With her stunning new album Growing Wild just released I spoke to Yvonne Lyon about her amazing collaborations and what inspired the record. Yvonne had fun sharing stories of the album's making, insightful about the themes within the songs and very honest about her depression and how her art is cathartic.
STOCKMAN: This seems a work with a mission of cataloguing the maturing process? Did you set out with that in mind?
YVONNE LYON: I didn't set out with that in mind. Life has a habit of 'maturing' you. The challenge is what that looks like. I think this is a manifesto against 'maturing' in the negative sense of growing older, cynical, closed, disappointed, set in your ways, more fearful.
It's an invitation to expand, not to contract which seems to me, as I look around, how it goes for folk a lot of the time. I could feel myself contracting and I knew it wasn't healthy. I suppose what happens is, most of us have a bit of a mid-life crisis at this stage. SO this is my mid-life crisis album.
I had suffered mild depression (probably have most of my life). About 5 years ago after enjoying the most amazing ride of opening for Eddi Reader for 10 nights I…
Something negative was going on though and I began to experience a lot of performance anxiety (again, I've probably experienced this most of my life but hid it well!) SO I went on a therapy journey...just at the right time because then I experienced a significant trauma AND my Dad had a stroke which has left him needing full time care.
An amazing counsellor has taken me on a very helpful journey and I knew it would come out in song at some point....so Growing Wild is my way of going through a mid - life crisis, some pretty shitty times and choosing to distill those experiences and hopefully make something beautiful and connecting with them
Sorry for the psycho babble...but it's true! I have also gone on a journey of re connecting with who I actually am as a creative.
So.....why was I finding performing so difficult....because it's not the essence of my creativity. The essence is 6 year old me sitting at a piano making stuff up and getting lost in a world of melody, rhythm and harmony before I even knew what they were. I realised that's what brings me joy and that's what i need to tap into creatively and do more of.....So that is a strong thread running through Growing WIld. Learning how to 'play' again!
Frederick Buechner once wrote that art was opening a vein and letting it bleed over the page... that can be a help... but it must be hard?
Songwriting has always been cathartic for me. I think I am my most vulnerable on this album. Enough was a particularly tough song for me to write, to express true but not just spill all over the page. Again, that's where the distillation comes. I think pain can be transformed into beauty and that is part of the artist's journey
I want to get into the different writing processes with all those amazing co-writers BUT How do you bring various writers into one theme...
Again, not a conscious decision. But my overall feeling was...I get to know these people...I'm just going to write with them and see what happens.
INSTINCT is the big word for this....my instinct was seriously stamped on over a few years. Growing Wild is reclaiming INSTINCT....so sending an idea to Boo TOTALLY on instinct...or getting in touch with a a complete stranger visual artist to paint ma big bonce….
I LOVED the opportunity to commission Michael Corr to paint the artwork
Again, an instinctual decision. As a frustrated visual artist myself, the artwork for each album has always been important in integrating the concepts and themes.
So, let me start with Stewart. You have been working with him for a little while. Does he ask for a theme and send you a lyric that you put music to?
It's so much fun and I had forgotten that these moments often lead to fascinating things!
Vesper Sky was a complete joy to create with Stewart and Carol....so I was keen to continue that creative thread into Growing Wild. Normally it's a conversation we have that sparks something, we tend to ignite little fires of ideas in each other. He'll usually send me a broad brushstroke of a lyric and I will set it to music.
However, I have been contributing my fair share of lyrics to Stewart's lyrics too. Nice when someone can't tell which is a Stewart lyric and which is mine. He has become a wonderful teacher and mentor and inspires me to write poetry.
The song Growing Wild: I gave him the theme, he came back with a big splurge, we moulded it together lyrically...my music.
We Accumulate The Years is very much from Stewart and was an idea he just sent to me before Growing Wild was conceived. I LOVED playing with this. This is definitely a continuation of new creative ground for me on Vesper Sky.
I imagine that it is more two in a room bashing out guitars and lyrics with Boo and Beth? Though I am not sure Boo ever bashes!
