YVR – ‘What If’ Interview

YVR is a duo consisting of Courtney Jenae and Steven Stahl who describe their sound as unapologetically pop. Nowhere is this commitment to their pop roots more evident than on their new single “What If.”

The track combines the bands signature intelligent with lush production and ear-catching melodies which results in a sound that is fun, vibrant and infinetly listenable.

Written amongst the chaos of 2020 “What If” describes Jenae’s struggles with overthinking, anxiety and a crippling fear of life passing her by and is an anthem for anyone who wonders if they’ll ever be able to measure up.

The track juxtaposes self reflecting lyrics with a dance beat and melody that feels big and cinematic.

A more dance- inspired departure from their earlier work, “What If” builds in a big way with the addition of powerful live drums which you can feel in your chest when this track is played at full volume. 

The standout of the track is Jenae’s vocals. She’s got a clear voice with a breathy quality to it but it retains it’s power especially as she lets loose in the upper register towards the end of the song.

“What If” is a confessional dance pop banger that is meant to be played at full volume and will lift the listener out of the doldrums of self-doubt and the generalized anxieties of the modern world.

We sat down with YVR to discuss their evolution as band, their writing process and the new single. Check out the full interview below.

WFNM: So how did you guys meet?

Jenae: We met 10 years ago I believe now. We met at a karaoke night at Dave & Buster’s in Irvine and I was singing karaoke and he just couldn’t resist.

WFNM: Is that how it happened, Steve?

Stahl: Not really, well, but there was the couldn’t resist part there, but…So I was working with this other artist and the manager of that artist said, “You should come down to Dave & Buster’s in Irvine. Ty hosts a karaoke night. You should see one of my other singer, her name’s Courtney, she’s amazing. I was like, “Okay.” So I kind of was down there like a judge. Like a very, very nitty American idol league vibe going on. And Courtney came up like, “Hi, my name is Courtney.” Really wants to make an impression and then she just sang her lights out, it was amazing, but that’s when we started to work together. And then we kind of developed a romance like a year later. Year and a half later? Something like that?. Yeah.

Jenae: Yeah. I was dating someone at the time and we were just working together only. Steven and I, and then that turned into other things.

WFNM: How do you think being married has impacted how you guys write together?

Jenae: I would say it’s impacted a lot, honestly. It’s impacted a lot. I think for me, being married to someone who you work with, it’s hard to set boundaries as to when it’s time to work and when it’s time to just be married and act like your normal married couple, whatever that even means. And working with someone you’re married to, it makes the process a lot more intimate. You can be a lot more open and right from the heart in ways that you can’t when you’re just walking into a blind session with people you don’t know. However, on the flip side, sometimes things are almost too intimate and you have to set that boundary, but I’ve enjoyed. I mean, it’s the only way we know I’ve enjoyed writing with Steven for all these years.

WFNM: How about for you?

Stahl: Yeah, no, it’s been great. Sometimes it’s great because we know each other so well. And so we can pinpoint like, “Oh, you did that, you needed that kind of thing.” But the other times, if one of us is upset with one another, it could either be about the chorus melody, or the fact that, one of us didn’t clean the dishes. So it’s very easily to be enmeshed with one another. But I think we’ve learned over the years to try and have some sort of a boundary or something, and the studio is studio time and then the house is our lives, but we try to maintain that boundary, to the best that we can.

WFNM: Can you talk about the story about how you got together?

Jenae: Yeah. So when we got together. You mean Professionally?

WFNM: Professionally and personally. Both stories.

Jenae: Yeah. Professionally, the way we got together, like he said, it was… It’s so silly, but it was at Dave & Buster’s and it was the fifth karaoke night. I used to sing karaoke several times a week, it was my life. And I knew I wanted to move to LA and do music, but I didn’t really know anybody even though I’m from Orange County, it’s not that far but I didn’t know anybody. And then when I met Steven, we just clicked right away and, your turn.

Stahl: So we did, we worked on a song together and her manager at the time, loved it. And Courtney really loved it too. And then we did two or three more songs together. And then by that time we just had a really good visual chemistry as well as just chemistry in general. By the time that her relationship ended and so then I swooped in. I do what I do you know what I mean.

