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Alana Yorke's life is but a Dream 

Alana Yorke’s Dream Magic runs the gamut of personal to pop-polished, as Yorke says, it was all about “making the impossible happen”.

  • Meghan Tansey Whitton

Alana Yorke w/Brinleigh, Greg MacPherson, The Skydiggers
Thursday, January 22
Bus Stop Theatre, 2203 Gottingen Street
8:30pm, $20

"I've been making music forever," says Alana Yorke. And anyone who listens to Dream Magic—the local composer/singer/pianist's latest—can hear the years of experience. "Ian [Bent, Yorke's partner] is my co-producer and arranger for specifically orchestral instruments like strings. On the record we worked as a team." The two have been making original music for a hilariously long time—since Yorke was five and Bent was four. "We have a long history and we've been tucked away for awhile, but we haven't come out formally." Dream Magic marks that unveiling.

Both musicians had tinkered with other projects, a group called the New Oceanographers, while Yorke was studying marine ecology at university, and Bent in Caledonia. "But nothing had been quite right," she says. "With conceiving an album it takes a while to learn what you want."

It turns out Yorke wanted something vast and otherworldly, something orchestral and vulnerable at the same time. She found inspiration from watching found super-8 footage of families she didn't know—going on road trips to Disneyland, visiting the grandparents, a 1950s Christmas morning. "It really helped me get into place where I was looking back on my own life and going deeper," she says. "There was a feeling of nostalgia, it helped me go to a different place, then I'd go to the piano.

"I'm not a guy with a guitar who sits down and has a story to tell—it's a very different process, I'm composing music, and that's different from someone who comes with words. The emotion has to come from the music."

There's a lot of ways in which Yorke does things differently. She began composing music in her own bubble as a child. "Really broadly I've always felt like what I'm doing doesn't have an outside relationship to the world. As I grew up I was writing things that seemed really strange," she says. "I overheard Patrick Watson on an awards show and I hadn't ever heard that before but that was what I was doing in my living room." On Dream Magic there are pop references beyond Yorke's living room, however. Notes of early Enya, Pet Shop Boys, Kate Bush and Arcade Fire are filtered through Yorke's pieces.

The album title was an obvious choice, Yorke draws inspiration from her dreams—quite literally in the case of "Forbidden/Hidden Man"—and the idea of going to a place where thought is shut off, like a mediative songwriting state. Bits from her childhood compositions would work their way into her present-day work.

Yorke also cites the recording process as a bit of a dream situation in itself. The band tracked with Charles Austin at Echo Chamber, Yorke and Bent did a lot of home production on their dual synth/piano tracks, Graeme Campbell did a bit of "cleaning up" and "when it came down to mixing, we cold-called Arcade Fire's Mark Lawson," she says. "I loved his work and he got back within 10 minutes saying he loved it and asked us to come up." Sitting in the Godspeed You! Black Emperor's David Bryant's studio loft as Lawson worked on the album, Yorke thought: "OK, we're playing with the big kids now."

Despite all of the star power behind the album, Yorke and Bent's co-production was what crystallized the work. "Including vulnerability was a big part of process," she says. "Arcade Fire was inspiring me to make something big and loud and epic—we always wanted to make something big and interesting. But I felt it was robbing the audience if we didn't show that spectrum.

"When we were recording with Charles he said it sounded cinematic, and he could see a falcon on my arm or something. So we were like, what if we got some hawks [for a photo]? Making the impossible happen was part of Dream Magic."

"We always thought let's make what we want to make and later we'll find out where it fits. That's part of adventure."

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