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.

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 Days.” 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.

Advance Praise for our new Red Letter Day album due out November 2014

Red Letter Day – Courtney Yasmineh (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

securedownloadWhen reviewing Wake Me Up When It’s Over, the last release from Courtney and the band, I had them down as an alt-country-rock hybrid, Sheryl Crowe meets Patti Smith perhaps, here though something much more provoking seems to be on offer. There has always been a genre hopping nature to what she does but Red Letter Day seems to be her “what the hell, let’s just do it” moment. As a statement of intent, opening salvo ‘Get It’ is perfect; all Anthony Kiedis styled staccato lyricism over squalling, rabid guitars. This is Courtney with the sass, not to mention the expectation, turned up to maximum.

 

What follows is the art of being throwing musical curveballs but without sounding out of line with the overall sound of the album. I guess the phrase “it’s the singer not the song “ is appropriate here as it is the bands component parts, their familiarity and skills as a working unit that provide the cohesion allowing the songs to head off into more adventurous musical territory yet without seeming too far from home.

 

If tracks such as ‘Friend of Mine’ are a direct pop-rock bridge to the previous album, it is the title track with its Daytripper-esque groove running through the middle distance and its touches of 60’s soul that show that the band know how to keep originality and momentum in an industry that expects you to merely give them what they want. Thankfully this album gives them what they didn’t know they wanted, a rare gift indeed.

 

There is room for beautiful torch songs (‘Change Your Mind’) and anthemic country rock (‘Hang on For the Ride’) but it is ‘Misfits and Losers’ that stands out as the real high point of the album for me. If ever they were going for a chart looking pop-rock crossover (think Pink!) then this certainly opens that door.

 

To sum up – Adventurous, generically eclectic, forward looking and great song writing. I’d say that’s all boxes ticked.

Hometown Article!

This is the best magazine that comes out of the area where I lived for a long time. It's nice to have their support and acknowledgement.

A Suburban Rock Star

How Wayzata resident Courtney Yasmineh defied convention and built a rock star career.

The famed Troubadour club in London has hosted the likes of Bob Dylan, Jimi Hendrix, Adele and Amy Winehouse. Yet in March 2013, there stood Wayzata resident Courtney Yasmineh, on stage, ready to close the show. Yasmineh worried that everyone would leave before she even strummed her first note, since she and her bandmates were following three acts of British natives.

“We finished the first song and I thought people were just hanging around talking to their friends or getting ready to go,” Yasmineh says. “Then they were cheering like crazy. I turned and looked back because I thought something must be going on behind me, and [drummer] Rob [Genadek] was saying, ‘They’re cheering for you.’”

The story represents Yasmineh perfectly, showing the insecurity of a musician coming to grips with her own success through a career that began with a rock-star attitude and followed an arc that is beyond unconventional.

Yasmineh always dreamed of playing music for a living. She sang in the church choir at age 8, got her first guitar at the same age, and wrote her first songs at 12, all the while watching other musicians and thinking, “How do I get to do that?” After issues in her home life in Chicago got to be too much, Yasmineh ran away and took refuge in the home of her grandfather (now deceased) on the Iron Range of Minnesota at age 17. “I moved up to northern Minnesota at that time when people thought Bob Dylan was the bomb. And I did too,” she says.

It took years before this rock-star move made Yasmineh an actual rock star. When her high school principal discovered she was living alone, he got her in touch with the head of the English department at Macalester College. She was granted a full scholarship and graduated with a degree in literature and creative writing, minoring in business and also obtaining her teaching license. Shortly after, she married a doctor, had kids, and ended up in Wayzata living the suburban lifestyle. “I loved what I was doing and I believed in my idea of having a more conventional life and raising children,” she says. “I don’t regret putting in the time.”

The years of waiting paid off in 2001, when she wrote a song after 9/11 and ended up parlaying that into her first album in 2004. “I knew I always wanted to [make an album] and I had been performing, but I thought that if you were good, you would get discovered when you were younger, and I didn’t get discovered,” Yasmineh says. “I didn’t understand you had to put your mind to it and fight for it and not take no for an answer.”

Yasmineh ditched her conventional life to do battle for her dream. She thought she would be rejected by the industry because of her age, and that people would write her off as some lady having a midlife crisis. It’s not often you find a middle-aged woman in Wayzata touring Europe with her band.

Yasmineh’s fourth record was released in December, and in addition to playing the Twin Cities club scene, she’s completed seven European tours since 2010. Over the years, Yasmineh has fine-tuned a sound that she and Genadek, her drummer and a Grammy nominated music producer, describe as “adult alternative.” She writes her own songs, with Genadek serving as a sounding board for ideas while helping create the musical arrangements and giving Yasmineh the honest, sometimes brutal, feedback she needs.

“She’s started coming into her own and becoming more confident in herself,” Genadek says. “From what she was writing about and where she came from, it seems like a pretty battered place. You go through anything like that and you’re going to be standing on shaky ground—especially with something as personal as music.”

Her songs trace her experiences which give her lyrics meaning. Whether it’s her teenage fans who look up to her or her middle-aged fans who understand what she’s going through, Yasmineh has found her audience through coming to grips with her personal history.

