A sublime paradox underpins Sundry Rock Song Stock, the latest album from Montreal-based musician, producer, and visual artist Yves Jarvis. On the one hand, he’s leaning ever more intently into self-sufficiency–entirely incidental to the emergence of COVID-19–recording in isolation, shooting his own press photos and music videos, painting his own album cover, and designing his own merch.
But he also grapples with some of his music’s less-accessible idiosyncrasies. Look at it structurally: his last album, The Same But By Different Means, featured 22 tracks of irregular length, most wrapping up in under two minutes–not exactly playlist-friendly. The cheekily-titled Sundry Rock Song Stock breaks down into more widely digestible chunks, with 10 pieces in the two-to-five-minute range.
Jarvis’ tunes are still fiercely singular, though, with an indifference to verse-chorus structure and a bent toward electronic impressionism. He sings in an intimate, layered hush reminiscent of so much current indie folk, but he wields synthesized loops and non-instrumental sounds in the style of a vintage avant-garde composer, cycling through motifs and textures in lieu of hooks. And against the confines of that stricter track list, this batch of folk musique concrète bulges with a springy, green vitality, the artist and the air around him running wild with energy.
Before the release, Jarvis spoke to The All Scene Eye about the dueling influences behind the record, between the reactions of live audiences and the outdoor recording sessions far away from the prying eyes of society.
Your last album, The Same But By Different Means, came out in early 2019. Was there a fixed starting point where you knew you were working on the new record?
Yeah, the last project was the first time I had been working with a label to release a project altogether, because the first thing that I had done that was reissued was something that was self-released between friends. Getting involved with these companies and whatnot, I found the process a little bit longer than it had been in the past. Between that reissue and The Same But By Different Means, I spent maybe two years on that album, and usually I would want to put something out every year, so that was due to that expansion in the trajectory. Having more people involved, it just made things go at a pace that I wasn’t really used to. I think I’m in the swing of things now.
This album, I finished it this year. I was recording quite recently in the year, and I’m so lucky to have their cooperation to put it out in 2020. It was definitely necessary for it to come out this year, so I’m lucky that I was able to put it to bed so soon. I mean, I was still throwing impulses at this project in May, so it’s catching me by surprise.
Is that need to have it come out this year related to your rhythm and your pace of release, or is it something to do with the substance of this album?
Oh, I guess a little bit of both; it’s like they’re braided together. For me, for the way I like to document things, in terms of the lexicon and zeitgeist and all that shit–you know, all of those considerations cool down after about a year. With that said, I like to approach things without being topical or without having really central themes. I like to be very general with my content, but I think the perspective shifts and it loses its posture.
I’ve heard you talk before about that being part of the color scheming of your albums–that when you put out The Same But By Different Means, there was sort of a blue quality to the air around you.
Yeah, it’s like a frequency or an energy that is prevalent at a certain time that resonates with me, so I try and just tap into that. I realized that usually, I had been working within worlds that I felt were imposed on me, and now, this green project, I’ve come to it with a certain amount of–I don’t know how I say this, but there’s a personal depth to the lyrical content that would be more externalized in my previous work.
What allowed you to flip that switch?
It was time, certainly–time for me in my growth to confront certain feelings, to put it mildly. Certain habits, certain things I identify with, and things that I would have thought were foundational to my character. It was necessary for me to confront these things for my personal growth. That manifests itself into the work, of course, so it was just a more insular expression there.
When did you first notice the greenness?
I usually get these impulses nearing the end of a project. Nearing the end of The Same But By Different Means, I was transitioning to different paradigms and different narratives, and different motifs were coming to the surface. Things had reached their conclusion in coming from a certain place, so–it’s always very clear.
It’s always very obvious to me when a project has begun and when it’s ended. It’s always squared off really nicely with my interest. I’m very quickly distracted [laughs] so I tend to work from a place of just always being electrified by my shit, you know? I have to be really excited about it all the time or it won’t make the cut, and usually, that’s a succession of things. There will be sessions from the beginning and sessions from the end that easily won’t make an album’s track list, but a solid chunk of successive material will contribute to the final project. It’ll just be one big wave, and things will be black and white from the beginning and from the end of the project.
You’ve referred to the previous two records as moving in this progression from day to night. Do you see the new one as part of that same cycle?
