Portrait of a Dog

Portrait of a Dog

Without our personal histories, what do we have? Jonah Yano, the Hiroshima-born, Montreal-based jazz-folk singer-songwriter asks that question on his second LP, produced by BADBADNOTGOOD. He began writing the album during a trip to his family’s home outside of Vancouver, after learning his grandfather was showing signs of dementia. Audio capture of dinner table conversations from that time makes its way across the LP, like on “So Sweet” and “Haven’t Haven’t,” an emotional center atop acoustic guitars, psych detours, string arrangements, and instrumental improvisations. “The last record, the through line was in this expression of identity and family stories. [This record] is about my grandparents,” Yano tells Apple Music, adding that Portrait of a Dog touches on a breakup, too. “It’s named after a painting that my ex-partner did, the only painting we had up in the apartment that I wrote most of these songs in.” The two narratives are woven together throughout the release; in moments, they are inextricable from one another. “I hope this gets across the sentiment of how important it is to archive each other and share stories with one another,” he says. “There’s so much more happening in life.” Below, Yano walks Apple Music through Portrait of a Dog, track by track. “Leslianne” “I wrote the guitar riff maybe a year before I wrote the song. Then it was the day before Mother’s Day, and I hadn’t gotten my mom anything. I was going through my old files, thinking I have to just write a song. It’s the only thing I can do instantly, and it’s a super-meaningful gesture. So, I pulled up that riff, and that song came immediately.” “Always” “My brother is four years younger than me, and at the time, he was going through a matter of the heart. I was talking through it with him, and I was going through something similar. So, I decided to write this song about that situation. The song is for him and was written at a time when we were talking on the phone for hours a day. So, yeah.” “Haven’t Haven’t” “In the buildup, when I was starting to go through all the stuff that I collected from my time at home, there was a little audio clip that I thought suited the song perfectly. The song is about remembering. That voice recording, specifically, is my grandfather forgetting my name in the middle of a conversation and then remembering it again. Then we all laugh, and the sax solo happens. It best represents who my grandparents are and what that moment was.” “Portrait of a Dog” “That song is basically a breakup song, about how separation can feel like pushing a car in neutral up the hill. It’s like a long, grudging experience that you have to go through just to get to the end, to learn something from it and to fully untangle yourself from someone else. I wrote it during my separation and during the entire thing with my grandparents; it all just kind of bleeds together.” “Call the Number” “I wrote the hook a cappella when I was drunk, at home, after a party. I had this vocal pedal that harmonizes with you automatically. I started singing this hook through the harmonizer, and it sounded like there were three of me singing the chorus, and I was just having a blast, singing. And the piano sounds amazing. It’s this guy named Felix Fox who played all the keys on the record. He came up with that piano line in the studio off the top of his head because he’s brilliant.” “The Speed of Sound!” “There’s no real structure and no real hook—it’s just the same chord, basically, for the entire song. Then there’s a turnaround every once in a while, but it’s mostly the same chord. That was the idea: I wanted to write a song where [it] basically stays in one chord the entire time. And then, in the studio, we had the idea to have the big solo at the end, which is how it ends.” “In Sun, out of Sun” (feat. Slauson Malone) “Slauson Malone—his name’s Jasper—I’ve been a fan of his work for so long. I really admire his guitar playing, specifically. I sent him that song and asked him to play acoustic guitar, and he absolutely nailed the assignment. He added a little bit of additional production there, too. Jasper represents half of my interest in recording music, which is a lot more experimental, not rooted in any tradition or high fidelity, and much more in the computer. That’s one reason I wanted him to be a part of the product as well.” “So Sweet” “To me and my immediate family, those little few seconds of conversation you hear represents everything you need to know to be reminded of who they are, entirely, as people. Because the song is about them. My mom is expressing to my grandfather how much he means to her. And we were all drinking whiskey pretty late at that time; the feelings were running. My mom actually texted me when the album came out: ‘Thank you so much for putting that in the song because that was one of the only times I’ve ever gotten to express that to my dad in that way.’ I was just recording it on my phone.” “Glow Worms” “It is a cover of a Vashti Bunyan song. I think it’s so cool to just sing other people’s songs and work through them, understand them, and be closer to them in that way. The song, in its original form, is very acoustic guitar, very soft, angelic, and melancholic. We had the idea to turn it into a rock track. There’s a guitar solo at the end.” “Quietly, Entirely” (feat. Sea Oleena) “The original version of the song is four and a half minutes long without Sea Oleena, and it’s got a verse and a chorus and everything. I ended up cutting the song down to the refrain that is at the end—it was perfect with her haunting, ambient vocal stacks at the beginning and end of the song. The song is bookended by her.” “Song About the Family House” “It’s about our house in a suburb of Vancouver that’s getting super developed superfast because of a new transit system that got built through there, and the whole neighborhood is getting bought up by a developer, including the family house. I panicked when I heard that. I never felt like I was sentimental about this structure until this moment. I lived there when I first moved to Canada from Japan. Eventually, my grandparents moved to a different house, and my uncle and my aunt moved into that house. My cousins were raised there. My mom and uncle were both raised there. It felt important to archive that and have it represented permanently in my work.” “The Ordinary Is Ordinary Because It Ordinarily Repeats” “I gave the instrumental song a title like the last line of a poem, where you’re taken out of the specificity of the writing and into something more general that ties the knot. The title of that song is meant to be the last line of the album. And energetically, it’s such a departure from some of the other music. It feels like we’re going into the next chapter. It’s the perfect punctuation.”

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