With Beth Nielson Chapman it was a real pinch me moment. We had met and worked together but I found myself at her front door in Brentwood, in the suburbs of Nashville, with my guitar for our first session about 3 years ago.
I have been a fan since I saw her at The Fruitmarket in Glasgow when I was 18. I remember thinking - if I could write songs half as beautiful and meaningful as that I'd be happy!
We chatted for ages and talked ourselves into the subject matter. It was interesting because the hook line came and then Beth realised that she had an album of the same name but not a song for it. We did bash away in her music room for a while and then it sat for a year or so. We came back to it again on my next trip to Nashville and then finally remotely when I started putting Growing Wild together.
Boo and I seem to spark ideas with each other a lot. We click very easily. I sent him the theme and a general splurge about A Bigger Heart. By the end of the night, he had written half the song in his dressing room, played it to his audience in the second half of his gig and emailed to tell me they wanted to buy it!
We worked remotely back and forward so were never in the same room for this one.
And our good friends Julie and Dan in Nashvile?
Julie and I have developed a lovely friendship over the years. I took the melody and chords of Winter Ground to her tiny house and she had had an idea for a migration song, she began to read the lines from her notebook and they just sung out to be matched. We worked away together on it and left it for a couple of years.
We invited Dan Wheeler in on it when we got stuck of a middle eight. He provided the words and I set it to music. What's nice is that we introduced Dan to Julie and they are now a firm writing partnership
These are actually pretty cool stories....it's nice to be able to communicate them!
So, I am hearing Compass Hill and thinking that this is her Eddi Reader moment and then... there she is. How did that come about?
That'll be Eddi! I toured with her for 10 nights back a few years back
Sent her a wee message. At first she said no as she wasn't well but with the pandemic, by the time we got round to recording this one, I asked her again and she said yes! It was all done remotely under lockdown
Her son Sam recorded her vocal for us.
Eilidh Patterson? Another wonderful writer in her own right. Did you meet her through Beth?
EILIDH!!!!!! We have become firm friends. It was actually an agent JJ. He put us on the same bill. But Julie, Beth and Ruth Trimble had been saying 'You REALLY need to meet Eilidh!
Eilidh and I have toured together and absolutely love singing with each other. I sang on one of her albums and it is hilarious because sometimes we can't tell who is who on backing vocals There's a sibling quality to when we sing. We did a Celtic Connections gig Eilidh/Ruth and I and many folks were blown away by our voices together...complete strangers saying it was their highlight of Celtic Connections......I SO wish we could do more together.
What I love is that you have taken all these different people, added them to your whiskey blend and still made a very Yvonne Lyon record. Was keeping you identity in it all easy?
Well, I suppose the songs are always 'me' so if it's starting from there as 'the grain' then they are the sugar and spice
The biggest departure was the Boo song, stylistically.
But the spirit of Growing Wild is experimentation anyway, so with songs like Illuminate, Insignificant and We Accumulate the Years, musically I have pushed and pulled myself too
These are great insights. Any other stories about the making of the record you'd like a chance to talk about?
Illuminate was a last minute contender. I had been reading a book by Mirabi Starr called Wild Mercy and the word Illuminate kept coming up. All I knew was that I needed to write a song with that word in the title. AND I wanted a powerful piano motif type song. It made it on by the skin of its teeth. We really experimented on the sound of this one. Sandy Jones was producing with me throughout. He introduced a fantastic sound palette which chimed with me for us to play with with samples and nuances that are heard throughout the album.
I'm hoping to get vinyl made for the first time on this one
The mixing and mastering was done by Graeme Duffin at his house but we only got a few days before lockdown prevented us. SO it was all finished remotely.
The magic and mystery that Pete Harvey on cello and Seonaid Aitken bring always astounds me but particularly on this record.
I began purposely writing towards Growing Wild in May 2019 with a gap between recording in 2019 and 2020 so this has been the longest gestation period for me....and I've loved it! Note to self for the future.
So you send it out there... people do what they will with it... what would you like listeners to get from Growing Wild?
As always its about connection and resonance. I would hope that people will hear an evolution and an expansion. I hope some of the distillation and healing that I have experienced infuses the songs.