In a way. I mean, I do think about music that way; there’s certain music I just won’t listen to at certain times, so considering my listening habits, I tried to do a little bit of both. I was saying this too, that I feel like in the past, my albums have been difficult to approach because the individual songs don’t really lend themselves to replayability. I’ve heard this from people who listen to my records–it’s something they listen to from beginning to end all the time, and while that’s how I like to listen to music as well, I also love to shuffle music. That’s what I’ve been doing for the last few years, so I think I approached this album with that in mind, of having a bit of the dawn and dusk.
Like I said, considering the way I digest music, I made this album more accessible, more digestible, more pithy. I wouldn’t call it trimming the fat, but I would call it just having it be more approachable to people who might not give a shit about me. Otherwise, things can be so self-indulgent. When that creative pride gets in the way of really putting something together that is approachable to anyone, that’s when–and I wouldn’t call my past work self-indulgent, but I would say it took up a lot of space, and it wasn’t, I don’t know, friendly to the listener?
It doesn’t always play nice with others.
Absolutely, and that was really important for me on this album: to shuffle the songs in with my regular playlists and make sure that, from front to back, everything expressed a unified perspective on each track and from each phrase, each motif, each theme. I wanted them to be very unified.
You’re someone who’s talked about being more of a producer than necessarily a songwriter. Does that change when you’re drawing out the motifs longer and working in this framework of two to four minute pieces?
Yeah, I definitely identify as a producer before anything, but, you know, I’m such a flake. You could talk to me on any day and I’ll argue the opposite thing. But this time around, I did some tours between the foundational beds of the record. I was doing solo performances, which is something I’m still not completely used to, but something that mirrors that production element in a way that the band interplay doesn’t.
Doing these tours, I worked out some of the songs and some of the beds that I had laid down that summer. In the fall, I had been performing some of those melodies and some of those lyrical ideas, and actually, some of the best reactions I would get were when I would pander to these expectations, I guess, from the audience–not in a way that compromises the work, but in a way that is like a wink. I understand, you know, I’m not trying to be difficult to digest, so it’s like, [laughs] I’m just trying to be more generous to the listener.
When I came back from that tour in the end of the year and approached the recordings, I was like, “Oh, let me give them a little bit of what–” I mean, what it looked like they responded to. I feel like I’ve never done that in the past, so it’s really something that I’m proud of on this record. I’m proud of having set aside my creative ego a little bit, and lyrically, that’s kind of what the album is grappling with.
Can you point out any specific tracks where you noticed something on the road and changed the track in response to it?
All the singles, I had been performing for sure. Like, “For Props” and “Victim” I had been performing with different lyrics–lyrics that find their way onto the record elsewhere now. But–yeah, those songs were getting some of my best reactions because all of my songs are, like, a minute and a half. On my last album, I would play a song and I would not have the patience to just walk around in the song, and so I would turn these maybe-two-minute songs into, like, one-minute songs.
I was opening for Aldous Harding, and she really inspired me to build a framework and step into it. This is something I toyed with in the past, but I had gotten away from it. With Good Will Come To You and The Same But By Different Means, I became such an impulsive, ecstatic-gestured, like–gestures that were just single vignettes. But the way that she would walk around the room, and I don’t mean physically, but sonically–give everything time to breathe–I was really taken by that and how well people respond to that. Those songs probably wouldn’t be three minutes or four and five minutes if that wasn’t the case.
The lyric video for “For Props” matches that feeling in the way that you visualize it. Tell me about filming that.
I love working on videos, like–well. It’s not something that I gravitate towards, and I take full responsibility always when things don’t execute a particular vision, but having collaborated and outsourced in the past for videos and for photography and all this, I feel like if I want something done right, I have to do it myself. So I shoot all my photos, I shoot all my videos now. I don’t gravitate towards those mediums, but my results are more in line with what I wish to project than anything I could get anyone to do. And that’s not to say that I’m not open to collaboration. There’s some people that I really respect that I want to work with again, or that I would like to work with altogether at some point, but I’m really self-reliant in those projections of self.
But for that video–I mean, that’s another thing. I don’t have a lot of respect for music videos. As a format, it’s kind of funny to me. You know, I get it. I’m all-in, but it’s not something that I want to spend money on. It’s not something that I want to take too seriously. I like my videos to be one shot and I like them to lack narrative. [laughs] I’m not trying to make movies, you know? I would like to in a different sense, but when there’s a single and this would be the video for it, I just want it to be a slice of life. That’s how I approach recording music anyway. It’s not really an opinion that I have for anybody else; it’s just indicative of the work that I’m putting out.