Jenae: I wasn’t mad about it.

Stahl: And yeah, I guess the rest is the present.

WFNM: The rest is the present. And where did the name of the band come from?

Jenae: Name of the band came from the YVR airport code. Steven proposed to me in Vancouver and it was right when we got back from our trip, this was four years ago exactly now. We thought we wanted to start our own band and pursue our own duo and do our own music. And we thought, “Okay, well what matters so much to us?” And it’s our time together and our time in Vancouver was just so beautiful. We fell in love with the city and we fell in love with everything about it. We fell deeper in love with each other and it just felt right to name our project after the city.

Stahl: And also my plan B for the proposal was because I was really nervous about TSA because I had the ring. I looked on Reddit forums and everything. Like how to hide jewelry or a ring through TSA without getting them rummaging through my bag or anything like that. And so there were a couple of people that posted and said, “No, I’ve had a TSA agent look through my bags, see the ring and they brought it out and so the whole proposal was ruined.” So I was freaking out that, if that were the case, I would make a huge scene at the airport and just propose right then and there. But luckily that didn’t happen. My plan A worked, but my plan B was the YVR airport proposal.

WFNM: So who are your main influences as a band?

Jenae: We have several for me, I guess it ranges all the way from Aretha Franklin to Incubus. I have a wide influence as far as like a singer. And as far as the lyricist, I love Kacey Musgraves. I listened to her album almost every single day and that has helped grow me as a lyricist and a songwriter overall. Those are mine.

Stahl: Yeah. I think we have actually different people that we admire. As a band, I don’t know if we have one that’s kind of a united thing maybe.

Jenae: It’s like an eclectic mesh of different bands.

Stahl: I grew up listening to rock and punk and pop punk so I love that kind of stuff. I just love great songs it doesn’t really matter necessarily genre I just love great songs. So it could be country or rock or pop or whatever.

WFNM: Like what artists?

Stahl: Well, right now I do like Charlie Cruz, I think he’s amazing. I think Ryan Tedder is an amazing writer. I love Max Martin as a producer and songwriter, I think he’s amazing. I love all the Justin Chancellor stuff and, yeah.

Jenae: Like One Republic, Ryan Tedder is the man and Max Martin. We just take after great songwriters and that’s kind of what we base our sound off of just making the best songs that we can. The best songs are the most authentic at the same time.

WFNM: Yeah. Can you talk a little bit about your latest EP, “How Have You Been?” What was the inspiration behind that? And just talk about the EP in general.

Jenae: The EP was all written within the year 2019. It stemmed from all personal experience and talks about love and loss and just the authentic process that I personally went through. I wrote the lyrics, Steven did all the music. It was just a collective effort of making sure we put forward everything in the most honest way we possibly could. And it just kind of came together really well and really naturally. How have you been. The song How have you been, was written about someone who was in my past relationship who, when you stop dating someone or you stop seeing someone, it doesn’t mean that your heart’s completely closed off and that you’ve forgotten about them entirely. And so that song in particular was about just hoping they’re okay and missing them and just wishing them the best. And the rest of the music on that EP stems from again, love and heartbreak and everything in between.

WFNM: Yeah. So you’ve spoken before about drawing inspiration from both past and current relationships. How is that reflected on this EP?

Jenae: It’s a blend between both because a lot of times, writing songs, writing the lyrics to music, a lot of times I’ll personally pull from way back in the day, because there are things that I’m still healing on and I’m still trying to figure out the best way to move through and move past those feelings. And I think a lot of times I’ll bring up relationships that are far gone, but they still linger in my head and my heart. So yeah, that’s what I’d have to say.

Stahl: Yeah. And I think also what’s interesting too is, it’s not always the case but I think it definitely when it does happen, I think it’s a cool thing when the lyrics kind of reflect the musical journey of the song or the musical kind of vibe of it or vice versa. How have you been, the song, is a sentimental introspective melody and also of a productive musical production. So I think that corresponds really nicely with the lyrics too. And I think like “Pay” is another kind of example where, the hook is “Pay attention, Pay attention to me” kind of thing. And I think the song that the music is in your face a little bit.

