Yarn is proof that hard work pays off, but so does a lucky break or two. Over the last five years, Blake Christiana and the guys in Yarn have played more than 200 shows a year, cultivating a grassroots following drawn to their eclectic Americana sound, which spans the spectrum from plucky bluegrass to psychedelic folk and clamorous alt-country. Along the way, the band has created partnerships, both professional and corporate. In the former case, there were collaborations with Edie Brickell and John Oates. In the latter instance, Charleston-based Firefly Vodka is sponsoring the band’s tour.
And perhaps there’s no clearer example of the good fortune that singer-guitarist Christiana and company have come by than the story of their fourth album, Almost Home. The band has two parties to thank for their March 2012 release: their fans, who donated $20,000 to Yarn’s Kickstarter campaign, and seven-time Grammy-winning producer Bill VornDick (Alison Krauss, Ralph Stanley), who some might say was drawn by fate to partner with the New York Americana outfit. The end result? Almost Home is Yarn’s most electrifying album to date. Christiana, for one, attributes the sound of the new disc to VornDick’s crisp, crackling production.
“He wanted the more rocking sound, so we did it,” Christiana says. “We have a record in the can that is all acoustic. I want to hopefully get that out in May.”
Yarn also plans to release Leftovers II, a collection of B-sides, in a few weeks. “It’s sort of all over the map. Maybe that’s our problem,” Christiana says. “I think we’ve struggled a little bit with where to be identified. Like our acoustic fans — I don’t want to alienate them as well. I love making those records.”
VornDick’s involvement ended up being a bit of luck. The legendary producer was at a showcase headlined by John Oates, whom VornDick had worked with previously. Yarn was on the bill, and it turned out VornDick enjoyed their music. Nothing might have come of it, but the next day while driving through North Carolina with his wife, VornDick mentioned Yarn. That’s when an interview with the band came on WNCW, the Western North Carolina Americana and roots music powerhouse. VornDick took it as a sign.
As for their Kickstarter campaign, the band was halfway through recording Almost Home and waist-deep in mounting expenses when they decided to make their plea. They’d discussed Kickstarter for a couple of years, but they were hesitant to beg. But to do the album how it deserved to be done required more money. They asked for $15,000 and received that with $5,000 to spare.
“It’s amazing,” Christiana says. “I don’t think we’ll go back to that well. Hopefully, we can sustain ourselves now, and if people want to support us, they can buy a ticket, buy a T-shirt, and hopefully buy the music.”
Oddly enough, that showcase where VornDick first heard Yarn is the gift that keeps giving. Christiana and his Yarn-mate Trevor MacArthur are big fans of Oates, and after dedicating the song “Anne” to him, the duo met him as they were walking off stage. He invited them to talk backstage after the show, where he offered them VIP tickets to his upcoming New York City show at the Beacon. They reconnected at the show and hung out together at a bar afterward.
“From there, we started talking about doing a session together. So the next time I was down in Nashville, we spent a day and we’ve got two tracks finished with him on them. We’re thinking about putting it out on a 45 in March,” he says of the tracks, also produced by VornDick. “We had a blast. I want to write again, but talk about a man with a busy schedule.”
Christiana’s especially excited to be back in Charleston, where they’ve developed a friendship with Sol Driven Train and Firefly Vodka owner Scott Newitt. Yarn met Newitt through their manager Rusty Harmon, who used to handle Hootie. Newitt lent his hand to their Almost Home tour by letting them use the company’s Firefly-emblazoned RV, as well as letting them cut some tracks at his studio.
Not surprisingly, Christiana is taken aback by all the help they’ve received. “I’m humbled every day,” he says. “It’s the only way to survive right now as a developing grassroots band. If your fans aren’t going to carry you a bit, you’re screwed.”