FRAME OF MIND Jonah Yano’s Potrait of a Dog Is a Study of Memories
WHAT IS A SONG? FOR HIROSHIMABORN, MONTREAL-BASED musician Jonah Yano, it’s something tangible, to be thumbed through like a collection of postcards.
“I think what I want a song to do for me is make permanent ... thoughts and ideas of memories that just cross my mind or happen in conversation,” Yano tells Exclaim! over the phone, taking a careful pause after each question. “So then I can look back on [the song] as a family, or even as friends, and remember so much more than is written in there. I think that what I want a song to do for me is be a mnemonic device for the time it’s made in or the time it’s about and the people.”
For Yano, reality doesn’t need to be documented in painstaking detail. Rather, it’s enough to mark it down in snippets — through songs, photographs, voice recordings or video — and turn it into a memento that serves as shorthand for the whole.
The guiding force behind his sophomore album, portrait of a dog, is a surety against forgetting, a bulwark against loss. It all started three years ago.
“I went to Vancouver, ’cause my grandpa started to lose his memory,” Yano says, explaining that his family lives in the nearby suburb of Port Coquitlam. “I booked a flight and went and stayed with my grandparents for two weeks and archived their whole life, and collected all their stories and wrote everything down and recorded it on a camera and a field recorder — both for the music and for myself and my family.”
Produced by crossover jazz group BADBADNOTGOOD, portrait of a dog is overlaid with strings by Toronto cellist Eliza Niemi, and contains collaborations with Montreal-based musicians Sea Oleena and Slauson Malone.
There’s another contributor who features prominently: deep within the album is a track called “so sweet,” which begins with Yano’s grandfather saying, “Get your music out and say, ‘This is for my uncle.”’
Yano’s grandfather’s voice trails throughout the record like a memory. Both his maternal grandparents have played an integral role in his journey as a musician: his grandmother taught him how to play the piano as a child, teaching him how to read music. The two live in the home about which Yano wrote “song about the family house,” which delicately speaks to the structure as though it were a dear friend, which indeed it might be. Yano’s mother and uncle were raised in the house, and Yano himself spent much time there. The house, in which his grandparents ferment their own wine, will soon be torn down and replaced by condos.
“I would be pretty terrified if all these things just happened and no one ever knew,” says Yano. “But also, that’s just sort of a condition of existing, I guess. The tide will continue and no one will remember the sixth song on my second album. You know, it doesn’t matter that much, but it’s nice to try. It feels like rebelling against that condition of existing.”