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Music How Nikki Yanofsky mixes throwback sounds with modern sensibilities in her latest single Big Mouth

Nikki Yanofsky

Royal Gilbert/Entertainment One

In Between the Acts, The Globe and Mail takes a look at how artists manage their time before and after a creative endeavour.

The singer Nikki Yanofsky has played some of the most prestigious jazz festival stages. She’s worked with legendary producers Phil Ramone and Quincy Jones. The jazz-popping Montrealer performed the theme song I Believe at the Vancouver Winter Olympics in 2010, and she’s currently at work on her fourth album, due out this year. But in 2006, when she walked out on stage at the Montreal Jazz Festival for her professional debut, a preteen Yanofsky was very much wet behind the ears. She still is, at 24. Recently, she spoke to The Globe and Mail about her influences, her collaborators and her latest single, Big Mouth, a song written somewhere between rinse and repeat in the shower.

I wrote the single Big Mouth on the day of the Woman’s March, in 2018. I was watching the news and was inspired. Later, I was in the shower, washing my hair when the chorus of the song came to me. I record all my ideas on my phone. On the original voicemail, you can hear the shower running in the background.

I’ve been working with Andrew Dawson. He produced Big Mouth and he’s working on some other tracks on the album. He walks the line sonically, incorporating real musical parts and having every instrument work with the others. Nothing is walking over another part. It’s modern, but you can still create it live. We won’t need any weird sounds on the keyboard.

There’s a song on the record called Blowin’ Smoke. It was written with Andrew Dawson and Noah Conrad. I’d never worked with Noah, and he came into the session carrying a trumpet. You don’t often see a young guy with a trumpet, but because he had a gig later he brought it with him.

I asked him who his favourite player was. He said Clark Terry. I knew he knew what he was talking about, then. So, because we had the trumpet, I felt we had to use it. It ended up driving the session in that direction. And now the song has an epic trumpet solo on it. That’s something I wouldn’t have thought of on my own.

Big Mouth is the most pop-sounding song on the record. There are a lot of throwback sounds. You reference what you listen to, and while I listen to a ton of jazz, there’s a lot of Aretha Franklin and soul and Motown and Nancy Sinatra and Dusty Springfield. It’s a sixties feel, but it feels original.

I think when people hear the album, they’ll get it. In the past, I always felt I had to explain where the music was coming from. But for this album, people will understand it right away. At least that’s what I’m hoping for.

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