Ya Tseen discuss collaborating in a spaceship, and not getting precious about it

Ya Tseen play songs from 'Indian Yard' (MPR)

Ya Tseen, the newest project from the multi-disciplinary Indigenous artist Nicholas Galanin, join The Current to play songs from their debut record Indian Yard. Galanin and his longtime collaborator OCnotes discuss the making of the record, their spaceship recording studio in Sitka, Alaska, and the importance of not getting precious about your work in collaborations.

Interview Transcript

Edited for clarity and length.

MADDIE: We just heard "Knives" performed live here by Ya Tseen, I'm Maddie hanging out here for a virtual session on The Current. We've got OCnotes and Nicholas here from Ya Tseen. Thanks guys for being here.

OCNOTES: What's happenin'?

NICHOLAS GALANIN: Thanks for having us.

Yeah, we're gonna jump into another track from them and then get to get to chatting a little bit about the new album and all that good stuff. Right now we've got Ya Tseen here with "A Feeling Undefined".

[music: "A Feeling Undefined" by Ya Tseen]

That was just Ya Tseen performing "A Feeling Undefined" they have another track with us but first we're gonna hang out and have a little conversation. Nicholas, OCnotes -- thanks for being here again. How are you guys doing?

OCNOTES: Magnificent, magnificent.


I know sometimes it's funny with like these virtual things where you could be in the same city and you know in different little panels or across the world from each other. Where you guys both hanging out right now? Where you located?

NICHOLAS GALANINL I'm in Sitka, Alaska.

OCNOTES: Yeah, I'm just nowhere. I'm in America. North America.

Perfect. Yeah, time and place. Ya Tseen had your debut album under that moniker come out this spring. Nicholas, I know you've done a lot of projects under different names before, what inspired you to embark on Ya Tseen as a new moniker and new band?

NICHOLAS GALANIN: We had several other projects, and the last project prior to this was Indian Agent, and you know, just times change, we're changing. Then, of course, opportunity of where we're sharing this music is changing. So it just made sense.

Do you feel like you approach this project differently than you've approached musical endeavors in the past?

NICHOLAS GALANIN: Not really, but yes, because we're always changing, you know? That's always going to be different. Next project we do, whatever we call it, it's going to be different. So I think we're always just growing and moving and exploring new things.

Yeah, on Indian Yard and in the videos you shared with us today, I feel like there's a real sense of collective and collaboration evident on this album. Is that something that was important to you in the songwriting process?

NICHOLAS GALANIN: Definitely, I would say every track and all these projects we do, there's so much alchemy, that collaborators bring into the project every step of the way.

How has it been collaborating together? Is that something that's kind of changed in the past year and a half or so as physical barriers have been a little bit more present in between gathering?

OCNOTES: Not so much. I mean, a little bit, but we've always collaborated. We've been getting down for years on each other's stuff for a long time. Even then, Nikki's a technology cat, so he was the first cat who introduced me to Splice, Ableton Splice. And so we were rocking over the internet as well for a while, so it was actually very simple. We all have our own creative spaces to do things and have the internet. So it actually wasn't too wacky of a change because it's just something that we do, you know what I mean? Yeah, shout out to Ableton Splice.

NICHOLAS GALANIN: Everything's different, right? Like being there in-person, we're going to capture things that we could never arrive at doing it at a distance. It's the same the other way around, like working alone and distance also will put us somewhere different with the project. So they both have their uses. But there was a time, I'd be flying some of these artists and collaborators into the studio space up here and we'd work for a week or two, just capturing ideas. We still have a lot of the songs that haven't been finished yet. Otis was up here for what, a month recently? Or some time like that, and he was in the space working, I couldn't be there all the time, because I had some other art projects happening simultaneously. But other artists were in there working with them. Rotating doors.

How does working out of Sitka, Alaska feel like it is impacting your work, or when you bring people into that space do you feel like it sort of changes their outlook on music?

NICHOLAS GALANIN: You can't help but be impacted by the land here. The ocean, the mountains, and what this place is, so I feel like I don't know what that means to everybody. I have my own relationship with it--ancestral, it goes back to my roots and my family lineage. But yeah, you can't escape it.

OCNOTES: I can definitely say that for me, not being from there, it's definitely a special place. And then from the creative perspective, the spaceship that we're working out of--the laboratory is just crazy. The equipment is very serious, you know what I mean? And so it's very easy to just get anything out. Any ideas, whatever you want to do--not only can you just do it, but you could do it in the grandest way, you know what I'm saying? So it's instantly, if you're a real creative person, you're instantly activated just by being in the space, you know what I mean? So it's really, really special.

