Ken Yates talks new album, Cerulean and collaborating with some of his favourite singers

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Watch the full interview above.

Earlier this month, singer-songwriter Ken Yates released his fourth full-length album, Cerulean, where the musician emerges from the depths of despair to recognize life’s imperfections and ultimately finds hope and acceptance.

“It started kind of right at the beginning of the pandemic,” he tells me from his new home in Creemore, ON. “I released my last record in May of 2020 during the pandemic or right when it started. And then yeah, once that record was out, it was sort of just like, okay, what now? I was supposed to be on the road a bunch and, you know, cancelled 40 shows. I’m sure you’ve heard this story from everybody at this point. It took me a long time to actually write anything. I think myself and a lot of other artists, I think we all thought like, oh, now we have this unlimited time to write music. And I feel like everybody right at the beginning found it hard to actually write just because I think it was just this adjustment of having all this time. And then eventually I kinda started to get into a routine of writing and then the album kind of came together really fast. I would say I wrote the bulk of the songs in a four or five month period. So that’s a lot quicker than usual for me. So yeah, it came together pretty quick.”

Cerulean meets Yates at his darkest and most vulnerable, as he transforms the pain of grief, fear and loss into an 11-track quest towards hope, light and peace. A crucial vehicle out of the depths of darkness and bitterness for Yates, Cerulean serves as a powerful reemergence filled with his signature remarkable vocal intimacy as well as a profound yet candid peek into the universal human experience.

In May 2020, Yates released his third album, Quiet Talkers, which was met with high praise from tastemakers and a co-sign from fellow musician John Mayer, who said, “Want to hear a great song? I mean a REALLY great song? Ken Yates wrote a tune called “I Don’t Wanna Fall In Love” and posted a live video of it on YouTube. This song moved me when I first heard it and it still does today.”

Over the last decade, Ken Yates has solidified himself as a prolific musician, combining heartfelt lyricism, genuine authenticity and hypnotic guitar strums. After studying at the Berklee College of Music, Yates released The Backseat EP in 2011, followed by his full-length debut Twenty-Three in 2013. He won the Colleen Peterson Songwriting Award in 2014 for his song “The One That Got Away” and released his second album, Huntsville, in 2016, produced by Jim Bryson. By 2017, Yates was making waves in folk with his poignant songwriting, winning the awards for Canadian Folk Music Award for both Songwriter of the Year and New Artist of the Year. Now, with a fresh perspective and renewed sense of self, Yates brings honesty, growth and profound peace to his latest work, Cerulean. Nonetheless, Cerulean feels like a hard reset on Yates’ art and artistry. Reuniting with producer Jim Bryson, the album firmly steps into indie-folk and alternative territories – he cites Big Thief, Andy Shauf, and The War On Drugs as a few of his inspirations.

The first song Yates wrote for the new record was The Big One, which opens the album and features fellow Ontarian, Kathleen Edwards.

“I learned about the big one a few years earlier when I was I was travelling in the Pacific Northwest and hanging out with some friends who lived out there and one of my friends had recently relocated there from Tennessee and she was terrified of the big one, which I had never heard about, but it’s basically the Pacific Northwest is on a massive fault line that is expected to have a massive earthquake at some point. And there’ll be a lot of residual effects of a giant tsunami. And so we’d be going on hikes or walking around some of the towns we were going to, and she’d be pointing out all the tsunami evacuation signs. And it got to the point where then I started noticing them all the time and it just kind of became a recurring thought in my head. So I didn’t really set out to write a song about that, but I think subconsciously that lyric kind of worked its way into my brain.”

The Big One is a touching apocalyptic lullaby where Yates softly sings, ‘Don’t worry baby, if we’re caught in the swell / We’ll be there together for better or for well / When the sky is falling I won’t turn and run / I’ll be holding your hand when the big one comes.’ 

“This is probably the most connected album I’ve written,” Yates says of the songs on the record. “And I think it’s because it’s probably the most personal album I’ve written. So there’s definitely a big connection personally for me. I was going through a lot of stuff at the time. I mean, on top of the pandemic, which was already very difficult, especially for a touring musician, my mom was diagnosed with stage four cancer and we were going through a lot as a family and I was just kind of struggling with a lot of stuff personally, I guess I would say like anger and bitterness at first and definitely some anxiety and just a bunch of different emotions. I don’t think I set out to write an album about all that, but I think subconsciously I was really working through a lot of these things personally. And so I would say this is the first album that I think is just very much specifically about me in my life. Whereas I think my last album, I like to tell people that it was sort of like thoughts from a wallflower, like more of an observer observing other people’s lives. Whereas this record is very much about just kind of what I was going through and the timeline of working through all that stuff.”

CERULEAN TRACKLIST

  • 01. The Big One (feat. Kathleen Edwards)
  • 02. The Future Is Dead 
  • 03. Don’t Mean To Wake You (feat. Stephanie Lambring)
  • 04. Consolation Prize (feat. Katie Pruitt)
  • 05. Small Doses
  • 06. Best Of The Broken Things 
  • 07. Honest Light (feat. Caroline Marie Brooks) 
  • 08. Half Clenched Teeth 
  • 09. Good Things (feat. Liz Longley) 
  • 10. Grocery Store 
  • 11. Cerulean 
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