“People lose the ability to write about relationships and everyday sentiments that everybody can relate to,” she says of musicians who grind out a life on the road. “As a songwriter, [my background] has been better—what I’d like it to be is I can offer people meaningful lyrics with real-life experiences that matter to them.”

In March, one year after her gig at the Troubadour, Yasmineh and her band went to Austin, Texas, to play SXSW, one of the biggest music festivals of the year. She’s built a music career during a time in life when most people worry their kids will decide one day they’re leaving school to become a rock star.

“You can defy convention with a tiny bit more confidence,” Yasmineh says. “It has taken all these years to convince myself I can do this… Right this minute, I’m happier about my career than I think a lot of women would say with whatever career they’re doing,” she says “I’m doing the best work of my career right now.”

Minneapolis TV piece from their Women Who Rock Series

 

Thanks to the people at WCCO TV out of Minneapolis who put together this fun piece and had me on their program live at 5 in the morning on the station's rooftop to promote the show!

Nice Interview Out of the Northcountry

Here's the link to this nice Q&A with a wonderful writer and artist from the North Country on the shores of Lake Superior. I will be up there soon for a Bob Dylan Tribute Concert May 18th.

http://pioneerproductions.blogspot.com/2014/04/courtney-yasmineh-returns-for-salute-to_18.html

And here it is in it's entirety for your amusement and general edification on the subject of all things CY......

Courtney Yasmineh Returns for A Salute to the Music of Bob Dylan (Interview)
When Courtney Yasmineh joined Scarlet Rivera and Gene Lafond last year at Weber Hall, there was a certain amount of risk as she was accustomed to performing with her own band and not Gene's backup band The Wild Unknown. On top of that, an hour before showtime Courtney and Scarlet were shaken up in a car accident on the way to getting ready for the concert. Despite the distractions, both performers never let on -- they were cool like ice, like fire -- and a stellar concert ensued.

Once on the stage Yamineh holds nothing back. You can feel the energy she projects, even from the farthest corners of the hall. It's exciting to have her here again for the upcoming kickoff event of our North Country Dylan Days Celebration which is now just a month away.

EN: You recently had to perform at SXSW. How’d it go? 

Courtney Yasmineh: SXSW was such a growth experience for me and for my band. We were so pleased to be invited, first of all, for the first time in my career. We played two prime time evening shows on the main street of Austin where most of the action is for up and coming artists. We were part of the Red Gorilla Fest which is a subdivision of the scene down there that really caters to new artists. We played on rooftop stages at two different venues to enthusiastic crowds. 

I felt like I really got to see how the American SXSW audience, who are mostly young people from around the country who love new music, responded to my songs and my band's presentation. I knew going in that this could be discouraging for me if it didn't go well, but honestly, I was not prepared for how well we were received! I feel so inspired and full of conviction as a result of our efforts there, and that is a great gift! 

EN: Last year you told me of a book you wanted to write. How’s that going? 

CY: I have written about 200 pages of the story of my adolescent experience. I ran away from Chicago to Northern Minnesota when I was seventeen mostly because my parents were getting divorced and I was extremely disillusioned with everything about my young life there. I went to live on Lake Vermilion in a cabin my Grandfather had left to our family when he died. And that winter I learned as many Bob Dylan songs as I could, and began performing with my guitar. I had already started writing songs, but that winter provided much new inspiration and I wrote many songs about my experience. 

EN: What is it that so attracts you to Dylan’s music? 

CY: The joy for me in singing songs that Bob Dylan has written is that he is my greatest hero and his body of work and his career are such an inspiration to me. 

EN: What are your favorite Dylan songs that you like to sing? 

CY: I like to sing Dylan's song "Sara"... I like when he says lines like "staying up for days in the Chelsea Hotel writing 'Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowlands' for you." Staying up for days!!!! Love that!!! 

I also like "Times They Are A-Changin'" because it's so brilliant and I think it takes a lot to deliver it with the right tone… not too strident… not too sentimental… and especially coming from a female, those words have a lot of power and can be off-putting. 

My favorite might be "Tom Thumb's Blues." A better folk rock opening line has never been written than..."When you're lost in the rain in Juarez and it's Easter time too..." When delivered right, that line can make you feel like a real bad ass on the microphone! 

EN: What have you learned about yourself through your experiences performing? 

CY: I've learned a lot about myself over the last few years of performing for people in other cities, other countries, and at home in Minnesota. I've learned that I am a people pleaser and I want to see people's eyes light up. I've learned that I do not have to be loud to be heard. I've learned that my most helpful attribute in performance is how much I care about the meaning of the words. I've learned that I have to really feel good about the level of quality of what I'm offering in order for me to relax and put on a fun show. 

EN: What kind of thoughts are you thinking when you look at an audience at the beginning of a concert? 

CY: At the beginning of a concert, I am usually already playing the first song, watching people, feeling their level of acceptance of my band, feeling how the band likes the situation… the sound quality, the circumstances of how we've been treated so far....and if all's well, about half way into the first song, I start thinking...'okay, we've got this' and then I relax and start having the time of my life. 

* * * * *

EdNote: This blog entry and others like it have the aim of raising awareness for the upcoming Salute to the Music of Bob Dylan concert which will kick off the 2014 North Country Dylan Celebration in Duluth and Hibbing. For tickets to this great event visitdulutharmory.org/events

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