Jonah Yano has just unveiled “Shoes,” the lead single to his upcoming debut LP souvenir via Innovative Leisure. The Toronto-based singer-songwriter has been making considerable headway, landing on Virgil Abloh’s Beats 1 “TELEVISED RADIO” session, garnering praise for his first solo single “Rolex, the Ocean” with producer Joseph L’etranger and, most recently, collaborating with BADBADNOTGOOD for “Key to Love,” a soulful jazz cover of The Majestics’ 1982 song.
With a well-orchestrated mixtape already under his belt, Yano’s sound has been shaped by soulful vocal deliveries with a distinctive wistfulness that reflects his modern indie milieu — the artist has shown a natural affinity for producing a dynamic range of sounds like slow-burning ballads, jazzy electronic tunes and quaint lo-fi performances. Rolling off as the last track on souvenir, “Shoes” reflects an emotional reunion with Yano’s father, Tatsuya Muraoka.
Sung in both English and Japanese over rich acoustic guitars, the song is an edited version of an original live recording by Yano’s father from sometime in the ’90s, now coupled with Yano’s verses. “The song, in my dad’s Japanese lyrics, is about a pair of shoes he bought me when I was a kid,” Yano explains. After being separated for 15 years, Yano finally visited his father in Japan in the fall of 2019 with hopes of “making sense of their complicated relationship.” The singer notes, “my verses question his absence from my childhood and my general confusion about my circumstance, which was a fatherless upbringing in an entirely different country as a result of my parents’ separation.”
The track measures at approximately four and a half minutes, steeped in a dreamy mid-tempo groove that exudes feelings of nostalgia yet somehow still sounds contemporary. Muraoka kicks off the first verse with rustic lead melodies, penning “The sun’s setting / I’m gonna go buy some shoes / shoes for my son / Ultraman shoes / size 16 cm. / Ah, I think these are the ones he was talking about.” Yano follows next with echoing vocals, delivering lyrics like “what I recall is / spinning in circles / hoping one day I’d face you / but what I was wondering / is what could be in it for you / to force a hand to run away.” The song is accompanied by lo-fi visuals that follow Yano and his father in Nagato, Japan, offering a slight vignette of what we can expect from the singer’s upcoming debut LP.
We sat down with Yano for a short chat about the song, the video and the full-length project:
Can you describe your state of mind when you were writing the song?
My answer to this question deserves some context. My dad initially wrote this song roughly 20 years ago. It’s about a pair of light up shoes he got for me when I was a little kid – I wish I had a picture of them to show you. Besides my lyrics, the recording you hear was actually all recorded in the late ’90s in Hiroshima at a bar my dad played at a lot. My uncle digitized the whole set he played that night and gave me a CD of it. So I’ve known this song for a really long time. For some reason my dad left these big instrumental gaps between his verses so when it came time to write my part of the song, I decided to make the song into a conversation between the two of us. In my lyrics, I’m telling him about his absence from my life and where that has brought me… Like 20 years in the making, call and response type of thing. The song ends with us both singing the original lyrics in Japanese, and to me, it’s a submission to circumstance. It’s reconciliation.
Can you share some of your favorite clips from the video and tell us a bit about what was going on at that moment?
Two moments from the video stick out to me the most. First, the part where we’re sitting across the table from each other smoking cigarettes in our little cabin — it really adds to the effect of drama in the video. But what was actually going on in that shot was us listening to the final mix of the song. The reason we look so still and silent is because we were listening for things to change in the mix.
The second moment I want to highlight is that sunset near the end of the video. I know it looks really colorful and vibrant on the tape but in real life, I thought I had to be hallucinating or something. Maybe it was the emotion of the whole moment, but I swear I have never seen the sky look like that before. I think that was the last night before I was going to take the train back to Tokyo, too. I don’t think my dad and I said a word to each other the whole time we were watching the sky after I put the camera on the tripod. There was honestly nothing we could say.
What can we expect from the new album?
Aside from my dad, I got to work with some really great people on this album. You can expect to hear instrumentation and production from Leland and Alex of BADBADNOTGOOD, some magic production from Scott Zhang aka Monsune, a little sprinkle of Jacques Greene and a whole track produced by Nono. Sonically it explores a few different types of sounds, but they’re all built around my songwriting and in that, it all fits together quite nicely. It’s also coming out on vinyl which is a first for me and I’m so excited to be able to hold my music in my hands. Big shoutout to my home label, Innovative Leisure. I really couldn’t have done any of this without them.
The album further explores my relationship with my father and cultural identity in general. The first track is a song I wrote as a thank you to my Mom for, well, everything. The last song is the one with my dad, thematically tying the knot — the other tracks talk about everything in between. There are love songs, there’s a free jazz moment, there’s a guitar solo, there’s a soft acoustic song, there’s a wall of noise, there’s a cello part, there’s loud drums and soft drums – it’s just everything I wanted on my first album. It’s got imperfections and that’s something that I like to keep in my music. It keeps the music on earth. It helps me relate.”
Scroll above to watch Jonah Yano’s music video for the lead single “Shoes,” featuring Tatsuya Muraoka. Yano’s debut album souvenir is slated to land on June 19.
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