things. It’s helped me secure grant money and know how to market myself better. So overall, it was a really good experience.

It wasn’t easy though, I’ll say, to be in it. I found it taxing – a little bit stressful. At the end of the day, you are being constantly scrutinized by more people than you even realize. They keep a really close eye on all of your online activity, and they judge several of your performances, and they’re very honest. They’re fair and they’re constructive, but they’re honest. While it was very useful and beneficial in a lot of ways, it was a little bit stressful.

I considered doing it again this year actually, but we had tour dates that conflicted with some crucial Peak dates and we decided to just do our own thing, because we already did it – I wanted to go on tour.

a: Speaking of the tour, that’s coming up soon in support of the release of Foxtrot. For those that may not have seen you live before, what can they expect of your live performance?

JSY: Oh, it’s going to be – well, I was going to say that it’s going to be a lot louder than it used to be, but if you’ve never seen me play… we play almost all originals, we might just do one or two covers in the set. The cool thing about this tour is that the lineup is going to be constantly changing – people are going to come and go as we go on tour.

For instance, Stephanie and Alex, both our string players are going to be there for the first festival, and then Stephanie has to go back, and then Alex is gonna be with us. We’ve got members of Skye Wallace – Skye Wallace and Devon [Kroeger] are going to be backing us up for a few dates, and then they have to go home, and then Alex has to go do The Peak Performance Project with his other band Coldwater Road.

Then Marcus’ girlfriend is going to be on tour with us, and she is going to sing backup. So it depends on where you are on the tour. I think we’re all really excited to play this tour, and in my experience, the best shows as an audience member are the shows where the band is just having fun and really enjoying what they’re doing. I think we’re going to have a really good time, so I hope a lot of people come and have fun with us.

That’s the best part about touring, you make new friends everywhere, and you get to hang out with people. I’m just really looking forward to meeting people and driving and seeing parts of the country that I’ve never seen before.

a: So to get the full Foxtrot tour experience, someone would really have to follow you all across the country…

JSY: Yeah, to see us in all of our variations!

a: If there was a single message that you could narrow down that you wanted your music to convey, what might that be?

JSY: I don’t think it would necessarily have anything to do with music. I think if I had one piece of advice, let’s call it, to give anybody… it would be to just… once you’ve figured out what it is you want to do, all you have to do is to just keep doing it. If you’re really earnest in your efforts, whatever you want out of it will come – I’m pretty sure of that.

That’s a piece of advice that another musician gave to me once when I was really young, when I was like 18 or something. I was playing around with music, and he said, ‘Well, just keep going and it’ll come, it really will’. And in my experience, he’s been correct, so that’s what I would say to people.

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For more information on Jasper Sloan Yip, Foxtrot, and for tourdates, check out his official website: http://jaspersloanyip.com/