Love from the hometown

This article appeared in the small local paper from the town where I didn't grow up, but where I spent twenty years of my life, being a good citizen in a community of good citizens. When I broke out to be the rock and roller I was meant to be, my town rolled with it and started writing nice articles like this one.....thanks Wayzata, you rock.

Courtney Yasmineh readies her new album “Red Letter Day”

From left: John Lehmkuhl, Jonathan Benson, Courtney Yasmineh and Rob Genadek. (Submitted photo)

From left: John Lehmkuhl, Jonathan Benson, Courtney Yasmineh and Rob Genadek. (Submitted photo)

Courtney Yasmineh felt the pull to be a performer at a young age. When she was 6 years old, her parents brought her to a church choir concert in her hometown Chicago. Yasmineh remembers a girl the same age as her singing a solo in the middle of the performance.

“When she opened her mouth, I freaked out,” Yasmineh remembers, “I kept saying to my parents, ‘How did she get to do that?’”

The feeling lingered. When she went to concerts with her friends growing up, Yasmineh could only watch wide-eyed at whoever was behind the microphone.

“There would be something inside of me screaming, ‘Why am I not doing that? How do you get to do that? How do you get to be that person on that stage?’”

Yasmineh said she performed often in school, but said she wanted something more. She wanted to write her own songs. She wanted to do something more meaningful.

“I wanted to be more like Bob Dylan,” she said.

If only Yasmineh knew how prophetic that feeling would later become.

Up on the Iron Range

Yasmineh left Chicago in a stolen Jaguar. She was 16 when she took her father’s car and headed to northern Minnesota.

“My parents got divorced,” Yasmineh said. “I ran away from home because my family life was really bad at that time, and the divorce was very upsetting.”

She found refuge in her late grandfather’s hunting cabin in the small Iron Range town of Tower.

Less than an hour from Dylan’s hometown of Hibbing, Yasmineh spent her days listening to bootlegged recordings of Dylan, playing the tapes on her grandfather’s dictation machine left in the cabin. In the winter, she worked to keep the wood-burning stove running to heat the small cabin.

She enrolled to the town’s high school for her senior year. She told the school that she had just moved to town with her parents and signing their names on any documents the teachers handed out.

Yasmineh went to the local bars with her guitar. She sat in with a local bluegrass band, singing harmony and performing some of her own songs.

“It was a blast,” she remembers.

But living on her own was a scary new experience. When the cabin’s pipes froze that winter, Yasmineh snuck into the high school to take showers in the gym. One day, the high school’s principal confronted her after he saw her sneaking into the school after hours.

Yasmineh told the principal her story. Being close to graduation, the principal decided to let her finish out the school year, but he wanted her to meet with his friend – the head of the English Department at Macalester College in St. Paul. Reluctantly, Yasmineh agreed and boarded a Greyhound bus to the Twin Cities after graduation.

Yasmineh attended Macalester on a full scholarship, finishing with a degree in creative writing and earning her teaching license. She would get married soon after college and move to Wayzata to settle down into a suburban lifestyle. While she still wrote and performed as much as she could, Yasmineh’s aspirations to become a professional musician were put on hold.

A second wind

After raising three kids, all graduating from Wayzata High School, Yasmineh’s focus began to shift back to music. After years of living the conventional life, Yasmineh said she was ready to take a shot at realizing her dream of becoming a fulltime musician.

With the release of an acoustic album of folk songs in 2004, Yasmineh said she felt revitalized.

“I would get this glimmer of what you could be. There were moments of a great show or a good turnout … But I was very uneven in how I performed because I didn’t play shows often enough,” she said. “But it would be those glimmers where I’d think that I could probably be good at this if I could do it every night.”

Blending alternative rock, folk, country and pop, Yasmineh and her band worked out of Brewhouse Studios in Minneapolis.

Today, Yasmineh is busy putting the finishing touches on her fourth album, “Red Letter Day.” The album’s release will be celebrated with a show at the Icehouse in Minneapolis Friday, Nov. 21.

The new album, “Red Letter Day,” from Wayzata’s Courtney Yasmineh. A release show for the album is Nov. 21 at the Icehouse in Minneapolis. (Submitted photo)

The new album, “Red Letter Day,” from Wayzata’s Courtney Yasmineh. A release show for the album is Nov. 21 at the Icehouse in Minneapolis. (Submitted photo)

“This one is really different from the other records,” Yasmineh said.

The singer-songwriter is on the phone from New York. While she still has a house in Wayzata, she’s been splitting her time between Minnesota and New York. The new album was recorded at No Shame Labs in New York City’s SoHo neighborhood and brought back to the Minneapolis studio for mixing and mastering.

“It’s still very much a Twin Cities project,” Yasmineh said.

Restricted by a tight budget, the new album was recorded in just nine days.

During the short time frame, Yasmineh also busily wrote songs that would find themselves onto the new record. It was a practice she said shaped the album’s sound and gave it a feeling of intensity and immediacy.

While the practice proved stressful, the singer-songwriter said the end product was worth the headaches.

“This is the best record of my career,” Yasmineh said confidently.

The songwriter said the decision to record in New York was largely based on the opportunity to work with musican-producer Charlie Drayton, whose long list of credentials include work with Fiona Apple, Keith Richards and Paul Simon.

Yasmineh said the new album takes life a little more lightheartedly than her past albums.

“I wanted it to be a fun record for people to listen to,” she said.

The singer and her band have also kept a busy tour schedule over the years. Having returned from a 10-date tour of the Netherlands, Belgium and France, they’re already planning a tour of Europe in March. So far, Yasmineh has been on nine tours performing in clubs around Europe. But she said the treks to exotic locations overseas have felt far from a vacation.

“I’m just trying to go anywhere where people like my music,” Yasmineh added. “Whether it’s South by Southwest (music festival) or Amsterdam. And it’s not like we’re all living the dream in Paris. We play in Paris, but it’s hard work. It’s the same as playing a club anywhere else.”

Grammy nominated producer Rob Genadek, owner of Minneapolis’ Brewhouse Studios and producer on the recent album, has become a longtime collaborator with Yasmineh. Genadek is also a drummer in the band has helped shape the singer-songwriter’s sound over the years. It’s a sound Yasmineh said is based on her desire to forge ahead at all costs.

“And it’s not about fame and fortune,” Yasmineh added. “I just want to keep making records and keep collaborating with great people… That’s all I want.”

And now, that desire that has led to the most recent and proud step in her career.

“I feel like this record has been what I’ve always wanted to do,” Yasmineh said. “And I’m finally getting to do it.”

Contact Jason Jenkins at jason.jenkins@ecm-inc.com

If you go:

Courtney Yasmineh album release party for “Red Letter Day” with Sunday Islands (featuring Mayda)

Where: Icehouse, 2528 Nicollet Ave. S., Minneapolis

When: 10 p.m. doors, 10:30 p.m. show

Price: $8 advance, $10 at the door

Tickets and Info: icehousempls.com.

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