Introspective. Foreboding. Expansive. Feminine.
These are the words that Calgary-based artist Foon Yap (who performs as FOONYAP) says best describe her latest album Palimpsest, released October 21, 2016, and her first collection of solo work in over five years.
A classically-trained musician from a traditional and religious family, Yap, 29, began practicing the violin at the age of four, before enrolling at the Mount Royal University Conservatory at the age of eleven at the behest of her parents who saw it as a form of discipline.
“If it would have been my choice I would have become a gymnast and a singer and a dancer,” Yap says, who was made to practice the violin for two to four hours every day, on top of completing schoolwork and other responsibilities.
She showed an immense talent even at a young age, and tried quitting the MRU Conservatory many times, citing a disdain for the competitive and stressful atmosphere.
“My life was really restricted to music,” says Yap, who admits that although it was an “amazing musical education,” she harboured resentment towards the lack of control in her own life, which eventually lead to a “rift” between her and her parents.
Though her new album Palimpsest — which draws from her roots in classical theory, traditional Chinese heritage and Catholicism — is a means, as Yap says, of “reconciling with my roots and finding my own unique voice, instead of trying to push away my background and those painful memories... [and] melding that into my own philosophy.”
The name “palimpsest,” by definition, is a manuscript or piece of writing material on which the original writing has been erased to make room for later writing, but of which traces remain, and its meaning is one of importance and relevance to Yap’s work.
“I choose the word “palimpsest” for several reasons,” she says. “The first being kind of a representation of my process of rewiring and making a very conscious decision to move forward in my life and to let go of negative patterns, while at the same time acknowledging those emotions and not repressing them.”
The second reason she chose the title is because the album also contains reworked versions of songs that had previously appeared on other releases, thus encapsulating the literal definition of “palimpsest.”
Thematically, Palimpsest draws from an introspective look into her own life, and the songwriting process involves Yap placing herself into the positions of the characters involved in the narrative she weaves.
Such is the case on opener “Woolf + Plath,” named as an homage to the works of Virginia Woolf and Sylvia Plath, respectively, two authors whom she says have been influential both for the album, and in her own life.
“It often struck me how difficult it must have been for them to be women doing their kind of work at their time,” says Yap.
“Sometimes, as a creative person that identifies as a woman, you actually don’t have the strength to carry on, and sometimes that can lead to tragedy.”
The song “Woolf + Plath,” she explains, “is written from the perspective of someone who is witnessing their loved ones descent into mental breakdown, and that was the perspective I took when witnessing their lives... their work really gave me the courage to push forward with mine... it takes a lot of courage to be that emotionally raw when you come from a background like mine.”
Yap is no stranger to the Calgary music scene, having recorded and toured with her previous band FOONYAP and The Roar, and also with Calgarian indie pop collective Woodpigeon, which included touring Europe in 2010 and 2011.
Though her new album marks a distinct change of direction for the Calgary artist, who explains her work with FOONYAP and The Roar as “an encapsulation of a young woman’s repressive sexuality, very tongue-in-cheek” when compared with the “meditative and contemplative” Palimpsest, which explores a “different emotional depth.”
Yap describes the distinct sound of her music as being minimalist and electronic, with lots of textures, drawing from the work of some of her own favourite artists, including Icelandic musician Björk and early 20th century French composer Erik Satie.
In support of the album, she is touring Canada later this year with The Hermitess, the solo project of songwriter and harpist Jennifer Crighton, and plans on extending that to the UK next spring.
While she would like to see her style of music reach a wider audience, she states that that isn’t the reason behind its production, and that instead her purpose is more of an exercise in self-expression and a practice in consciousness.
“All I can do is control my own process... and then everything else is just enjoying the ride.”
- By Alec Warkentin