Jenae: Attention grabbing on purpose.

Stahl: Those aspects, I think it works.

WFNM: So you guys make music that you’ve described as unabashedly pop. What do you love so much about pop music?

Stahl: For me? It’s funny. It’s the progression of artists. Well, no, I shouldn’t say artists, but more about like the songs in general. Because we’re songwriters turned artists, so we have a songwriter mentality and I feel like songwriters who write great pop have roots in jazz and a bunch of different genres that eventually lead to pop which is funny. I think it’s really cool to be able to use musical knowledge in a way that can speak to the masses, that’s not as nerdy as jazz or something like that. I think it’s kind of cool to be able to use it sparingly, but in a cool way, in a distinctive way, in a unique way to capture the majority of people listening.

Jenae: Yeah. I think pop gets a bad rep a lot of times. Pop is kind of considered unpopular now which is funny because that’s the opposite of what it means. I think it’s just, we’re not scared of writing a song that is pop leaning just because it’s maybe unpopular at the moment because growing up listening to pop music, it’s just in our veins and we just can’t get away from it. It’s not on purpose. It’s just, that’s what comes out.

WFNM: Okay so let’s talk about the new song a little bit. It’s definitely more dance leaning and it has more of a dance beat to it. Can you talk about the new song, the inspiration behind it? What the song is about? Why it’s a little bit more of a departure from your previous sound?

Jenae: Yeah, for one, this is a topic that I’ve personally been wanting to write about for a while. And I think it was all written during just the shitshow of 2020 and just kind of the mental state that I was in, but we also didn’t want people to be brought down too low so we put more of a dance-y feel to it so that it was a little melancholy. But the story behind it is just feeling lost and feeling like… My personal biggest fear is that I’m going to wake up one day, in my 70’s or 80’s and wonder what in the hell did I do with my life? I wasted my whole life just worrying and what if-ing it all away? And then suddenly like I’m older and that time has gone. And I think that the whole song for me personally, just lyrically speaking, it’s about that fear of what if-ing your life away? Because I am the queen of what if, and I’ve been what if-ing since I can remember. And so that’s what that’s about. And 2020 exacerbated all of it and just made me sink to the bottom and rise to… I couldn’t really find my way, I was just up and down, up and down the whole time. And so this song encapsulates my mental state of 2020.

Stahl: Also, I mean this song, it’s really cool because it’s actually the first song where we play with… We actually haven’t played. I mean, back in the day when there were concerts. Before, two or three years ago, we used to play with a drummer and a bass player. I don’t even know if you saw us with a combo. We haven’t in a while, but anyway, one of the drummers, his name’s Greg, he actually played on this song at the very end. And so it’s the first song where we have a live drummer on it so it kind of feels like a more lively feeling especially towards the end of the song. So that was cool, that’s definitely a new aspect too, to us to use a real drummer.

Jenae: There’s just a lot of feelings this year. There’s a lot of feelings of last year and I think we just wanted to bring that to this record. Just the life and feelings of it.

WFNM: You write very confessional lyrics. Why is it important to be so honest in your song writing?

Jenae: I think it’s just important to me. I think a lot of the new songs we’re writing, I’m personally starting to have a little more fun and I’m not trying to dig to the deepest parts of myself, but honestly, it’s not something I’m trying to prove to everyone of how honest I can be. It’s me trying to outdo myself and be as honest as I can to myself. And that’s where I draw my own personal inspiration, but yeah, sometimes it’s like I feel I need to get to a dark place where I’m crying in order to get the best things out of me. And I’m starting to realize that, that shouldn’t always be the case. I should be able to also write when I’m happy or feeling good or positive. It doesn’t always have to be in this dark spot.

Stahl: Yeah. I think all artists need to be most authentic to themselves as possible because it doesn’t translate at least in my opinion, I don’t think it translates if a person is faking something, I think people see through that. So I think it’s really important to be authentic, whatever that means to them.

Be sure to listen their latest single “What If” out now on streaming.

Kate Bent
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