Yasmine Van Wilt
Interview by Carl Marsh - June 2015
many talents and ever so well educated as not only do you have a PhD in Creative Writing, you are a Fellow of the Royal Society of the Arts. Can you say that with so much knowledge gained, was it always your intention to get these behind you for the career choice that is writing songs/plays/books?
Thank you for your generous words Carl! Yes, my objective in doing the Ph.D was to sharpen my creative work, to dedicate time and energy to the intense examination of the minutiae of composition and performance and to create a name and context for my genre. “Theatre of the Masque” is the general term I use to describe the genre of my solo projects. The “Masque” is the construction of context: For example, sometimes a project will seem to be a music gig (it’s performed in a multi-arts venue, I play guitar, sing & speak to the audience) but is actually a piece of scripted theatre, performed in character. Sometimes the audience understands the form is a hybrid-sometimes they don’t. In my piece Live and Unplugged I play a Cajun singer-songwriter whose family has been affected by the BP Disaster.
My Elle A and Van Wild projects also play with format and genre, but in different ways. In all of these pieces I attempt to challenge a societal taboo.
I also write novels, audiobooks, plays and films. I often use magical realism as a tool to challenge hegemonic perspectives of history or current events. That was probably a much more long-winded answer than you wanted!
At the moment you are based in Nashville, the home of Country music, were you actually born here, and how hard was it for you to get noticed, as you sing in a different genre?
I actually grew up in Canada & Florida. Nashville is a new adventure for me; I first went to Music City in January to perform at the 12th & Porter as part of the Belk Southern Musician Showcase which was co-sponsored by ReverbNation. I think achieving success in any creative industry, regardless of the location, is extremely difficult. Many people are talented, many people are hard-working and many people are genuinely deserving of a “break”. I prefer not to see this as daunting. It gives me the opportunity to continually challenge myself to improve and to collaborate with great artists of all genres!
Nashville is definitely producing an increasing diversity of genres though. Jack White & The Black Keys call Music City home. I just recorded my second Van Wild EP Into The Wild at producer Matt Gordon’s 1092 Studio with Jack White's bass player, multi-instrumentalist Dominic John Davis and drummer Daru Jones. Kurt Ozan (guitarist for Jana Kramer) also plays on the tracks. Hopefully, we’ll play some Nashville shows and record together again soon. Nashville has been kind to me! I’ve spent time with great people: Jesse and Noah (of the band of the same name—they’re a superb Americana act—and my Florida hometown mentors The Bellamy Brothers (who are so kind)!
I know you have a few alias that you record music under, is this something the fans can expect from you throughout your career?
I don’t know actually. I just hope to keep evolving, to keep finding new ways to integrate different mediums and genres. I have about 5 years worth of material for both the Elle A and Van Wild projects ready-to-go. I’ll be continually assessing the merit of the work as I go—tweaking, editing, re-recording, etc, as necessary. I create these personas because they allow me to press boundaries, to challenge mainstream representations of women in the media and to engage with issues I find meaningful in (hopefully) non-didactic ways.
What made you follow your dreams, was it another artist or performer, or performance perhaps?
I’ve been consumed with writing, composing and performing since I was a child. I was a pretty introverted, odd child. I was badly bullied at school. I found comfort in playing instruments, composing little songs, reading, writing stories and performing...
What motivates you each day?
I’m motivated by the belief that the arts help people cope with the tragedies and challenges of their lives. They helped me survive the American education system! I’m highly motivated by the desire to create characters, songs, plays, films…that challenge the horrible inundation of negative stimulus young women received from the media everyday. Young women deserve more and better from the entertainment industry. I want to do my part...
Does anything make you sad? Or angry?
So many things make me sad and angry. Most of these things I can do little to change. I try to find ways to address these things in my creative work. I’m very sensitive; I think I’d go mad if I didn’t...
Knowing that you studied Creative Writing, book reading will be something that you will have done a lot of, do any authors or books stick out for you as being your favourite, and why?
I have so many favourites in so many genres! I adore Toni Morrison, Judith Butler, James Joyce, James Baldwin, Zora N Hurston, Franz Kafka, Virginia Wolf, Sylvia Plath, Gertrude Stein, Gabrielle Garcia Marquez. Toni Morrison, my very favourite, presents characters so nuanced, so beautifully flawed that they become part of her reader’s psyche. I feel that reading her work helps me understand contemporary American culture. If everyone in my country read her work and truly ingested it, we’d be living in a more beautiful, egalitarian society.
And why should people read more?
Knowledge is power! The wider one’s framework for interpreting the unfolding events of life, the better able one is to cope, to develop resilience, to create new and innovate ways to surmount challenges. We millennials have an unprecedented access to information, to valuable and important texts. Reading literature and criticism can help one understand the human condition. Take the extraordinary bigotry, misogyny and racism in Shakespeare. When we read it and we explore the context of his era we understand more about the present day. Shakespeare’s work was used as a tool for colonisation. Careful—or not careful—reading clearly shows all the deplorable tactics the Elizabethans used to subjugate and manipulate other cultures…
My point is: reading challenging texts opens us up to new insights. It exercises the brain.
With you having a UK publicist, can we expect you at many performances in Europe this year? / What have you got lined up this year / etc…?
I certainly hope so! I would love to. I lived in Europe for almost 10 years before relocating back to the U.S. in April. This year I’ll be doing a U.S. tour, releasing that second Van Wild EP and recording and filming more Van Wild and Elle “A” material.
Your debut EP "Van Wild" has not long been released, what inspired you to write it?
There is actually a single story that runs through the narrative; it follows a young woman whose husband dies on the BP Deep Water Horizon drilling rig. I spent a lot of time on the shorelines in the Gulf states after the oil spill; I was very distressed by the environmental and human toll.
There must be plenty of song writers and performers reading this interview, so what words of advice can you offer to them if they want to succeed in this industry?
I think everyone benefits from study of craft; revisit the basics continually and find fresh, challenging ways to integrate widen your understanding of the world. The more people you meet, the more things you experience, the more nuanced your work will become. Also, get a good manager. And treat him or her with respect and gratitude. I got lucky; I finally found a good one. Now, no one rips me off. (Thank you to my awesome manager Kyle Tancrell).
If you were an animal, what would it be and why?
Tough one. I’m assuming we mean a real animal and not a mythical one? I’d be an otter I think. (But also Griffins seem ultra cool. Who wouldn’t want to be a flying lion?!) Back to otters though…They hold hands when they sleep. They eat oysters. They’re pretty frisky. That seems like a good life to me. Except for all the poachers of course.