Interview: Roan Yellowthorn is Back with New Music and to Talk about Their Growth

Since last speaking with Jackie McLean nearly a year ago, she and her partner, Shawn Strack have grown tremendously as musicians. They are known as Roan Yellowthorn – an indie pop rock duo. Shawn, who had never been involved in musical production before, is the main engineer and instrumentalist on the upcoming album, Indigo, which is set to be released later this month.

Their latest single, “Talk About It” is their audience’s first sneak peek as to how the album will sound. This song is a beautiful take on an unresolved relationship as it winds you through a journey both lyrically and melodically. It has a catchy chorus that will remain in your head long after listening to the song.

My last discussion with Jackie McLean touched on many of the overarching questions regarding her musical influences and the power of a song. This time around, we delved a bit deeper into her artistic development and how this is reflected in her upcoming project. Read more about Jackie and Shawn’s journey below.

Sammy Steiner: After listening to “Talk About It,” it was clear that Roan Yellowthorn headed in a new sonic direction. Can you talk about how you have grown since “Child in Chief” and your self-titled EP?

Jackie McLean: The songwriting process has pretty much remained the same except this time I am making a conscious decision to be more honest in my lyrics. The main difference between my last project, (which was made in 48 hours) and Indigo is not only the time we put into it but also the overall production of every song. On this album, my partner, Shawn and I worked very closely to create the entire album ourselves. Shawn used to be a video editor but had never been involved in production before working on this project. The nature of our relationship made our collaborative process extremely complimentary. He knew how to take my abstract concepts and turn them into a reality. Additionally, since we did everything ourselves we were able to go back and tweak every song until we felt it sounded perfect.

SS: As a follow-up, what has this past year looked like for you guys in terms of the work you put into creating this album? Where did you draw most of your inspiration from?

JM: I am constantly writing songs so by the time I started recording Indigo, I already had the majority of the album written. We spent about one week recording in Upstate New York during August and then the following three months were focused on intense mixing and producing. Shawn played every instrument on the album with the exception of the piano which I played. I would say that the biggest difference since our EP is that now we’re doing everything together as opposed to before when we outsourced most things.

SS: What are some goals you have for the upcoming album and tour?

JM: My main goal is to bring our music to more people. I really enjoy being able to interact with the audience and hear their opinions in person. We are currently working on putting together a setlist, which will most likely consist of the entire Indigo album as well as a handful of songs from past projects. We are also excited to be experimenting with the drum pad on stage to enhance our live performances by recreating some of the sounds you will hear on the album.

SS: I had the privilege of getting a sneak listen to the album – for everyone else, can you tell them a bit about what they can expect?

JM: This album is very personal and very emotional for me. It came together really organically as I kept writing songs to process my feelings. It is an extremely sincere album and I honestly don’t know if I’ll ever be able to write another album like this one. I dug so many emotions out of my soul but now it feels like I’ve shed a layer. I hope that everyone likes it!

SS: What was it like for you, Shawn, to produce this album having never done this kind of work before?

Shawn Strack: I used to work in film, media and television so I had a basic understanding of the software and the editing process. After having many conversations with Jackie, I understood her vision for the album and was confident that I could translate those ideas into the music. To give you an example – she once said to me that she wanted the title track “Indigo” to sound as if she was flying through space with stars exploding around her. I added a post rock influenced guitar under the verses while she played the piano and put drum and guitar layers during the chorus.

SS: Finally, what does the word ‘indigo’ mean to you and to this album?

Shawn: The color indigo is present in the colouring of the sounds on the album. It can be dark but there are moments of brightness.

JM: The last song I wrote for the album was the title track, “Indigo.” This song really encompassed the idea behind the entire album and I had really strong instinctual feelings that the album was done once it was written. Afterwards, I came to find many more meanings behind the word as it is also a feeling, color, mood, idea, etc. I finally had a name for the feeling.