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Review Fix: How did you get started on this project?
Yasmine Van Wilt: This is a solo project I started during my Ph.D. in Creative Writing. My aim is to propose alternative historical narratives; in other words, I’m trying to include new perspectives of events that are either already part of the people’s consciousness, but that many people don’t have a direct human connection with, or I’m trying to re-present something from an alternative viewpoint.
Review Fix: What’s your creative process like?
Van Wilt: I start with research. My songs are also the backbone of plays or films I construct. Everything is interconnected by storyline and narrative. Van Wild is the music side of this for what I’m presently doing; the solo music show, which also has performance art elements, exists outside of these projects: IE, I perform as Van Wild and do a music and performance art show, but the songs I perform I also write into my plays and films.
Review Fix: What do you think makes your work special?
Van Wilt: I’m a transmedia artist and an academic. My intention is to raise the bar of what we consider popular music and media. There’s no reason music that plays on the radio shouldn’t also have the intent of asking questions about society; I’m very influenced by Pete Seeger, by CSNY, The Band, Richie Havens—the artists, who, during the Civil Rights Movement, were important voices for change. I believe that art is an exercise of citizenship; I believe that art serves a kind of agitator for conversation, for positive social change. I’m aiming to make work that is relatable, but meaningful. I want the theatre side of what I do to be relevant to people outside the typical white upper-midle-class Broadway audiences, and I want the music side to be interesting to people who may have no interest in theatre, who may have no interest in history, typically, I try to bury the research way below the surface, to really ingest the complication of idea or an event way below the real bones of something. “Momma” is about domestic violence and rape; it explores the early twentieth century in America, looking at the vulnerability of women refugees during that era. Life was “cheap”, women who were viewed as second class citizens were treated as disposable. I’m a white LBGT dual Canadian and American citizen; I’m addressing my own history, my own experiences, in a way that shows “history”. I’m a survivor of domestic violence and rape; this is about vulnerability, present-day and historic. This is me “taking back” my story, showing a magical real view of something that has happened to women throughout history, from the perspective of a character who is, possibly, executed for killing her attacker whilst defending herself.
Review Fix: How would you describe your style?
Van Wilt: I’m bluesrock-folk.
Review Fix: What are your goals for this album?
Van Wilt: I’m hoping to continue to reach radio stations, support a national tour and try and reach new audiences. I hope people will enjoy this album, that the rawness of it speaks to people’s experiences.
Review Fix: What’s the standout song? Is there a story behind it?
Van Wilt: “Bluebird,” “Momma” and “No Riches, No Glory” have very specific stories that support the album’s narrative.
“Bluebird” is about a young woman who escapes religious persecution; she’s pursued by her execution and captor. It is the only song written with other songwriters on this album, and I really am pleased with how it came out. Davis Branch and Danny Stephens are tremendously talented and weren’t too daunted by my unusual way-of-working or dark storyline proposal! Like the other songs on the album, it has elements of magical realism. We never know for sure whether she escapes, or whether the executioner’s pursuit is real or imagined. We hear her psychological state breakdown post bridge. It is based on the Hugenot persecution during the 17th century in France and Belgium; those who were not killed by the French crown (who are symbolized in the Fleur De Lis), escaped to Quebec. This flight is part of my own heritage; but most importantly, it is also a parallel to the flight of refugees today. I am hoping that it inspires some empathy for those who are in this vulnerable position of statelessness; I feel we need to be more human in our dealings with the refugee crisis. After all, this is a global problem, and all North Americans, except for indigenous peoples and those who were forced here through the despicable act of slavery, came fleeing something or searching for a better life. “Momma” is about domestic violence, as we discussed earlier. “No Riches, No Glory” is told from the perspective of a woman whose husband was killed in the BP Blast. It’s from my play We’re Gonna Make You Whole published by Oberon Books. “Momma” comes from Unplugged, which is soon to be published by Millichap Books. “Bluebird” comes from a forthcoming play that hasn’t been announced yet. It has a lot of the next album of Van Wild songs (as well as this album) in it.
Review Fix: What’s next?
Van Wilt: I’m presently recording the follow-up album and filming the music video for my next single. The single, “If You Want,” appears in its original form on the Van Wild album. This music video will star the Bellamy Brothers and me and is a remix of my original on which we all perform. I hope you guys will like it! They are such wonderful people and artists; I’ve learned so much from collaborating with them.