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Published: 2011/12/23
by Glenn H Roth

Yarn Spins Ahead

Blake Christiana rocked out and played air guitar countless nights at Saratoga Performing Arts Center. Christiana witnessed the sweet sounds of Neil Young, Phish, Crosby, Stills, & Nash, Paul Simon, Doobie Brothers, Steve Miller Band and the Allman Brothers Band during his adolescent years.

“I wish I could remember them all but I can’t,” said Christiana of all the Saratoga shows. “It’s been years since I’ve been back.”

The Schenectady native dreams of a return trip to SPAC – a homecoming of sorts – with his band Yarn taking center stage. The New York City-based, country-bluegrass band has played over 700 shows since 2006.

“I had a friend who lived in Brooklyn and was willing to let me stay on his couch rent free,” said Christiana of his start in the music business, “and I went to work at Greene Street Studios as an assistant engineer in SOHO. It wasn’t long before I started playing out in the local clubs down in the village.”

The band’s current lineup consists of Christiana (vocals, guitar), Trevor MacArthur (Vocals, Guitar), Andrew Hendryx (mandolin, harmonica), Rod Hohl (electric guitar), Rick Bugel (bass) and Robert Bonhomme (drums).

The 35-year-old Christiana grew up listening to a wide range of music from the Grateful Dead to Willie Nelson.

“My father is a strummer and a singer,” he said when asked about his family’s musical background. “My sister played the piano pretty good, my grandfather was a drummer, and I believe my great grandmother played the mandolin. There were instruments all over my house growing up.”

In 2012, Yarn plans to tour the west coast and hopes to make its way overseas.

*Click here”: to see a recent live performance from Relix.

Is there a story behind how the band got its name, and what’s the significance?

While trying to come up with a name, Andrew had a dream. He saw the name Yarn on a theater marquee. It just seemed like the perfect fit. I was writing a lot of very story based songs, “spinning yarns”, and at the time, we were playing out as a string band with no rhythm section. It seemed to work on many levels and I think it still does.

How would you describe your music for people who haven’t heard it?

It’s tough to describe because it bounces around all over the place. It’s country, it’s rock, it’s got a bit of bluegrass feel, and occasionally some gospel creeps in. We jam, but not endlessly, and you’ll never hear the same show twice.

How did you get into country/bluegrass music?

As a kid, my dad always had some classic country spinning, as well as Ricky Nelson and Elvis. When it comes to bluegrass, my first introduction was through the Grateful Dead, Old & In The Way and the Jerry Garcia/David Grisman acoustic album. That album got worn out in my cassette player.

There are five other guys in Yarn, how did all of you get intertwined?

New York City is an amazing place to find musicians. The best of the best are all just hanging around looking to play. I grew up with Trevor in Schenectady, NY and he was already playing with me in my other band at the time, Blake & The Family Dog.

I found Andrew through his girlfriend, who used to bartend at the Baggot Inn, a club in the village we would play at all the time. It wasn’t long before, he was sitting in jamming with Blake & The Family Dog, and I was sitting in with his band, The Andrew Hendryx Ensemble.

At that time we formed Yarn, it was just Trevor, Andrew, and I.

Soon after that, Andrew landed a residency with his band at Kenny’s Castaways on Bleeker Street, and that is where we picked up Ricky B, as well as Jay Frederick, our original drummer.

Not long after that, we were doing a residency at a club in Chelsea called Hill Country, and this killer guitar player I had met a few years before was running sound at the club. We would have him set the level and then get up and play guitar with us every night. pretty much from there on out, Rod Hohl, was in the band.

And about 2 years ago, we were in need of a new drummer, and at the same time, Rod’s buddy, Robert Bonhomme was moving back to the city from England, the timing couldn’t have been better and the drummer could not have been a better fit, on every possible level.

How do all six of you stay involved in the creative process of writing the songs?

It starts with me and a guitar, a melody, and some words. From here, if I like it enough it makes it to a sound check. Given our busy tour schedule, that’s pretty much the only place we get to rehearse. From sound check, it makes it to the stage, if we like enough that is. Everyone is involved with its direction at this point, and the song could potentially evolve indefinitely. There are songs that we have been playing for five years that are still giving birth to new parts and new ways of playing them. Everyone in the band is fully involved and a part of what shape the song will take – it is very much a band process.

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