Ken Yates is a hard-working musician. Not only does he work hard at being the best musician he can be, but he works hard at getting gigs, networking with other musicians, and keeping things real. With the release of Ken’s newest album, Huntsville, his notoriety factor went up several notches in his native Canada when he won two major awards at the 2017 Canadian Folk Music Awards: Songwriter of the Year and Emerging Artist of the Year.
kenTo learn more about Ken, visit his website.
Check out this video for “Roll Me On Home.
Ken Yates is opening for Heather Maloney at the me&thee in Marblehead, MA on May 11, 2018.
Can you pinpoint the moment that you told yourself that you were going to pursue a career as a singer-songwriter?
In my third year at Berklee, I decided to take a couple of songwriting courses. I had never written a song until then. After writing a lot of bad songs, I finally wrote something that was decent, and I was immediately hooked on songwriting. After that, I knew that I wanted to make a career out of it.
You attended Berklee College of Music. What did you study there? What were the most important lessons you learned there?
I mostly studied songwriting at Berklee. I think the most important lesson I learned songwriting-wise was about the repetition and working out the songwriting “muscle” – meaning that writing songs is about putting in the time every day, and that sometimes you have to write a lot of bad songs to get the good ones.
Who were your musical influences as a young boy? Has your taste in music changed radically since those days?
As a kid ,I listened to a lot of rock music, which changed radically once I went off to college. But one constant was I always liked listening to the singer-songwriters from the 70s era (Neil Young, Joni Mitchell, James Taylor). I like to think that saved me after spending my high school days listening to a lot of bad rock bands.
Tell us about your latest recording, Huntsville. I found your comments about working with producer Jim Bryson to be most interesting. You said that you had very particular thoughts about how each song should sound but that Jim’s ideas led in another direction. Did you have a visceral reaction to those changes and were you at all surprised by the end result?
I think every songwriter spends a lot of time thinking about how each song should sound, and once you get in the studio that idea can change drastically. It can be hard to let go of some of that control, but I trusted Jim’s instincts enough to let him take a lot of the control on Huntsville, which I think turned out to be an album that is very “me”. That’s why a good producer is so important – because sometimes I can be too “in my head” about my songs, and it’s great to have someone come in with some fresh ideas, otherwise, it can be easy to make something that sounds a bit stale.
Do you find the whole process of recording challenging or perhaps even tiring or does it charge you up to explore more and more new ideas?
The beginning stages of recording can be a bit stressful, mostly because you’ve put so much time and money into one thing, so there is a lot of pressure for it to be “good”. But once I get into the recording process there is no better feeling than hearing your songs come to life, and to me, it’s one of the highest forms of making music.
You’ve had many experiences to play with or open for some amazing artists. Have you picked up any tools of the trade while watching these colleagues — about stagecraft, interacting with fans, how to keep one’s stamina up, etc.?
Absolutely. I recently did a tour with Rose Cousins, who I think is one of the best at engaging with her audience. What I really picked up from her was her attention to detail. She thinks hard about things like her setlist and how people are reacting to the show. She’s also very in tune with all the other factors around the show. She remembers names of venue staff, makes everyone feel important, and understands that there are a lot are lot people helping to make each show happen. She’s also very supportive of other artists, which I think is so important in today’s industry.
If you could devise a perfect year of working within the music world and money wasn’t an issue, what would you do? Would you stay home and write, tour, record, or ….?
I think it would be a mix of all those things. I would love to spend more time in the studio – I would make a record every year if I could.
What are the best things about being an independent artist and the worst things?
When everything is working, when you’ve made an album you’re proud of, booked your own tour, and are playing shows to a supportive and appreciative audience, it’s a huge feeling of accomplishment, and a reminder of why you’re doing it. Of course, there are a lot of bad days when you drive all day to play a bad show, can’t afford to make an album, and are sending hundreds of booking emails every day with no reply – but generally, those good days make all of the bad days worth it. There are a lot of days when I wish I had a bigger “team” that was helping to put everything together for me, but I’m also proud of the fact that I’ve been able to make a career doing this virtually on my own, and I think those are skills that every independent artist should learn before working with other people.