Words by David C. Obenour
Sundry Rock Song Stock is an album that hits differently with each listen. Navigating a number of pop sensibilities, Montreal musician Yves Jarvis unearths melodies from pools of reflective sound and atmospheres. For as familiar as the songs can sound, the depth of production continues to reveal new angles.
This exploration is a delicate balance of emotion and experimentation. The concepts are universal, but how we consider and are presented them is refreshing and new. Not even in his mid-twenties, it’s a fascinating glimpse into what is and what still could be yet in store.
Off Shelf: Before getting into anything I just wanted to ask how you’re holding up? Though Canada has been weathering the storm far better than the States have, it’s a pretty wild time to be alive.
Yves Jarvis: I’ve felt two extremes having split my time between downtown Montreal and the Muskokas: Barely enough room to stand up in one, 200 acres around me in the other. Unwavering routine. I am adaptable.
OS: You have a number of beautiful sounds, samples and textures on Victim, can you talk about how you find these and what inspires you in how you use them?
YJ: For me, music has very specific demands. My will is withheld.
OS: Do you have a favorite artist in terms of their samples? What about how they use these sounds resonates with you?
YJ: Q-Tip, Dilla, or Ye. All masters of sound manipulation, arrangement, layering. I’m not particularly influenced by sample-based artists though – my musical philosophy depends on the interplay, dynamic, sequencing and sculpting of real-time, personally expressed sound. I must perform every layer of the music. Sample-based music has, however, heavily influenced the feel of my playing.
OS: How you sing is every bit as much of a tone setting as the instruments and samples you use. It also seems in line with some of the influences that you’ve mentioned before, and I’m thinking in particular of Joni Mitchell and in some ways Prince. Can you talk about how you think of your voice as an instrument in the mix?
YJ: It has never suited my production to sit the vocals atop the track. I like to sing out from my belly in performance but it does not translate in studio because of my lack of gear to properly capture those qualities. Furthermore, I’ve always been much more attracted to the breathy vocalist.
OS: There are instances of imperfections or humanity that you leave in the recording. Not discordant, but not immaculate or at least not precisely tight. With such attention to detail on your music, I was wondering if you could talk about what you see as the place for that.
YJ: It is important to express raw and not filter. There is a bewildering amount of editing and reduction necessary to refine ones creative voice, but documents only evoke life in their idiosyncratic connection to the originator.
OS: I find that some of my favorite music is just very well-crafted pop, but with enough going on around it that in some ways it distracts – but ultimately lifts up those melodies. Is there any thought to how you balance those type of elements with the more traditional song structures?
YJ: There is sonically so much space to fill because of how desensitized our ears are in the city. I don’t want to hypnotize so my results are generally quite maximalist. I want my music both familiar and novel, so always skirting craft and experimentation. This derives the most pleasure in the listener.
OS: How fully formed are songs when you write them? Do you have a pretty complete idea of what elements you want to include or is it an ever expanding creation and is it ever hard to know when they’re truly finished?
YJ: I always say “I’m not a songwriter” first. I have had no propensity for it since I was young, although I did grow up writing. It was never a useful tool for self expression. I’m not sure that I ever would have found my creative voice had I not been introduced to multi-track self recording so early on. The process is to sculpt improvisations over one initial spontaneous composition until completion. Each layer digging deeper into the now then the last.
OS: You self-produced the album, yes? Can you talk about how your process has evolved in that manner?
YJ: The process has outgrown the studio itself as engineering and manipulating room reverberations took so much attention, I decided to record unencumbered outside. The process certainly broadened the pallet of my production.
OS: Victims flows wonderfully as an album, really standing as a whole. How much of the songs did you have finished and together before you started sequencing? Was there much work you had to do on them to give it this feeling of cohesion?
YJ: My albums always surface as a unit, so the bulk of sequencing is baked in from the rip. The pieces are intended to work as vignettes for a greater body, allowing fragments to iron themselves out.
OS: It was interesting in a previous interview you talked about the color saturation on your albums being indicative of the songs. Victims has a green album color and I was wondering if you could talk about the significance of your choice there.
YJ: My essence is green and so I have always been drawn to it. It is classical but unrestricted.
OS: How do you think the life of this album is different from the rest of your albums without the ability to perform it live?
YJ: I have always found stimulating new horizons in the live iterations of my albums, so It is sad to be unable to explore those frontiers in the immediate throws of the project. The lives of recordings are strange but promising in the internet age. I ultimately hope for my music to be digested by anyone who it might pertain to. I see it as a service.