For the record, Yves Jarvis and Romy Lightman are not satanists, but they are definitely on another level. Although the songwriting companions were often mistaken for satanists by visitors to the Tree Museum (an outdoor art gallery where the duo lived and recorded their new album, Banned), they were not worshipping the devil. Rather, they were consciously exploring the unknown. Using the practice of free improvisation, the collaborators were in search of a deeper musical connection, exorcising their inner demons in order to evolve out of their respective comfort zones.
The very act of collaborating is new for Jarvis. Whether on his 2019 record, The Same But By Different Means, or his most recent effort, Sundry Rock Song Stock (2020), he has always found success working alone. In his solo work, Jarvis has cultivated a more down-tempo, textural style of deconstructed songwriting, whereas with the Lightman Jarvis Ecstatic Band, he takes a different approach. By opening up his creative practice to include Lightman, Jarvis took up the drums to put the rawness and potency of rhythm on display. “For this record, I wanted to have the speed and raw energy be illustrated in how we were playing our instruments, not just in the breaking down of the tempo,” says Jarvis.
For Lightman, who plays synth and sings on Banned, part of going against the grain of her own conventions meant embracing Jarvis’ improvisational songwriting style. This is a marked departure from her work with Tasseomancy, the ethereal Toronto-based folk duo she fronts with her twin sister, a project in which Lightman’s touch for meticulous songcraft has long been on display.
The product of this collective overcoming is Banned, an album that vibrates with energetic and intellectual symbiosis. “There was so much deep listening,” says Lightman. “In a musical format, it really allowed us to both totally transcend.”
We caught up with the two songwriters in Montreal to learn more about the making of the record and what’s next for the Lightman Jarvis Ecstatic Band.
Congrats on the album. I wanted to start by asking how it feels to be putting out music at this time, in a nearly post-pandemic world.
Lightman: There’s a Gregorian calendar aspect, but even the situation with the pandemic, with the virus, pushes people into a state of unknown. And I think that as artists and creatives, we are so in sync with living that way of being — it’s part of the practice of this record.
Jarvis: As artists we have to lift our finger and see which way the wind is blowing, right?
Lightman: I don’t think anyone was prepared for what was going to happen — but I think that was the whole point. How do you riff, how do you adapt, how do you get flexible in this period? I actually feel like as artists we’ve gone from being labelled satanists – that’s a repetition of where we were living, everything thought we were satanists – to actually being able to contribute to the conversation in a way that is kind of insightful. And even with the record itself. Yves has a long foundation of improvisation – that’s a huge part of his music practice – but for me it’s a new thing. The essence of the record is exploratory in that way. We were just trusting each other as the songs progressed.
That becomes a very symbolic message when nobody can trust other people and are uncertain of the future.
Lightman: Ya definitely. And I’m not saying that fear was the muse on this record but I think that a huge energy in all this is risk. I think that is a huge practice for any kind of artist, but essential maybe even human being. I’m sure we can expand that kind of nature to so many other aspects of exploration and self-exploration.
So it would be too simplistic to say that the message is: hey urban young people, nature is not that scary. But is there something there?
Jarvis: Yes. I wouldn’t say it’s too simple, I would say it’s too soft. The message is actually: there is no distinction at all and we must give the life force its due and manifest it, fulfil it, for all of its promise.
There’s a risk in opening oneself up to what that might look like, I guess…
Jarvis: Yes because you’re forced to go counter-culture because society moves by a different time and the narrative follows that, so to zoom out and see the force for the trees so to speak is never popular – it can’t be popular.
Lightman: I think there are some important forces that exist there (in nature) that help a lot of people, if we could tune into it. But I agree, it’s not about getting back to the land because …
Jarvis: It externalizes the responsibility.
Lightman: The thing is like, in terms of answers, I think that goes back to the initial false paradigm that we’re all in, which is like: what are we all going to do? To me that feels like such a modality, you know, it’s like that same thing: I feel anxious, what’s the answer to this? Well what we’re proposing is not that it’s an answerless thing but that it’s endless. That process of really going in, or allowing yourself to let go, or allowing yourself to be open, that’s sort of never ending. I would say from an individualist perspective how that’s going to formulate on each person is going to be site specific.
Jarvis: The solutions are formless.
You made the record at the Tree Museum. Aside from being mistaken for satanists, what was that experience like?
Lightman: It wasn’t just like we just went to the woods for the pandemic, this has been an ongoing way of being for years now. So at this point the information is there, and I feel like the collaboration with nature – it’s less outcome based and more just, for me personally, using some of the elements of nature as principles for how to play.
For myself, being primarily a songwriter, I think that the structure of the songs really shifted while we were there. And it became much more symbiotic. I feel like it was about creating a symbiotic resonance when we were playing which I feel like is a nod to what happens naturally, underground.
Jarvis: Our goal, our destination, is explicitly addressed, but our means of getting there is contingent upon ‘how deep can we connect right now?’ And that is an experiment.
And how was it, Romy, working with Yves’ improvisational style?
Lightman: For me it was a very magical experience. It was alchemical, I felt like it was really effortless. There was so much deep listening. I felt really heard. In a musical form, it allowed us both to totally transcend, which was a new experience for me. Music for me has been a little more intellectualized.
This whole notion of going with what it is, must be powerful to feel.
Jarvis: I feel like modern music exists mostly in the post, you know, and it’s like music is right now! Something that is utterly lost is the presence of music. It comes down to mindfulness, because in that free improve, free association, that dialogue, that interplay; if you are mindful, and if you are present, and if you are extracting as much of that essence as you can, for all that it is, then you have to be satisfied. You have to be fulfilled with it, you have no choice, because if not you don’t trust yourself. If not, you don’t have any agency, you don’t know who you are or how to express yourself.
And what does the future hold for this record and this project?
Jarvis: This is the beginning of us exploring these ideas together. I don’t think it’s a one-off. I think that there is maybe a life long arc to this discussion.
Lightman: The energy of this record, I think ultimately was very indicative of the time and circumstance. It would be interesting to maintain some of the principles of how we approach, and what could come out.