In a small, packed concert venue in the Lower East Side of Manhattan, Jackie a.k.a. Roan Yellowthorn sat in front of her keyboard to play her first Manhattan show. The room was filled with love and excitement for Roan’s live performance of her newly released EP "Roan Yellowthorn." Her husband Shawn accompanied her by playing the drums.
Though Roan only started last year you would think that she’s been in the business much longer. Roan was an active member in theatre and clearly inherited her father Don McLean's musical genes. She has created her own unique sound and her music can be described as indie but with each word she sings you can hear all the emotions behind the song. She has found inspiration from poems to even "Teen Mom" couple Catelynn and Tyler.
Roan's performance was beautifully performed and written. After her show, I had the opportunity to sit down with her and talk.
Q. What does your name come from?
Roan: I never really liked my own name. I never felt like it was really mine. I have always kind of been obsessed with the idea of naming myself -- I used to give myself all of these weird, embarrassing nicknames that no one actually ever used for me -- and a few years ago when I was, like, 20, I decided to just sit down and come up with my "own" name. I was on the train, and I thought about it for a long time. I knew that I wanted it to be something nature-based and whimsical. And I settled on "Roan Yellowthorn." It felt right to me. I didn't actually legally change my name to that because it was kind of daunting to think about having to ask people to call me that, but I knew I wanted to use it somehow. Then, when I started making music, I felt again that my name wasn't right. Like, it didn't feel like it was "me." I tried for a while to think of a stage name and then it was just there in front of me -- the perfect opportunity to use Roan Yellowthorn, my chosen name.
Q. How’d you feel to play your first Manhattan performance?
My first performance in Manhattan felt like all of the great feelings surrounding the EP condensed into an hour. There were so many people there who I love -- family and friends and new fans. And it's always so much fun to perform with Shawn. We had a wonderful time and I guess Rockwood, the venue, did too because they asked us to come back and do another show there this summer!
Q. Who are your biggest musical influences?
Roan: Growing up, I listened to a lot of music that I didn't choose. I was at the mercy of my parents. My mom played a lot of classic country, musical theater music, Leonard Cohen, The Rolling Stones, Prince, Bob Dylan, and Jeff Buckley. My dad had about four bands on all the time in heavy rotation -- Beach Boys, Kingston Trio, The Weavers, and Flat & Scruggs. So there's no denying the fact that all of that music influenced me a lot. Then when I discovered the radio, it was like an escape. So music from the '90s definitely influenced me, too.
Q. Have you always been interested in becoming a musician?
Roan: When I was in high school, I thought that being a musician was the cop-out choice for me. I was known for my voice and everyone asked me if I was going to be a singer. I was always like, "No! You don't know me. I'm going to be a vet." Or a writer or a social worker or, you know, any one of the other things that I'm interested in. I had to explore all of the other things out there before I was able to come back to music. I almost felt like I would be failing if I did music because it came really naturally to me. Or maybe I was just worried that I would fail and it would be embarrassing. I thought that I had to choose a career that was difficult and unpleasant, I don't know why.
Q. How would you describe your music to someone who has never listened to it before?
Roan: I don't really know how to describe my music because I can't hear it objectively. I love knowing what other people think it sounds like. I guess it's kind of folky, kind of poppy, definitely singer/songwriter. I guess I'd call it "indie/folk/pop." I don't think that's a genre.
Q. What kind of music do you listen to?
Roan: I listen to a weird mix of music. When I'm in my car and I want to feel cool, alive, and vibrant, I play Basshunter. I just got Aurora's new album and I've been listening to that lately on vinyl. I love her voice. Grimes is one of my all-time favorite artists. Everything about her inspires me. ABBA is another group who I just love completely. There are no bad ABBA songs. And since Taylor Swift partnered up with Max Martin, I can't get enough of her. The Swedes know what they're doing. We listen to a lot of Kurt Vile, too. For chill times, Elliott Smith, Smashing Pumpkins, The Shins (especially Kissing the Lipless), The Smiths and Kishi Bashi, who is amazing. And Robyn rules. And I know every Bright Eyes song, courtesy of Shawn, so I can't leave out Conor Oberst.
Q. What advice would you give to someone who wants to pursue a music career?
Roan: To someone who wants to pursue a music career, I would say: If it makes you happy, do it. Just do what makes you happy. That's all that matters at the end of the day. And don't worry about what other people think, either way. Do it for you.
Q. "Teen Mom OG" or "2?"
Roan: Um…. I'm "Teen Mom OG" all the way. I'm literally obsessed with "Teen Mom." I love both groups but "OG" has a special place in my heart. One of the first songs I wrote was about Catelynn and Tyler ("Two Children"). Maci, Amber, even Farrah, as messed up as she is. I love them all.
Q. How’d you get into music?
Roan: I've always done music. I did a lot of theater -- I was Dorothy in "Wizard of Oz," Annie in "Annie" (twice), Ariel in "Footloose," Queenie in "Wild Party." And my brother and I played music together all the time. It's always been there. But I didn't start writing songs or playing the piano until last year when I got my first real keyboard from my partner Shawn as a present. I learned how to play it on YouTube and started writing songs pretty much immediately. Getting that piano definitely opened up a new world for me, musically.
Q. What’s the writing process like?
Roan: If I’m feeling it then I just focus on it and a song comes out. It’s the simplest way to put it. I isolate myself with a pencil and paper anywhere from 20 minutes to a week and a song will come out. If I can be by myself I can write a song in two hours.
Q. Are any of the songs inspired by your husband?
Roan: At least two of the songs are inspired by Shawn. "The Last Time" was inspired by a story he told me of an experience he had.
Q. Why do you and your husband still have flip phones?
Roan: I got the flip phone probably about four years ago. I have an addictive personality and I was just being annihilated by my phone. It was a full-fledged obsession. It was really affecting my life and my mood and my level of real-life social activity so I just cut the cord and got a flip phone. It was the best life decision ever. And then, a few months ago, Shawn got one, too. We go on road trips now and can actually get lost. It's awesome. Am I smug about it? A little.
Q. Who would you like to collaborate with in the future?
Roan: I would like to collaborate with Grimes (because I'm in love with her), Max Martin, and maybe Angel Olsen. She's pretty cool.
Q. How’d it feel to release the EP?
Roan: It felt amazing to release the EP. I feel so indebted to all of the people who helped make it happen. My partner, Shawn, has been a pillar of encouragement and support the whole way through and has talked endlessly with me about ideas for production and arrangement of the songs. My family has been so helpful, especially Shawn's parents who tell all of their friends about our music and have done a ridiculous amount along the way to make the EP a reality.
John Naclerio, who we recorded with, Brittany Brave, my publicist, who goes above and beyond to connect us with incredible opportunities, and everyone who has heard the EP and given me their feedback about it. So many people have helped me and the EP is a symbol of that. It's such a good feeling. I can't wait to start working on a full-length album next!