An Evening With: Yoke Lore at The Drake

The Drake Underground is the perfect kind of venue for a Yoke Lore show; it’s tasteful, intimate, and tucked away in one of Toronto’s hippest spots.  Adrian Galvin himself is kind of like that.  He’s an unimposing figure on stage, with a gentle voice and a mild persona, but once he starts playing, an unseen strength emerges.

The main takeaway from his show at the Drake on Friday is that he performs with every part of himself.  He’s not really a musician so much as an artist who creates music with all of his being, convulsing with the beat of his songs in a twitching, shirt-pulling, physical performance.   He’s also a damn good banjo player.

The high point of the evening was “Hold Me Down,” the emotional closer of Yoke Lore’s Far Shore EP.  It’s the kind of song that begs to be heard live, charting a course through hushed rhythm changes and soaring dynamics.  Galvin’s performance of the song on Friday was a truly special moment shared by artist and audience, with a palpable sense of emotional and spiritual tension filling the room.

It was the kind of experience that I expected from an artist as thoughtful as Galvin.  A man of many talents, he dances, choreographs and teaches yoga when he’s not making music.  In an effort to understand what makes him tick, I asked him a bit about his music, why he makes it the way he does, and what he hopes to achieve.

From meditative vocal drones to music video choreography, other parts of your creative life seem to have found their way into your music.  Do you ever think of Yoke Lore as a mixed-media art project?

Absolutely. I kind of feel like in order for me to be sincere, I have to use all of myself – so that means incorporating more ways of knowing into things that I make. You should be able to hear my music – truly hear it – and listen to get something out of it; but I also want you to feel it. I want you to be moved. I also want people to see it. I tell stories to paint pictures of life, love, and conflict so that people can see themselves and their own experiences in mine. Hopefully, my telling of my connections, relationships, and struggles informs others about how to navigate theirs. That takes all of me. Not just my songwriting, not just my dancing, but everything I’ve got. But make no mistake, I’m no saint. The more you put into anything, the more you get out of it, so it is semi-selfish of me. The more parts of myself I use, the more of myself I develop and the more capable and aware I become. I do this to be a more useful human. Hopefully, I can help others be more useful in turn.

You’ve said that Yoke Lore’s songs are focused on real human connection, but you also incorporate many artificial sounds and effects.  Can you explain your decision to make music that way?

There is a theory by Malcolm Gladwell that roughly explains success as a situation that arises from an amalgamation of orthodoxy and generosity. Albeit a bit presumptuous of him to re-brand the ancient concept of Yin and Yang, his specificity is what I’m after here. I need to be rigid in my presentation of complete ideas and connections. I can’t tell a love story without acknowledging the fear and doubt that comes along with it. On the other hand, rigidity (orthodoxy) in itself wins no battles; here must be some compromise (generosity), some polar relationship that balances it out. I consider my storytelling to be homegrown. I get it from folk music, and I speak with the banjo in the tradition of so many storytellers before me. But I tell those stories with a more contemporary sonic voice. I use electronic sounds to involve a community of listeners that I wouldn’t normally be able to reach with just a banjo. I want to include as many people as possible, and I am going to use all the tools I can in order to do that.

To what extent do you feel that Yoke Lore’s music is an extension of the work you’ve done with Yellerkin?

Yellerkin was a partnership. It was a collaboration. It was a compromise. A beautiful, useful compromise that I learned so much from. I don’t want to sound contrived, but Yoke Lore is the first time I have the freedom to really do what I want to do. It forces me to use my gut. It holds me accountable to myself and only me. I alone am made responsible for my words, my notes, and the feelings I engender.

In a past interview, you praised people in New York who support their communities by creating environments for people to experience live music.  You referenced a solo banjo set you played in the nave of St. John’s Lutheran Church, adding that you “hope to find and help create more moments like that.”  Do you plan on taking that mentality on the road with you in the future?

Yes yes yes! I want to make more communal space into creative space in general and ad infinitum. I want every place to be a place to create, learn, and develop. I want to make certain spaces that are thought of as utilitarian, industrial, or even official into places that sponsor creative development. Creative development supports humanitarian awareness, and that is what ultimately makes people better.

What kind of response have you been getting from audiences on your current tour with Elliot Moss?

An amazing one. We have been so lucky. We can’t wait to do it again.