The Brno-based singer-songwriter Yana recorded her first album Journey of the Soul in Dublin, Ireland, and invited a number of top Irish musicians to join her in the studio.
Jana, why did you decide to use your first name as a pseudonym, but with a Y at the beginning?
In the English-speaking world, they would probably have trouble pronouncing my name. English is somehow more natural for me in general, and I didn't want to look for an unnecessarily complicated pseudonym.
In your case, however, it's not just a relationship with English as a language, but above all a great love of Ireland and Irish music. Can you remember the first time you got excited about music from Ireland?
When I was studying, almost everyone who wanted to improve their English went to London. But I wanted something a bit different, so I ended up in Ireland. So there is the beginning of my relationship with this country, which later developed into various friendships and musical collaborations. And my lifelong relationship with Ireland.
Of course, you can get excited about a country, but that doesn't mean that you start making friends with the top artists there. So tell us about your journey to recording your own album with Irish musicians, your role models actually?
I guess I'd put it down to my own nature. I'm not shy, and if I like a concert, for example, I have no problem going up to the artist and telling them. From such an initial conversation, a friendship can then develop. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't, because every person is different, but over the course of weeks, months or even years, you can really develop an interesting collaboration.
What is the more common model? Does it just remain as o one-off conversation, or is it that after a while you can consider the artist a friend or collaborator?
I encounter both situations because not everyone has the same nature as me, of course. But more often than not, it's really about making friendships that can lead to interesting collaborations. But that has to do with the fact that each of us tends to surround ourselves with people we like and with whom we have something in common. So it's a question of human nature in general rather than whether someone comes from Ireland or Britain.
Your musical journey started with a few singles, you released an EP and now we have your first album. From the way you wrote about it on social media before its release, I had the impression that it was a very important milestone for you on your journey. Did I get that right?
Yes, you're right. One of my colleagues told me that an album serves as a kind of calling card that you use to let the world know about you. Everything has its time and I have to say that if it wasn't for the two years of pandemic, when we couldn't travel and couldn't play, maybe this record wouldn't have been made. This way I had time not only to compose new songs, but also to go through the old material and get a clearer idea of what the album should look like and where it should go. I also used some older lyrics that have been remembered, but have only now been given their final form.
So where should the album go? Was the idea to summarise songs from a certain period or to compile them into something like a coherent story?
I had the idea of a unified theme from the beginning. After all, the title Journey of the Soul suggests something. Basically, all the songs have a common theme, which is a journey in various forms. It is not only a journey from A to B, but also an emotional journey, the journey of a person who has experienced something in a positive or negative sense, and this experience moves them somewhere.
The album features a lot of guest musicians. Did the aforementioned friendship play a major role in their selection, or did you rather look for players of individual instruments?
I always looked at who was around me to see who I might know with a given instrument and if the musician in question would be willing to participate in the project. I was very lucky here, because with one exception, everything worked out and I was really able to shoot with my friends. The exception was the accordion, when the possibilities from my immediate surroundings were exhausted, but then you always know someone who knows someone else. Eventually, a friend of mine pointed me to a bandmate of his, saying that we could probably get along together. And I think it turned out wonderfully well and the result couldn't have been better.
Where was the recording of the album and how did it go?
All my parts and some of the guests were recorded at AP Studios in the Dublin mountains. It's such a "secret treasure". You are in the countryside, the river is flowing down below, you are looking at the greenery and you feel like you are in another world. And yet you're just 20 minutes from the city centre. Some of the musicians I didn't even meet in the studio, others I brought with me. Even some well-known Irish musicians had no idea that this studio existed.
It sounds logical that you would record an album inspired by Irish music in Dublin. But would it really be different, and perhaps less perfect, if it were made in Brno or Prague, for example?
I don't think so. But again, it's a question of people rather than the particular environment. The environment does play an important role, but if you don't sit down and get to know the producer, the result will never be as good as you expect.
And you had a producer in the studio to advise you and move the album along with you?
Actually, in this case, it was probably me. When I go into the studio to record, I usually have a clear idea of what the song should sound like and where it should go. But I was very lucky in that the owner of the studio and the sound master is one person who is not only a professional, but above all respects your opinion as a performer. If you tell him that you like this version and that you don't want anything else, he may have a different opinion, but the direction he takes is based on how you feel.
Were there any instances where you took advice from one of your collaborators and entrusted the songs into his hands?
In one case, this did indeed happen. With Maurice Culligan, who is the original keyboardist of the Irish band Interference, we recorded a song called The Traveller, which is my personal tribute to Fergus O'Farrell, the frontman of the band, who passed away in 2016. I was honoured to call Fergus a friend and he remains my greatest role model. Not only in music, but also in my personal life. I found it very symbolic to have as a guest a member of the band that is the reason I do what I do and has an influence on what I do and how I do it. So in a way we have come full-circle. Apart from this song, Maurice and I recorded another one, and in the case of this one I didn't really know where it should go. So I gave Maurice free rein to put his skills, his experience and his talent into the song and take it where he thought the song should go. And I don't think it could have gone any better. Many people, after listening to the whole album, praised this track in particular. It's called Pick Up the Pieces, it closes the album, it was written during lockdown and its message is that no matter what happens to us in life, it's never so bad that we can't get out of it somehow.
Which other guests on the album would you like to mention?
Everyone deserves a mention, because everyone contributed their part to the final sound of the individual tracks and the album as a whole. But if I had to single someone out, it would definitely be J Eoin, an excellent songwriter and guitarist who has been a key figure throughout my artistic career. Another who deserves a mention is Fiachna Ó Braonáin, a member of the band Hothouse Flowers and also a presenter on Ireland's national radio station, RTÉ Radio 1. And to top it all off - Aidan O'Grady, the drummer of The Pale. The beginnings of our friendship can be traced back to the Folk celebrations in Náměšti nad Oslavou, where The Pale played on the recommendation of Glen Hansard and the band members gradually became my musical brothers.
Each song has a different arrangement and different guests. Can such an album be played live at all?
Putting this line-up together to play live is almost impossible, as musicians from all corners of Ireland contributed to the album, and in addition some of them are very busy. That's one of the advantages of recording, that you can invite whoever you want to the studio. However, we are currently arranging concerts, something is coming up in the autumn. You'll hear all about it on social media once we've fine-tuned all the details.
It's not just the number of guests, but also the fact that there are a lot of different instruments on the record, such as Hammond organ, accordion and mandolin. So which is more likely - that there will be a band that will play those songs, or that you will play them more often just by yourself with a guitar?
I consider myself with a guitar to be the ideal concert version, due to the fact that the songs are heavily built on lyrics. So I want the audience to listen to the lyrics at the concert and be able to read between the lines. And an intimate delivery is better for that.