It’s like I was saying with t-shirts. I’m working on some merch because I want to take that on myself as well, and being a solo artist, being a producer, it seems ridiculous for me to have shirts. Like, I don’t know why anyone would wear a shirt with my shit on it, but I’m trying to circumvent that by making interesting clothing outright. [laughs] Instead of it just being merch, because–you know, my silhouette and my name, it’s just ridiculous. That ties into this video shit. I don’t want to say that it’s coming from a place of integrity because I don’t want to pat myself on the back, but it’s just indicative of the music. It fits the bill of expectation a little bit more than the videos that I’ve made.
There’s some debate in the comments–people are wondering how you made that effect of you rolling forward with the camera, whether you were on a bike or some other kind of wheeled system. How did you set that up?
I wish it was more mysterious than it is. I’m just–I’m sitting through the sunroof of a car on a private road.
There’s no danger of oncoming traffic or anything like that. I do it often. I ride this car on this private road in the woods where I stay. Actually, if anybody wants to follow me on Instagram, I post a lot of videos of me riding in the car listening to my playlist or whatever. Isn’t that so underwhelming compared to what people think? I mean, I wanted to say, like–I thought the only thing it could be is a hoverboard. There’s no way I’m riding a fucking unicycle through the woods. I can ride a bike pretty good, though. I can ride a bike without hands and all that. Maybe I coulda did that, but it wouldn’t have looked that smooth–that shit looked pretty smooth. I think that’s why there’s all the conjecture.
You don’t see the car, and it just looks like you’re out in the woods, which is certainly a big part of this record. Can you tell me about your recording setup, which I’ve heard is an outdoor setup?
Yeah, I started recording this record outside for the most part. A lot of the guitar that is heard is recorded outside. A lot of the Rhodes, a lot of the synths too. I pretty much brought my whole studio outside, which is one of the great privileges of not having neighbors here and not being in the city. I really take it for granted how I can go outside and just express myself.
I always feel a sense of claustrophobia in the city. I know certain people might feel comfortable to go to a park and, you know, do whatever, but there’s so much red tape in society that I don’t want to deal with. [laughs] Like, I don’t even mean just red tape. Even just the gaze of other people. I feel like I can’t do anything outside–that’s why I love to be in the studio all day. But being here, I’m outside recording and filming whatever I want, really, so it’s a great privilege.
Where are you set up?
It’s called The Tree Museum. It’s two hours north of Toronto. It’s a sculpture museum, outdoor, it’s a hiking destination. It’s public. There’s plenty of people walking around, but very disparate groups. There’s at least two groups a day, but otherwise, no neighbors or anything like that, so, really ideal for letting it rip. My partner’s aunt runs the gallery, so we’re here as artists in residence. This is our third summer here–it’s not really active otherwise. There used to be all sorts of showings out here for the last 20 years. It’s on hiatus, but still public. Still plenty to do around here, but we’re the only ones working up here now.
There’s less control over what you get on tape than if you’re in a padded, soundproof room. There are points on the record where I hear crickets chirping, and other sounds of just–of the world. Were there any things you didn’t realize you were capturing at the time?
A lot is revealed through the mixing of the project, for sure. That’s one of the most revealing parts of the process. I really love to mix and to hear all of those, like–what you’re saying. In particular, nothing really comes to mind, except for I could say that structurally, a lot of the album is broken up because of wind.
I’m always working on tape, so hiss is always an obstacle, and using these kinds of field recording sounds in the past, my intention was to just dissipate a little of that hiss. It was like parting the sea, whatever that story is, of the hiss. I threw some field recording on there of a microphone out my window for the length of the song, and the hiss just disappeared in that texture. It had never been a creative thing. Working on this project outside altogether, the intentions were similar. When I listen to the isolated tracks, the things I had recorded outside are remarkably resonant and brilliant and just shiny. It’s a sheen that I’m after in my production, like a metal sheen–a luster that is really easy to get at outside.
It’s not about room sound or any of that shit. All that stuff is frustrating as a producer, I understand, unless you can get a grip on it, but you’re really deadening all that brilliance when you’re building a studio. And I’ve built so many different studios in so many different places. Seeking that control over the sound feels great, and that’s just like life. I’m a control freak, so it’s great to have it all pared down and tamped to the floor, but then there’s so much to consider with performance.
For me, whenever I would try and activate those qualities in these controlled settings, I would have to be so conscious of my performance, the way I’m standing, what I’m wearing, where I am in relation to the mic, and all this, in order to create this resonance that I’m talking about. But now, with recording outside, you just let it go. You really just have a go and it’s all there. There’s nothing being contrived in that textural sense.
