Earth Tones on Creating Joy, Meaning, and Groovy Tunes
Photo by Stephanie Townsend, Bandmembers L-R: Jamison Ko, Sydney Tough, Karen White, Yamil Chain-Haddad
Earth Tones is a 4-piece indie-soul band based out of Vancouver, BC, with Yamil Chain-Haddad (he/him) on guitar, Jamison Ko (he/him) on drums, Sydney Tough (she/her) on bass and Karen White (she/her) on vocals. The band started as a soul cover band under a different name, and over the years has dabbled in different genres and eras, from classic blues to 90’s hip hop to current indie rock. They’ve carried that wide-ranging inspiration with them as they morphed into Earth Tones, ready to showcase their original work that aims to pay tribute to the different styles they’ve been inspired by while also creating a sound unique to them.
1) How did you all meet and how did this project/band begin?
Yamil: We all met while in the Jazz Program at Capilano University. We were originally a cover band under the name SoulFood with a different singer, Jessica Toplak, who then moved to New York which is when we asked Karen to join in and she agreed!
2) What was the recording process like for the EP and was it impacted by Covid?
Karen: Luckily we were able to finish all our recording beforehand! We originally had two days booked at 12th St Sound back in November 2019 and then ended up needing one more day so we finished up in February 2020. We were pretty ambitious with what we wanted to get done in the short amount of time we gave ourselves; we knew we wouldn’t have a lot of time so we tried to be as prepared as possible but, of course, the inspiration always hits at the last second! We had all these ideas but none of us have a ton of recording experience so our recording engineer, Anthony Cenerini, was super helpful in bringing those ideas to life and also giving us a fresh take on all these songs we had been playing and workshopping for so long.
3) What does songwriting look like for you as a band? Is it more collaborative? Are there songs that are primarily written by a single member?
Karen: I’d say we definitely thrive in a collaborative setting. There have been songs more or less written completely by one person but the majority of our songs are a collaboration. Typically the process starts with a chord progression from Yamil, who then sends it to the group for Sydney and I to come up with some lyrics. Then it’s just a lot of workshopping together, finding a groove and figuring out the overall arrangement. A lot of the time we’ll discuss song and artist inspiration to get on the same page about what we want the song to develop into and then just jam the heck out of them until it’s right.
Photo by Stephen Edwards
4) What is your favourite track from the EP and why?
Sydney: Kid Cool is my favourite song from the EP. Karen wrote this one and I love her writing style and lyrics. We made a lot of spontaneous decisions in the recording studio that challenged me to let go and trust my musical intuition in the moment. It ended up being one of the most fun and surprisingly rewarding songs to record.
Karen: I’d have to go with Kid Cool too, for a couple reasons! It’s the first song I ever wrote that I actually really liked, that’s a big part of it. Everything I had written before (and many times after) felt so forced because I was always trying too hard to be interesting or emotional. This song was the first time I felt like I was really using my own voice. And then when I brought it to the group and we workshopped it into what it is now, it was so special being able to infuse all of our voices into it. Sydney has this gorgeous vocal breakdown in the middle of the song which she recorded completely on the fly; she did take after take, trying new things each time and as it was happening I think we could all hear and feel how powerful it was going to be. I’m just super proud of the finished product. It’s so much better than anything I could have envisioned on my own.
Yamil: My favourite is probably Warning Signs. I wrote that chord progression after having listened to Erykah Badu’s track “I Want You” and I fell in love with the feel and the groove and I wanted to imitate it, but then as we were recording it it had developed into a heavy-hitting groovy almost disco-esque thing, and I love it every time.
Jamison: My favourite song is All I Got. I like the way the song builds, little by little from verse to verse. Sydney plays this awesome Paul McCartney- esque bass line, Yamil has all these juicy licks, and Karen just totally kills the vocal delivery. It feels serendipitous the way everything came together. It was a lot of fun to write and record and I think that fun vibe is conveyed through the song. I also like that it has a positive and uplifting message!
5) How has jazz influenced your music?
Yamil: Through jazz we have been able to find better ways to put what we are hearing onto the page. We have a better understanding of how to get what we want, creating interesting progressions while not being aggressive about it. Especially in the “soul” category where jazz is such a heavy influence, you kind of have to understand it to be true to the genre.
6) What do you aim to communicate through your music?
Sydney: As a band we hope that people who listen to our music will feel uplifted and encouraged. The name Earth Tones comes from the idea of processing life, love, loss, fear, growth and hope through music. For us music is about coming together to create, share and grow. We are grateful to be able to make music with each other and hope that through sharing our music we can also share the joy music brings to our lives.
Photo by Stephanie Townsend
7) Is there anything you would like to say to people of marginalized identities in the jazz community?
Karen: Don’t doubt that your contribution will be meaningful. It’s hard to know that what you have is worth sharing, especially when there are little or no examples for you to follow, but that’s what makes you and your music all the more special. There is so much power in diversity, and the more people contributing to the conversation, the better: whether it’s through music, or other mediums. So, figure out your point of view. Figure out what you want to say. Say it. Shout it! Be yourself unapologetically. There are people out there waiting to hear your voice, waiting for someone like you to resonate with and be represented by.
8) Where can we find you?
Our EP comes out on March 19th, and it will be available on all streaming platforms. You can follow us on Instagram at @realearthtones to see what we have planned for these current online-music times and for the (hopefully not too distant) future!