Since Alana Yorke’s debut album, Dream Magic, first appeared independently about this time last year, her career has steadily been building to its current crescendo — a comparison not dissimilar from the slow burning sound of “Anthem”, the song that has placed the Halifax native on the national map with its gripping combination of stark piano balladry and Eighties new wave drama.
The album’s haunting beauty soon caught the ear of Paper Bag Records, which gave Dream Magic a worldwide release at the end of October, in time for a recently completed run of dates from the Maritimes to Ontario. But while she’s still getting her feet wet as a touring artist, there’s every indication Yorke will have more opportunities to hone her skills in 2016, given the accolades the album has received thus far.
Along with her smoky vocals, at times recalling Cat Power and Feist, it’s Yorke’s lyrical explorations into memories and youthful innocence that are instantly appealing. One song in particular, “The Wichita Years”, was inspired by Alan Glasco’s 8mm home movies of his 1950s childhood in Kansas, which became an online sensation after he uploaded an hour’s worth of footage. A Kansas PBS affiliate recently made a documentary about Glasco’s films and used Yorke’smusic as part of the soundtrack.
While Dream Magic may be a classic case of an artist drawing material from life, Yorke seems poised to start building a new body of work with the support of her partner and main collaborator Ian Bent. There are undoubtedly many more songs to come that will be inspired by lasting memories soon to be made.
What sets this album apart from your previous work?
Dream Magic is really our official debut and our first collaboration together. I had been writing and performing my songs forever, and had recorded in the studio before with various band mates I’ve had along the way, but I had never been quite happy with the direction, and I never felt that I had found “my sound.” I took a long time conceptualizing this album, contemplating its meaning, the journey it would take the listener on, accumulating references, choosing songs, and continually writing new ones. When it came to recording and producing, making Dream Magic was an incredible process and really a transformation in many ways. My husband and co-producer Ian Bent and I worked tirelessly on the album over a long period of time. Arranging for strings and tracking a string ensemble in the studio was a new experience for me, for example, and we taught ourselves a ton about synth production and software synths along the way. Working in the studio with people like engineer Charles Austin at The Echo Chamber in Halifax and Mark Lawson [Arcade Fire engineer] in Montreal was so inspiring and an amazing experience that we will never forget. Overall, this felt like the real one; it was truly an artistic endeavour, and we’re really happy with what we made.
What has been the biggest change in your life in the past year?
I think sharing this music with people has been the biggest change. That, and building our team. Because we were tucked away when we were making the album, this has been an emergence and an adventure in that respect. You never know how your work will be received. Now that it’s out there, we have connected with fans and it’s been a process of finding and working with new team members from outside our region, like our label Paper Bag Records and our publicist Darryl Weeks (StageFright Publicity). We’ve had a chance to develop the live show a lot in the past year and we just got back from our first tour, so there are a lot of new beginnings. And for the first time I feel like we’re really seeing first hand how people respond to the music.
What song in your catalogue means the most to you and why?
The material I’m writing right now has the most meaning to me at the present moment. That’s always the way, but I’d have to say “Anthem” has the most meaning of the songs that have been released. Seeing the way that people of all ages and walks of life respond to that song has been amazing. It seems to have a special power to it and a life of its own. The meaning behind it was so real and so intense and personal, but now the song is something new unto itself and when we perform it, it just feels like it’s coming through us and people are drawing it out of us and moving to the music and singing along. We’ve been able to see people being moved by it. That’s been a really powerful experience, and it’s really informing my present writing. It feels like the start of something. And the video that we just released for “Anthem” also gives the song a whole other power.
What has been your most memorable experience while touring in Canada?
I’m going to borrow something from Ian’s experience here because touring is so new for me and Ian was out on the road with Halifax indie rock band Caledonia for so many years while we were together. There is an incredible story of when Ian was at a gas station out west on a national tour in the winter and had so little money that he was faced with a very real decision to buy either mittens or food. He was freezing and hungry and he didn't have the money for both. Which did he choose? I can’t remember, but I think that moment kind of embodies touring in the winter in Canada as part of an indie band starting out. Our country is so big and cold and the population is so small and spread out, so touring can be really tough and expensive. And although I wasn’t on the road then, I was there at the other end of the phone. We’ve seen a lot together over the years.
What is something people might be surprised to learn about you?
I quit my PhD in science to pursue my career in music, my life-long passion, because I learned that life is short. And that Ian and I met as young composers competing against each other in music festivals as kids. This also may not be surprising, but we’re really focused and serious about gigs. At shows, we drink water — fizzy water if we’re really celebrating — and on tour we just want to find healthy food. And we’d likely rather be reading books and being quiet when we’re not on stage.