You used some sounds on this album that aren’t traditionally instrumental–wine glasses and things like that. When you start trying to bring those other things into the mix, what kinds of objects work well?
Metal is the best. I mean, metal and glass are the best. I love glass, actually–I should have said glass first. But in keeping with that sheen, more so than instruments–I mean, instruments are perfectly articulate, you know? But when you have a wild instrument like that, it just sounds different. I don’t know how else to put it, aside from what I said before in terms of that quality of it being so alive. It’s just so different than traditional instruments. I think that’ll resonate with any producer. You get a pot or a pan under a mic, it sounds so fuckin’ alive compared to a cowbell or a wood block or something like that. But like I said, I’m a flake. I could go the other way too. I could say some instruments sound so great when they’re recorded.
I feel like I’d be remiss if I didn’t ask about the percussion on this album. You have shakers and hand drumming and things that I can recognize and pick out, and then a lot of things that aren’t quite clear. How did you go about building the percussion elements?
I went back to something I had done in the past. I mean, I had always used so much auxiliary percussion. I’ve been recording for, like, ten years now, but for the last six years, I’ve been on a unified kind of trajectory, and if you go back six years, the percussion was the focus, kind of. I love that pots-and-pans sound. The records I did in Montreal, you know–Good Will Come To You has a ton of auxiliary percussion, so I guess that was explored there too, but on The Same But By Different Means, I introduced a kit. I hadn’t used a kit since I lived in Calgary, so that was pretty prevalent on The Same, and then on this record, I blended those two approaches, very inspired by Bill Bruford’s playing in King Crimson. There’s a second percussionist on Larks’ Tongues in Aspic that should be mentioned as well, but Bruford’s style really influenced me to blend those two things.
Larks’ Tongues in Aspic blends the kit and this auxiliary percussion so well that it really just set me off on saying, “I want to put those two together again,” whereas in the past I had separated those two things. Mostly for the results–not for any reason. I think that it’s a match made in heaven. I usually record two drum tracks. There’s not a lot of two drum tracks on this record, but if I’m recording front to back in one session, I’ll usually do two drum tracks with that in mind.
One track track I wanted to make sure I asked about is “Ambrosia.” You have this–my notes just say this kind of burbling percussive effect. It’s a really neat assembly of sounds. How did that track come together for you?
I’m glad that you asked about that one because it is kind of a focal track for me. It came about in the early sessions of the album when I was here last summer first setting up my studio outside. I have some video, actually, of the session where I recorded that. I think it’s on my Instagram on the story highlights. I was jamming outside every day almost on that reel-to-reel. There’s an echo that I used, it’s all over The Same But By Different Means, and it’s all over this record–and actually, another thing about that is the drum beat that comes in at the end of “Ambrosia” is the drum track that I used on tour. The one song that I had a loop for was “For Props,” and it was that drum track, and I really liked the way it sounded isolated. I think the bass melody is in there, and it comes right after “Props” in the track list, so I thought that would be a nice–or a necessary addition to that bubbling, the bubbling.
There’s actually a ton of synths on the album, and I thought I integrated it in a way that was kind of seamless in most of the parts. Of course, there’s some obvious synths on a lot of the record, but the idea was, again, going back to that lustrous quality and trying to weave it in with the acoustics and the outdoor resonance. I think people would be surprised to know that a lot of the nature sounds and whatnot were synthesized.
That’s something that I haven’t really explored in the past–I mean, that’s not altogether true. With similar intentions of approaching synths without any knowledge of synth, which has always been the case, I put out a record where I did kind of approach these electronic sounds and textures without any of the gear. I used a computer keyboard into my tape machine. But here, similar to what I’m saying about the auxiliary and the kit, just trying to weave these things together in such a way that would be ambiguous, I’m glad to hear that some sounds are easy to pick out, of course, and some are less so.
When the synths are recognizable, there’s a really kind of vintage quality to it. What equipment did you use, and was that intentionally a sound that you were drawing on?
Yeah, most of the music I listen to–I mean, this is such bullshit to say, but I don’t really listen to much contemporary music. And I don’t mean that, like, in any way. I don’t judge any music whatsoever. I listen to absolutely everything with a clear heart, and I do listen to some contemporary music, but yeah, I think it has more to do with my influences. Franco Battiato was a huge influence, just a lot of cutting through with the synths and adding a new dimension.
