Touring behind the strength of their 2013 release, Shine the Light On, the formerly Brooklyn-based sextet Yarn have learned some hard lessons since their first tour eight years ago. One of those lessons was, once you enter a market, foster a relationship with that city — hence their many stops in the Holy City over the years, and their honorary status with bands in the local roots music scene.
“When we first started leaving New York, Charleston was one of the stops we were always sure to make,” lead singer Blake Christiana explains. “The town was just turned on to us from the first time we ever went down there. I mean, it wasn’t a huge crowd, but the people that were there were singing along to the point that we were dumbfounded. It’s just one of those towns where we instantly made friends with the staffs of the places we played. And for the most part, those folks are still working those places, and that was seven or eight years ago. The last couple of shows, we’ve kind of been able to get over that hump and really pack them in.”
If there’s a perfect way to break into an area, no one has told Christiana what it is yet.
“I don’t know if there is any rhyme or reason to anyone’s success, and if I could figure out the secret I would be as big as Bruce Springsteen right now,” the singer says with a laugh. “The local support really helps, because you really need someone there to tell people, ‘Hey, stop what you’re doing and come to this show.’ If a local music lover that has some trust within that music community really goes to bat for you, people will listen.”
In addition to getting local word-of-mouth support, Christiana says that hammering a town could also eventually lead to success. “It’s just a roll of the dice,” he says. “You never know what will work, but if you can get both of those scenarios in place, it’ll eventually end in a positive experience.”
Yarn doesn’t attack a town in quite the same way they once did when they were first starting out. Part of the reason for that is that in the years since they began touring there just aren’t that many new markets that the band hasn’t already performed in. The weariness of life on the road shouldn’t be discounted, however.
In their younger days, Christiana and company performed over 200 shows a year, driving on to the next town as soon as they were done with a given night’s show. Today, the band has eased off the gas a bit.
“We’ll probably step it up again later in the year, but it’s fallen back to about 130, 140 shows a year,” he admits. “That was our goal, to get our overall numbers up but not play quite as much. I mean, it’s pretty grueling to play 200 shows a year. It gets intense, but on the other hand we kind of love it, so we may end up going back to that. It’s trailed off a bit, but we’re looking to play every night of the week.”
While Christiana has recently moved to Raleigh, N.C., the band has two members still living in Brooklyn, taking on side gigs during nights off. When asked about the breeding ground for Americana acts that the hipster enclave has become, the singer points toward his city-residing bandmates.
“In my opinion, you have the best musicians in the world at your disposal inside that city, so you can put a band together there any night of the week that would be super-professional and super-talented. To have that, and have people create those kinds of bands through musical collaboration, you’ve already got a leg up over bands trying to break out in smaller cities,” he says. “I grew in Schenectady, and I couldn’t have put a band like Yarn together there, because good musicians go to where good music is made.”
Still, Yarn has emerged as one of the most successful touring bands from the current crop of bands attempting to break out of the bustling Americana scene. Charleston is a city full of musical acts that look at this band of Northerners and ask, “Why them and not us?” Christiana doesn’t have an answer for his success, but he does have some advice for anyone looking to branch out of their hometown.
“Get off the bar stool and hustle,” the singer says. “Work as hard as you possibly can. There are lots of bands out there that didn’t make it over bands that did, and the only difference is that the ones that did worked a little harder for it. Any phone number you get, call it, because a connection is a connection. When I first started out I didn’t know one thing about being a touring band, but I did what I had to do, which was work hard.”
“If all else fails,” he continues, “party with your fans.”