She's Got It All Untogether

cover of 'Untogether'

Toronto singer/songwriter Lori Yates

Interview by Alphonse Leong

45-second excerpt from "Frequency" (various formats)

Lori Yates laughingly recalls a question posed to her when she was twenty: "A friend took me aside and said, 'If you got hit by a truck tomorrow, how would your obituary read: clerk or singer?' That put the fear of death in me!" And so she began the journey which has led to her second album on Virgin, called Untogether, a collaboration with a group of Toronto techno-wizards known as Opium Concepts.

"I went from not knowing too much about electronica to actually doing it!" she marvels. "It's kinda backwards; usually you listen to it first. But right from the first meeting I liked them as guys. I enjoyed the whole process: writing with them, being in the studio with them, hanging out with them."

Any trepidation? "I asked them, 'do I sound legit? I mean, is my rhythm and phrasing on and everything?' And they said 'yeah.' I felt confident, because these are serious guys from the electronic rave scene. They wouldn't have held back; they would have told me if I sounded like shit!"

"We wrote the album together. They are really great at coming up with good sounds, whereas my background is in writing songs, and together we made a good team. Sometimes I'd be inspired by a bass line or a drum groove. I'd hear something and I'd try to come up with the right words, and they seemed to fit."

"The thing I had to get used to was that it was all done in the mix. They'd say 'Okay, there's going to be a great sound here,' or 'We're going to add a riff there,' and I'd have wait until the end and kind of take it all on faith."

The songs on the CD have an eerie transcendental quality, evidenced amply by the song "Frequency." "I call that a 'space age' love song," says Yates. "I picture being miles above the earth and looking down, unlearning all the things that make us human."

But, beyond that, she is loathe to enforce her own interpretations. "I like to leave it open to the individual. I mean, all my favourite songs, I don't really know what they mean. I mean, I understand them, but I also don't..."

"It's all stream-of-consciousness, but it's obviously part of my own experiences, too. I'm inspired by a lot of things. As far as writing goes, I really love Leonard Cohen; he's a great inspiration. And I love Charles Bukowski! Do you know him? He's this great big drunk...he wrote Barfly."

An, when inspiration strikes, you sometimes have to improvise: "What I do sometimes -- I got this from a friend -- in a pinch is call my answering machine and record an idea."

"I also have tons of stuff in notebooks, stuff that I'm not going to use [myself]. In fact, I wrote a song that was recorded by a French artist named Martine St-Clair, and it went to number one! That gave me a lot of confidence as a songwriter."

So who will be listening to Untogether?

"Well, you see, I get really crazy when I start thinking about that, so I have to keep a bit of distance from it. That's not my end of it. And I think I've arrived at that attitude through a lot of pain!"

"Within the music business, I've wanted so much and I've been very ambitious, and it wasn't very healthy for me. Now, I'm willing to do everything I can do with respect to the record. If it happens, great. If not, I'm going to enjoy my life anyway!"

First published in Drop-D Magazine on August 28, 1997

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