I used a Nord–I don’t know what it is. I brought it on tour with me too, but it’s just so versatile. There’s like a thousand sounds in there, and then there’s like a hundred knobs for me to customize those sounds. It’s just ridiculous. When I approach that as an instrument, to execute that weaving of textures like I’m saying, it’s nothing to consider. The machine is so malleable that it can sound however you want it to sound. I wish I could tell you which model it is, but those Nords–every one I’ve played is great, but I know nothing about it. Keys have just integrated their way into my stuff in the last few years, and synth is completely out of my lexicon, but having it be so malleable made it so that there was no thought put into getting the sounds that I desired.
You’ve mentioned again how much being on the road influenced what you did with this project, and so I’m curious, what’s next for you without that link in the chain?
Well, I’ve never been a performance person, so this was the first time that I had really been impacted by performance in a way that found its way into the studio. That was new, and I think I’ll carry that with me for the rest of my life. Like, that was just an added perspective that I’ll always have. You know, I love standup, and I know comedians are always talking about how it’s so necessary to work out their material and see what really makes people laugh. People don’t interact with music in the same way that one does comedy, so it’s not really a necessary piece of the puzzle. I’m glad for that because I don’t think of myself as a performer, you know? [laughs] If you’re asking me about my career, I would love to think of myself as a performer, but in terms of my creative expression, it’s not important to me. I could be fulfilled just in the studio forever.
With this album being something that I think has got a lot of replay value, it’s got songs that I’m comfortable with speaking for my whole body of work and speaking for my whole perspective–I’m happy with these singles speaking for me altogether. But with that said, now I’ve kind of gone back to six, seven years ago when I was in Calgary. I’ve always used the same gear, but now I’ve really got almost a replica of the studio I had. I’ve got the drums here, bass here, stuff I haven’t had right at my fingertips in a few years, and I’m just kind of going crazy.
I’ve got tons of new material that is just juxtaposing what is being said on this record and also furthering that exploration. I’m taking a lot of liberties. I feel like this album just puts a pin in so many things that I have wanted to express in my entire catalog, and now I’m able to revisit things that I may have abandoned for my growth, or for my expansion. I mean, I think of myself as coming from a place of punk. I always think my music is coming from an anti-authoritarian place. Anti-establishment. And because I don’t want anybody to do anything for me creatively, I’m just always coming from that place of self-reliance.
[In press for the album] you’ve said “People think I’m calm, but I’m not, and I’m happy to elaborate on it now,” which is something that’s really boiled down in the self-portrait that is the cover of this album. I’m curious if you could tell me more about that undercurrent of the record.
It’s never been something I rejected, the way that I think I’ve been perceived, because I know that it’s completely my doing. In the pursuit of establishing a body of work, when I became an adult, I felt like I had to counter my energy. Coming out of this angst of living at home and always having to break rules that are imposed, I felt like I had to counter that very direct influence on my identity with meditative–whatever. I know nobody listens to the past two records I put out and would think that I am the way that I am. I’m bouncing off the walls. I’m burning up. I love to be absurd and be a cartoon, so my life was, creatively, begging for balance there. And where I had previously broken through by embracing those things about myself, I came to a place where I needed to really have a more constructive voice. And like I said, now, having said a lot of things that I didn’t mean to say in that regard, I feel a tremendous amount of freedom in the work that I’m pursuing with this album under my belt.
It’s always super important for me, the album artwork. I said that I’m not visually minded in terms of videos and all this. In terms of the artwork, when I get to about a third of the way through the album, I’m completely visualizing what it should look like, and it’s very clear. And it plays a huge role in the second half of the project because it fuels me all the way. It gives me the voice that I need because vocals and lyrics always come second. Certain themes are jotted down and taken note of, but all of that comes second to the instrumental, which is getting at the same idea. It’s very intentional performances in the instrumentals of my albums.
The artwork, that’s like a gift. It falls completely into my lap and it is what it is and it’s very distinct. I was really influenced by The Ex’s Tumult–there’s a figure there behind bars–and Wipers’ Is This Real? There’s always interesting geometry on Wipers’ albums, at least the first three come to mind. I was thinking about The Matrix. I was thinking about grids, life, just society. These are all tales as old as time, nothing to even speak on, but how would I go about depicting that in my album cover? It was really important for me to show that tension of the grid and how I grapple with that. Also, In the Court of the Crimson King was a huge influence. I thought it was unusual, at least in what I take in. I don’t want to make any [laughs] qualitative statements about anything–I don’t know what I’m talking about–but I find it rare to see a lack of composure on an album cover, and I thought it was important to express that this year. Not because of circumstances, but just in the air. It was important for me to express that off-kilter–yeah. That schism.