Nicholas, you were talking a little bit about other creative projects, I know you've kind of worked in a wide variety of mediums, how does your music making compare to the other sort of visual and installation based works you you're working on?

NICHOLAS GALANIN: I feel like it's--I don't separate the process myself. I feel like consumers and audience and anybody that's engaging in work on the other side of it, beyond creating it, tend to draw those boundaries and borders of where it stops and begins. So yeah, it's all connected.

Yeah, absolutely. This video that we are in the process of watching, these live sessions are in such a beautiful place. What was the story behind the recording of these live videos for us?

OCNOTES: Like he says, it's this cat's backyard, you know, he's got this trail. I think it's called Indian River Trail, and it's a beautiful forest, like there is all over the place right there. You know, I mean? And we decided that it would be a great spot to take some of the instruments and go and rock for a minute, but you can go ahead and elaborate on that. Nikki, I just--there was that little, what do they call that a pregnant pause?

NICHOLAS GALANIN: [laughs] Yeah, this is the first time we had the live band together, up here anyways, all at once. Everybody was between rockin' in the spaceship in the studio. We're honored to do these acoustic sessions and stuff. So it's pretty easy to step outside into the rainforests. One that you don't see, which I wish we included in the session was Jesse Huey, who rocks with us and edited the visuals on this video, did a mosquitos outtake where we're just swatting the bugs in between songs.

OCNOTES: It's gold, it's hilarious. It got real serious with the bugs towards the end. It was just crazy. Like you really wouldn't expect that I guess you never really associate Alaska with mad no-see-ums and mosquitoes and whatnots, I don't even know it's probably not even a mosquito, it's probably just no-see-ums I'm not sure. Either way, it gets real.

You guys attracted an audience out there.

NICHOLAS GALANIN: There was an audience, and then the bears, the eagles.

Exactly, there you go. I think I'd take like the bears and the eagles over the mosquitoes. But yeah, they're all out there.

NICHOLAS GALANIN: Like they say, you can't choose your fan base or something like that?

Yeah, you were saying that it's your first time getting the whole live band together for this, you know, grand festival to the mosquitoes and the bears out there. How'd it feel getting the live band together?

OCNOTES: Amazing. Can't wait to rock everywhere. Yeah, cats is gonna trip. We got such a magnificent live situation. I could be perceived as a hardened cat from time to time, although that's not true, man. But there's a few things that really get me man, and hits the little tear button man, and that's why I know his real music is one of them. When we was doing the thing, there was multiple times I was just like, "Whew!" I had the watery eyes, man. Like we really just did that right there! You know what I'm saying? That's real. That's when you know it's real, like, "Oh my gosh, bro, that felt good!" Sounded good. It felt good. I can't wait to do it on huge speakers for audiences. They'll be hugging each other and clicking their lighters and their vapes now, probably pushing their little vape buttons. That's the future lighter, personal blue vape button.

Yeah, what are you most excited about--you're kind of just talking about the feeling of like, creating cool stuff. What specifically has been really exciting about having that live band together? What's kind of formed out of the physical iteration of Ya Tseen?

NICHOLAS GALANIN: I mean, I'm excited for the--we're already making new versions, or renditions of the album songs. That just happens naturally, and then the new sounds that we're making now, we've started the next record already. I'm excited for everything, all that.

OCNOTES: Yeah, what he said, exactly. Also the live show. These new cats, man. Just jammin' with Nico, and Jase--these new additional musicians that we got the opportunity to rock with. They're just so dope, and even during those sessions--in recording these sessions, there's so many ideas you get just from collaborating with--working with casts together. That's just always a really great feeling. That's the feeling--that's that feeling right there that you can't get alone in your room making beats, you know what I mean? Or your with your headphones, whatever. It's the feeling that you get only with those folks. And so it's real nice to have that right now, I'm excited to see what's going to come from it.

Yeah, I really like that a couple times you guys have referred to your recording space in Alaska as "the spaceship," is that sort of how you look at that space? What is your relationship with it like?

NICHOLAS GALANIN: It's a spaceship. It takes us places. It takes us forward and takes us back. We do many things, we got access. It's not this billion dollar evil man's spaceship. It's just for good.

