The Young Novelists consist of husband and wife, Graydon James and Laura Spink. They play off each other on stage and make magical harmonies and music. They received the 2015 New / Emerging Artist Canadian Folk Music Award. Although they live in Toronto, they frequently tour all across the United States. Listening to The Young Novelists is a revelation; their songs bring you into their world in a warm and welcoming way.
To learn more about The Young Novelists, visit their website.
Here’s a video from their official showcase at NERFA (North East Regional Folk Alliance).
Your name — The Young Novelists — is it true that you, Graydon, wrote a novel.(and have a couple more in the works) and that this inspired the name of the band? Tell us about your non-musical writing projects for starters.
I did write a novel, but only after giving up on the idea of writing a novel. I released a triple-album in August 2009 that was called “goodnight, young novelist” — the name being a reference to the fact I was focusing on music and forgetting my authorial ambitions. From that album I formed a band that eventually became The Young Novelists (and Laura came up with the name, based on the album title), and it was only after we had been together as a band for a few years that I went back to a novel that was mostly written and decided to finish it.
They do say that your second novel is actually your hardest. It is kind of the same in the music industry (hence the term “sophomore slump” for second albums that fail to grab the same energy/zeitgeist as the first album). We’re at the beginning of a new album — recording demos of songs and preparing to head into the studio again — but I also have two novels that I’m working on and I think the challenge is that I have to pick one and focus on it in order to finish it. But, as with choosing what songs to put on an album, choosing which story to finish is difficult!
The Young Novelists started off as a bigger musical unit. When did the duo aspect come into existence?
There’s a fantastic venue near Ottawa, Ontario called The Blacksheep Inn. It’s the sort of venue that is hard to get in to play, because it is a well-curated room (much like Me & Thee!). We really only managed to get in because we had a fan in Ottawa who went to so many shows at the Blacksheep that he could bend the booker’s ear and get us an opening spot. The caveat was: we were opening for a 4-piece and we could only perform solo or as a duo. The booker didn’t want us to be a bigger band than the headliner. It was actually somewhat agonizing to make the transition, because we had been doing everything as a 6-piece band, and the other 4 band members really wanted to be able to play the show at this great venue. But, we figured, it was a way to get our foot in the door.
It worked out. We have now played the Blacksheep three times as a full band! It was actually great to discover we had the flexibility to play as a duo, and it also led us to being able to tour more widely and to attend folk music conferences — where sometimes you’re playing in a small hotel room and you need to be able to showcase a pared down arrangement of what you do.
I’m sure that some touring musicians might be interested in hearing about how you manage to sometimes tour with your son, Simon.
We managed to pull off a 10-week tour with him! That was pretty magical. It only worked out because of the awesomeness of our manager (Amie Therrien), who came on tour with us and was not just doing the usual tour management duties of making sure the musicians were on-time, but also taking care of Simon when we were on-stage. We had a really great time traveling together and made many fantastic memories. Simon had such a good time, on day 71 of a 72-day tour he asked if we could keep going on tour. Sadly we had no more shows booked, so we had to head home.
I’m always curious to hear about songwriting. Is this a mutual activity or one or both of you are the main songwriters.
It is certainly well-balanced. I do more of the “making stuff up” part, but Laura does 99% of the editing, and that is obviously a pretty important aspect of any writing. I also don’t choose what songs will go on an album — I’ve never been good at that. Remember when I released that triple-album way back in 2009? That was because I recorded 53 songs and didn’t know which ones to put on a regular-length album, so I just put them all on. We don’t sell that album anymore. It was recorded before the band really existed, so it’s more a “solo” album, and is exceptionally lo-fi to the point of being mostly unlistenable.
What kind of music did you both listen to when you were growing up? Did your early listening habits influence your sound?
My parents listened to a lot of AM radio in the 80s, which means I have a solid background in 60s and 70s classic rock as well as things like Huey Lewis & the News, Genesis, U2, Madonna, Bruce Cockburn, and such. When I started to pick my own music it was during a solid period of time when there was a Canadian indie sound/scene with bands like Sloan, The Odds, and The Tragically Hip. Now my favourite bands are anyone who does harmonies beautifully (I can get absorbed in trying to figure out who’s singing what on a Beach Boys recording) or who writes inventively (Wilco are always innovating in that respect).
What’s in store for you in 2017? More touring? A new record perhaps? Do tell!
There are definitely new songs being finished up, demo recordings being made, and rehearsals all happening for a new album! And we are definitely going to be touring as much as we possibly can. Hopefully we’ll be able to bring Simon along for some of those tours. We’ve toured once in Europe and would love to be able to get back there in the future, but touring in the States is always great and we really appreciate the very fantastic independent music scene here!