AS I look around for music inspiration- having a slight spell of writer’s block- I have been struck my Van Wild (A.K.A. Yasmine Van Wilt). The Tennessee-based star is a brilliant actress; an accomplished and stunning writer- in addition to being a wonderful new musician. With jaw-dropping looks; an incredibly sweet and compassionate disputation- coupled with an incredibly inspiring songwriting talent- I was keen to find out more: see what makes her tick; how her music develops- and what her highlights (from 2015) have been. With a short review of Hush- at the bottom of the interview- it has been terrific discovering a great artist: someone I hope comes to play the U.K.; brings her magic to our shores.
Hi Yasmine. Your music is a hybrid of Southern Blues and Modern-Day Pop (contemporary yet instilled with some vintage sounds). Which artists/acts inspired you (growing up)?
I’m very inspired by artists who emerged during the Civil Rights Movement and by those who came after who heightened, elevated our collective social consciousness; Richie Havens, Loretta Lynn and Pete Seeger are a few of my favourite artists. Pete Seeger’s unflagging commitment to social justice inspires me tremendously; the stories of real people who are working to illuminate our humanity inspire me. This all has to be rooted in the real, I think. Does “art” matter if it doesn’t interrogate & engage the “better angels of our nature”?
Your social media numbers are swelling; your music is capturing the imagination. What have been your highlights from this year?
Thanks for your kind words Sam! I’m honoured to chat with you. I’ve been very fortunate to work with some hugely talented people. Recording at 1092 with Matt Gordon, Daru Jones & Dominic Davis of Third Man Records & Jack White & Kurt Ozan of Jana Kramer has certainly been a highlight. Cherry Tree is in the running for Unsigned Only ISC in the Top 40 category, so that’s exciting. I’m also working on a song with The Bellamy Brothers–for whom I have huge admiration. I work with people whom I admire & who are, truly, geniuses. Many of them are also long-time friends: Van Wild featured artist actor/singer/dancer David Singletary, director/actor/writer Raquel Almazan & designer Jeffrey Michael.
Your track Cherry Tree has done fantastically- some prestigious radio play and chart position- and struck the imagination. What do you attribute that to?
Thanks so much Sam. I’m just delighted that people, so far, seem to like the song.
In the U.S., the new music scene seems to be glowing- and more diverse than in the U.K. Are there any particular acts (and new musicians) coming through, you would recommend?
Daru Jones is in a group called The Rough Pack that is extraordinary. Dominic & his wife Rachel have a folk-roots band that’s very good. I’m presently collaborating with The Falling Birds, Jesse & Noah, Ahren B, Country Boy, Erisa Rei.
What does the rest of the year hold for you: in terms of new music and touring?
It should be a busy year; I’m releasing new singles to radio, recording the next album & hopefully touring. We shall see!
In addition to music, you are an actress and author. You have a PhD in creative writing; you have written for the stage and film. Where do you get the energy from (to do so)?
Haha! I think being creative, exercising discipline begets energy. It’s also important to be organised. I struggle with this, but the more “in order” I keep all of my deadlines & objectives, the more I produce. I don’t know if you find this in your work, but the more interrelated the projects, the easier I find that it is to drive them forward. I’m primarily driven by fear, and am obsessively self-critical. I fear wasting the belief of my friends & family; I have no idea whether or not this is achievable, but I believe that artists will be pivotal in the next social movement. I would like to play a small part in doing this in whatever way I can. I’m always asking myself: “Am I doing enough? Am I doing the right thing? Am I raising my voice in the right way?”
On that note, you are showing what you can achieve- as a musician and writer- and are inspiring many people. What advice would you offer to anyone wanting to follow in your footsteps?
This is very kind of you sweet pea! I’m not sure that I’m inspiring anyone; I would suggest that every artist adopt a business model that allows for realistic growth & success. I follow what could be considered the tech start-up model. Building a brand, understanding that brand and being conscientious about content-delivery is very important for emerging artists. We need to be entrepreneurs in order to succeed–this requires actually learning a bit about business and the industry itself. Artists really need to understand how this works…
You also write music (under your alter egos) looking at social and environmental issues. What has been your reaction to recent events in the U.S. – especially the shootings in Charleston?
I’m utterly devastated by the shootings in Charleston. My thoughts and best wishes are with the community & with the family members of slain. That the victims were slain in their place of refuge is so upsetting. Americans should be uncomfortable right now; I’m extremely concerned about the mediatised rhetoric that has emerged from this: this was a heinous hate crime. This was an act of terror. I don’t want to launch into a tirade, but suffice it to say “we have a problem”. Not only do we need to work harder to eradicate racism, we need to work harder to control gun violence. There are disgusting sociopaths in every country; however, not every country makes it so easy for these people to get guns. I hope, to the very core of me, that my generation can tackle these issues. We need to turn this around NOW. “We Are Young” is my attempt to challenge the rhetoric of hate. We need a New Civil Rights Movement; my generation nerds to raise its damned voice and push for greater social consciousness! We need to use our dollars, our voting power & our artistic work to eradicate racism. We all need to be part of the solution!
I love your voice and music- especially the track Hush– and it always takes you somewhere special. What themes and subjects influence your songwriting?
Thank you Sam! I think I’m motivated as much by the desire to share uplifting moments as I am to challenge social issues. My music is always part of a soundtrack for my writing–so the songs relate specifically to these narratives. “Hush” is from Unplugged, my one woman folk musical. It’s a song that reminds the character of her childhood on the Gulf of Mexico, before the spill.
You have recently visited the U.K. What was that like? Any plans on returning soon?
I spent much of the last 9 years, all of my adult years, in the UK before relocating to the U.S. I made some to the most marvellous friends imaginable whilst there; London is a city with a deep reverence for “culture”. I was very influenced by the freedom I experienced by my experiences studying and living in your marvellous county!
If you were banished to a desert island, which five albums would you take with you?
Oh man! Tough one. Can I cheat and pick compilations?!!! Neil Young (best of), Richie Havens (best of), Deja Vu CSNY, Blunderbuss & Blue.
Finally- and something I do with all my interviewees- is play a song for them (I will publish here). If you name a song, I shall play it…
Oh fun! Any song? Or one of mine? If it’s any song let’s listen to “Shimmer in Pale” by The Falling Birds. They’re my buddies & I think you’ll like them!
Hush (from Cherry Tree) is one of Van Wild’s finest tracks- and a brilliant showcase of her talents. Building from evocative threads- the introduction weaves in soothing percussion; delicate and tender piano- Hush gently beckons (the listener in). “They went fishing for stars/In the great ocean above” are some of the song’s most memorable images- and arrives right from the start. Yasmine’s voice is instilled with such beauty and passion: every word and thought is spine-tingling and touching; pressing and urgent- making sure the messages hit their mark. As the chorus expands, the composition swells and swoons. The song has an intimate and child-like quality to it: images of lullabies and monsters; keeping away horror and heartache- there is a sense of maternal courage and strength. Our heroine’s voice is calming and soothing; tremulous and gorgeous- you are caught into the song; seduced by its beauty and delicacy. The entire track comes together incredibly well: the composition is focused and nuanced; powerful when it needs to be; minimal and sparse (when required). Having listened to the track (several times) I was mesmerized by the innocence and honesty: few tracks explore such subjects; portray themselves in the same way- and make you feel the same way. Yasmine’s stunning voice- and beautiful lyrics- make Hush such a potent number- one that will stick in the imagination (for a long time to come).
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