OCNOTES: It's real. You got lights, zipping and zangin' and all over the place. You got the colors changing inside, the vibe is always super nice. It's a motivating space for creativity. It's impossible to not want to just go in there and tap a key or pluck a string, there's just so many possibilities that you're gonna at least want to twist a knob because they're everywhere, just like oh my gosh. I always compare it to Guitar Center, you know what I'm saying? This cat got a Guitar Center--whether you like music or you're a kid, even if you're not interested you're gonna want to just like "Oooh! Bloop!" Yeah. Then it definitely removes you, as a visitor, as a guest of the of the ship you feel me? As a patron of the space, travel mechanism--Sitka is Sitka, it's a whole spot. But when you're in that area and when you're in that room, it's a different place. It's a dope spot. I'd be in there for hours, literally, like, sometimes a whole day and leave, and then you go outside and just like, "Woahhh, that's right, I'm in Alaska. Holy--whoa." It's like seven bald eagles over there, that's crazy. I forgot. Right there.

When you guys get into the studio, do you feel like you already have songs written? Or it sounds like you kind of have an organic creative process together? How does that process work for recording music for Ya Tseen?

OCNOTES: I don't know. It's such a mixed jumble, bubblegum jar of--it's a flow. What it is is a constant flow. I think everybody works on--does music different. I got a gajillion songs, I'm always thinking of it. So sometimes, I just think of an idea and you just do that. You just run with that idea. Sometimes I got things that are halfway done, that I've been wanting to work on or add two more in that situation. But when I'm in Alaska, with Ya Tseen and all that, with the cats, I like to just put as much as I can, meaning like new ideas and past ideas, and just do whatever I can to them, and then just pass them on. And let them just be--they're born, I pass them on and they get raised by whoever, whatever else and it always turns into something way better than anything I could have thought of by myself. My opinion.

NICHOLAS GALANIN: It's a different process for everybody. Everybody has their own instincts and experiences. Zak D. who's not here at the interview right now is such an incredible musician himself--a lot of times I'll capture something on the guitar or something, and I'll be like, "I'm just gonna leave it right here until Zak gets back," because when Zak's here you know we're gonna just take my guitar part off and he's gonna sauce it the way he does. So it varies, it's like this give and take--trying not to be precious along the way, the entire way through from the start to the end, and seeing how things change over time.

OCNOTES: I think that's the best way to go with it, try not to be precious. That's good.

NICHOLAS GALANIN: Yeah. Sometimes it's the very first tape, you know, like, you just can't get what was put into that. And other times, it's 300 edits through, there it is. It varies.

Yeah, I like that sentiment of not being precious. I think that's a great way to look at collaboration.

OCNOTES: I'll just say with these cats, like right here, specifically, this group--it's very easy to do. It's easy to do, it's easy to trust Nicky, trust Zak, trust anyone involved and we're all like that. That's how these things turn out is that no one's attached to no specific thing and doesn't cause no like riffs or no problems because--

NICHOLAS GALANIN: Why'd you cut my guitar solo out bro?

OCNOTES: Yeah, exactly. No one is so hung up. That will never happen, it's beautiful. That's actually rare, I've found. To authentically have people who were just like, "Yeah man, I believe in whatever you're going to do is going to be fresh." You know what I mean? People be getting really attached to their parts.

Yeah, sounds like there's a lot of trust involved in that process and just understanding to trust each other's vision.

NICHOLAS GALANIN: Before every session we do trust falls in the studio off of the upper balcony.

[laughs] You have to. I've heard a lot of musicians do that.

NICHOLAS GALANIN: Our old bass player who is longer with us. [laughs]

Oh no.

NICHOLAS GALANIN: We were there for it, he was just a big guy.

OCNOTES: Gotta take that 20 foot drop bro, you trust us?

Yeah taking 20 foot drops off the spaceship--that's how a Ya Tseen record gets made, I guess.

OCNOTES: You gotta do it man. It's like old school fraternities. You got to go through it.

There's like a hazing process for the band. [all laugh] Well, it's been great talking to you guys about Alaska and the spaceship and the record--I've been enjoying it a lot and I'm really excited to listen to one more track. Thank you again to OCnotes and Nicholas for sitting down today.

YA TSEEN: Thank you.

Songs Played

00:01 Knives
04:31 A Feeling Undefined
30:25 At Tugani
All tracks appear on Ya Tseen's 2021 record, Indian Yard, out now on Sub Pop Records.


Host - Maddie
Producers - Derrick Stevens, Jesse Wiza
Technical Director - Peter Ecklund

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