The primary touchstone for Yona’s music is the Takoma school and the American Primitive revival movement, and it’s easy to hear the influence of John Fahey, Jack Rose, Leo Kottke and Glenn Jones. Jones is, in fact, a big fan of Yair and Remember, and had this to say :
Yair is fantastic… that album is one of my favorite guitar records of the year. Production-wise, it’s very ambitious, and quite smart, and in terms of both composition and technique, there are two or three tracks that I think are as good as anything ever done on the guitar. Obviously his album wouldn’t exist without his influences… but it rises above being merely derivative into something beautiful and, occasionally, even sublime.
As a nod to Yona’s drone and indie rock influences, there are also splashes of synth and assorted ambient effects on some of Remember’s tracks, though these are mostly relegated to background atmosphere… for the most part, Yona keeps his guitar playing as the focus of his compositions.
Yair Yona – “Remember”
I decided to get in touch with Yona and conducted the following interview. Worth noting : the entire Remember album is available as a free digital download on Yona’s Bandcamp page.
W&W : How old are you, and how long have you been playing the guitar?
Yair : I’m 28, been playing [music] for 13 years. Most of that time I played bass, until the winter of 2003, when I grabbed an acoustic guitar and started a whole new journey.
W&W : Take us through the evolution of your playing… when did you start working with acoustic instruments? Was it something you moved toward after the discovery of your European and American folk and guitar influences? Did you learn your fingerstyle techniques from emulating recordings, did you use TAB, etc?
Yair : Well, I was playing bass for couple of years, and was really into psychedelic rock and prog. In 2002, I moved to London and a couple of months afterward, I heard the first Bert Jansch album, which totally changed my life and made me realize that I’m much more into that now. His technique was so breathtaking, I almost lost the will to play. But at some point, I managed to learn one simple tune of his, which gave me the strength to move on and learn more tunes and practice. At first, I had to use TABs, as my hearing was rusty and I couldn’t figure out how the guy combined the two elements of bass string playing along with a melody and rhythm. The guy is a genius. No one plays like him, and I wish he’d be my neighbor. I’ll trade glasses of sugar and milk for 15 years, for one guitar lesson from him..
W&W : Which Bert song was the first that you learned to play? When I first started playing fingerstyle, I taught myself “Runnin, Runnin From Home” from the album, but ended up with a completely convoluted fingering that made it way more difficult to play than it had to be! A friend later found a TAB online and set me straight!
Yair : We share the exact same story! I figured “Running…” was the more “easy” song on the album, so I started with it. I had no idea about alternate bass, so I made up some terrible chord positions to try and understand how to play that. Only later I found a TAB for it and realized how it should be played. When I managed to play “Angie” for the first time, it was the happiest day of my life! (More on the day I first heard Bert’s album can be found here) One of my favorite tunes of his is maybe his easiest – “Bright New Year”. But the all time favorite song for me is “Fresh as a Sweet Sunday Morning”…
W&W : Please describe the instruments you used on Remember.
Yair : Well, in terms of my guitars, there were only three. The 6-string is an EN guitar, which a friend of mine built me as a practice for the guitar workshop lessons that he took. The EN was built based on a Martin 000 model. The 12-string was a Fender, which I sold to buy a brilliant Larrivée. The Weissenborn was actually a simple Vineyard guitar, and right after I finished the recordings, I bought a Goldtone. Still have the Vineyard, such a wonderful guitar, especially for its price. The Royal resonator is a cheap resonator I bought to see how I’m doing with this type of guitar.
W&W : You replaced your 12-string with a Larrivée 12? What body style, model number?
Yair : The Larrivée is a new LR-03-12.
W&W : Does Israel have its own instrument manufacturers, any popular regional guitar makers? Are the popular US brands like Martin, Gibson, Taylor etc available / widely used?
Yair : There are no REALLY famous guitar builders, maybe there are manufacturers who build really few pieces a year. The American firms have some representation, but usually in the acoustic guitar rooms, you’ll find a few Martins and Taylors, usually way overpriced, and the variety of models doesn’t exist. You won’t be able to find a good 12-string second hand. It’s not a popular instrument in general, and it’s much less in a country of 6.5 million people.
W&W : Talk about your right hand… thumb pick? Fake nails? Acrylics? All natural?
Yair : Thumb pick, plastic Dunlop one. Other fingers are my natural nails.
W&W : What are the tunings you use on Remember?
Yair : Most of the tunings are open D (DADF#AD), where “Broken Rockin Chair” is in G minor (DGDGBbD), “Floodgate” is an open C (CGCGCE), and the most complicated one is on “Skinny Fists”, which is DGDF#G#C#. It’s a tuning I learned from Glenn Jones, who’s by far my favorite guitar player in this style.
Yair Yona – “Brave Walls”
W&W : Please describe the recording of Remember… did you record it yourself or were you assisted? Studio?
Yair : I was fortunate enough to become a label manager of Israeli alternative label Anova Music and we have our own studio, so I was recorded by a great engineer called Ronen Roth. We recorded the guitar tracks on a 2 inch tape, using U-87 and 67 [microphones].
W&W : Do you have plans to do any touring in 2010?
Yair : There’s a great will, just trying to figure out how to handle the road with 3 guitars, and how to avoid work for two weeks without having to be worried that something happened to my company!
W&W : What other projects are you currently involved in that you would like to talk about?
Yair : Well, I’m writing new material and I’m working on a new band that I’ll play bass in, of some experimental, noise and psych music. I want to have my own Faust. Or Califone, whatever comes first.
W&W : What albums are you listening to most at the moment?
Yair : At this very second, I’m listening to the brilliant Pockets by Karate. I’m checking my LastFm page to see what else I’ve listened to today (because I’m listening to a lot of music, with a variety of styles) – I listened to Mudhoney a lot because they are coming to Israel in couple of days, which makes me very VERY happy. The Churchills, psych rock from Israel 1969, The Veils new album and Arthur by The Kinks. The new Califone is brilliant, and the record of the month or maybe the year is the new Black Heart Procession. YEAH!!!
W&W : Could you talk a little about your blog and your mixtapes?
Yair : Sure. I run an alternative music blog called “Small Town Romance”. Now it’s only in Hebrew, but in a month and a half, I plan to have an English version of the blog, with a translation for each post. The idea behind it is to expose people to good music that sometimes is left behind, and slips under the radar. Once a week I post a mixtape of good music, an hour of great sounds of stuff I’ve listened that week. I love being an ambassador of music and exposing people to records that may change their lives. It’s somewhat naïve, I know, but when someone comes to you and says “The record you recommended me just made my week!” – it’s the best thing ever. That’s why I went to work in a record store a couple of years ago. I remember someone told me that me selling her No Other by Gene Clark got her out of a serious depression she was in. Who could ask for more?