Interview: Roan Yellowthorn (Jackie McLean) on her influences and the power of a song

Jackie McLean, daughter of singer-songwriter Don McLean, best know for his song “American Pie,” is the front woman of Roan Yellowthorn. She adopted this alter ego when returning to music after taking time to complete a university degree. She began to gain media attention as a result of her distinct voice and poetic lyrics on her first self-titled EP in 2016. Roan Yellowthorn is expected to release a new album by the end of 2017 displaying the same outspoken singer/songwriter qualities people loved so much on her first EP. In the meantime, NYS Music had the privilege of speaking with McLean about Roan Yellowthorn’s past releases and some of her biggest influences.

Sammy Steiner: Given that “Child in Chief” is a political protest song, how did you hope it would impact your audience and society at large?

Jackie McLean: I initially wrote “Child in Chief” for myself as a kind of therapy tool to help me process all of the negative feelings I had around the outcome of the election and the entire climate leading up to it. I also hoped that I could give a voice to the fear and anxiety that a lot of other people felt in the wake of the election. I wanted to honor my own feelings of discomfort and apprehension in an artistic and articulate way and, through doing that, I hoped to be able in some way to bring people together in solidarity and resistance. A good song can do that.

I think music is such a powerful medium because it can convey many things at once. A good song has many layers and a lot of nuance and I love the opportunity to embed artistry into a message. I feel like it was the perfect medium for me to express my emotions and feelings of political dissent.

SS: Did your father’s (Don McLean) singer/songwriter career influence any aspects of your artistry and if so, how?

JM: Yes, I think my dad’s career has had a large impact on both my artistic and personal development. On one hand, seeing his job probably normalized for me the idea of having a career in the arts. That’s been valuable. It feels natural to me on some level to have art be my profession. On the other hand, my father’s fame as a musician has inhibited me in some ways- maybe making me feel like I can’t compete or that any success I find is not my own. Those fears have at times contributed to hindering me from becoming confident as an artist and a person. So I’d say it’s a complex issue and there have been benefits and challenges. But it’s all good now. I’ve had to find myself, the same as everyone else, and I like where I am.