The lavish Alaskan nature served as inspiration for Heart Sky.
Fairbanks, Alaska looks lovely on Google images. Snow-dusted mountains billow out of the green earth—nature’s answer to the mighty skyscrapers that, 4,256 miles away, give or take, line Manhattan’s horizon. The former city is where Emily Yacina recorded her newest album, Heart Sky, this summer while on break from The New School, where she is studying environmental science. The latter is where she and I meet to talk about it.
“I was working for a non-profit in Fairbanks that does environmental activism work, so, in terms of visuals, I was just surrounded by nature and obsessed with that when I was there,” Yacina said. “I miss that when I’m here and felt like I was just able to be in nature and really reflect on everything that had happened the past year.”
Emily never offers an exegesis of what that everything is, because she doesn’t need to.
“It’s a really intimate album,” she says of Heart Sky. “I definitely put a lot out there. Usually, in the past, I’d keep things pretty vague in terms of lyrics or my songwriting, but I felt so safe writing the songs that they definitely feel more personal—all of the songs are of course personal, but these ones feel more literal.”
On “Vision,” she sings, “All the pieces/ of the past year/ are so sharp and clear.” Previously, Yacina would dole out clues on her albums, but this one feels like the first one where say lays every piece of the puzzle on the table.
Heart Sky’s opening line—“Wanted to find out where it went wrong”—is ultimately its raison d’être. Over the record’s 11 tracks, Yacina addresses her former partner and attempts to pinpoint the elusive moment when the relationship came undone. On penultimate track “Clue,” Yacina sings, “Something you said/ struck me like a clue,” her hazy, layered vocals belying the hurt. Poring over the past might not illuminate the present, but Yacina’s music rewards the listener with the knowledge that anguish, while mostly ugly, can be turned into a thing of beauty.
“I just hope that people can use [the songs] to apply to their own lives and whatever that means for them,” Yacina said.
What follows is an edited transcript of a recording that picked up both Emily’s words and an entire Björk album that played in the coffee shop as we spoke, shortly after Heart Sky’s release. Emily plays with Soccer Mommy and Yohuna at Baby’s All Right on 11/14.