Jean Yaste – Musician’s Struggle
Intro (0:21): Jean Yaste is a musician, housing activist, and leader of the band Future Twin. Like thousands of musicians around the bay, she’s seen most of her income disappear due to the pandemic’s shutdown of all music venues and indoor gathering spaces. We’re going to talk about her experiences during the crisis, the politics of the current housing market, and how we can rethink our relationship with local musicians to help support them. Please note this episode contains a little bit of explicit language, just in case that’s a concern.
Dave (1:16): When did Future Twin– when did you kind of start working on this project? Was that in SF?
Jean (1:21): Future Twin, our first show — I don’t remember exactly how long we were like rehearsing and stuff, but our first show was December of 2010, actually. At the Knockout.
Dave (1:31): In the very beginning, were–were you guys playing your, your music or was it kind of a combination of different musicians and the band’s music?
Jean (1:39): I mean, I always try to, like, be in a band for a reason, which is like banding together and like the cohesion of minds. Like, the sum is greater than the one or (laughs) whatever the saying is, I don’t know. We would try to do collaborative songwriting and, you know, a bunch of the songs that Future Twin would play back then were like 100% written by me, but I would always just like, you know, I would just write the guitar part and the singing part and then bring it to the, the group.
Dave (2:03): More recently, I guess, like, when I saw you play… I guess it was last year, back in the before times when there was still concerts happening. You were doing it kind of solo at that point, right? Or just for that show.
Jean (2:14): You know, it depends on the nature of the gig; it depends who’s available. I mean, I basically tried to build Future Twin to be a dynamic entity that wouldn’t have to, like, die essentially, when people have real life, like grad school, a baby. There’s so many re– you know, or just like personnel issues, schedules. Like time, money, all this crap where I was just like, I don’t want to keep starting over every time an artist or my bandmate gets displaced. So I tried to just kind of think of it in a more permeable fashion, you know, where people can kind of like step in, step out. And then once I started, you know, learning how to use Ableton, and I could be the conductor essentially, you know.
Dave (3:08): Well, on a, uh, I guess moving towards the, where we’re at right now, I know that at the very beginning of COVID, you were offered kind of like an art residency, right? Up in France in a chateau (laughs).
Jean (3:21): Yeah, I mean, it’s not, it’s not formal residency by any means, but it is, like, this artist collaborator that I’ve made multiple music videos with at this point. His name’s Basil Galloway. His grandfather passed away who had this big place in France, so, so he went out there to try to keep that place going. His grandfather was this big arts curator who, you know, was like acquainted with, like, Andy Warhol and like, Madonna, among many people. So it’s this very, like, artistic, big setup place. Tons of paintings, there’s like a grand piano and like a 50 person concert hall. Yeah, and so that was kind of the plan- but then COVID happened, so then it was like all that was off the table, and it’s still like Americans cannot legally enter the EU for now and the indefinite future.
Dave (4:12): Yeah, that’s gonna be really hard for all, you know, all kinds of artists that are thinking about how, how you make, you know, touring plans or anything like that.
Jean (4:19): Well, I mean I just think of so many people that had already spent so much time booking tour and things, you know, that now are just ob-bliterated dust. That’s time that they’ll never recover, and like, it’s definitely been harder for a lot of other people that, you know, aren’t like super-established and do stuff DIY style that comes out of them. Just, you know, there’s obviously been so much incredible loss.
Dave (4:39): Well, I think about all the musicians that, not just touring and stuff like that, but also what they do when they’re not on tour, because, like you say, it’s a lot of DIY and a lot of cobbling together and living through multiple jobs and all those jobs are gone for for a while.
Jean (4:54): I mean, and even people who are like, full time artists, you know, and like being paid 100% as independent contractors, I mean, they are not even like traditionally eligible for unemployment.
Dave (5:05): I know that you had some tough experiences with unemployment and, and all that entailed. What happened with all of your, I guess, income when, when COVID came in? Was that kind of just — that was it?
Jean (5:15): Well, it basically all went to zero because, in my situation, — as you know– I’m like a W2 earner, like, traditional employee earner from one job that I have, and then the other stuff was independent contractor payment, like I work as a preparer. And then like, when I get paid as a musician, like performing, you know, that’s all like independent contractor stuff. And, uh, and then I do housing organizing work, and that’s also independent contractor payment. So, I think that’s what screwed it up for me. It was like the PUA stuff wouldn’t work and the traditional unemployment wouldn’t work because I was a combined earner. And it was like, like, slight complication that, like, they didn’t have a system like built out for or something.
Dave (5:58): Wow, so because you had, uh, W2 and 1099s combined, so there’s kind of two different financial tracks and it kind of created all these complications.
Jean (6:10): I still have never been able to get through on the phone. I sent a full, like, eight page letter with like an addendum attachment of, like, letters from employers, my tax documents, heard nothing back, so yeah… I mean, yeah, it’s pretty disappointing and fucked up, and I, you know, have been unemployed completely since March.
Dave (6:29): It just sounds like an incredible amount of stress for like, so many months that it’s been.
Jean (6:35): Well, I was just hearing on, on KPFA, like earlier today, uhh, that, like, just in the state of California there’s, like, something like 154 billionaires, and then a million millionaires.
Dave (6:51): A million millionaires (laughs).
Jean (6:52): Yeah. Like, like a million millionaires, and then since COVID started, the wealth of the wealthiest like, you know, Elon Musk, dot com, etc. has increased, you know, $1.57 billion
dollars. A billion, you know? So… I mean, so I think they were talking about implementing this new tax on all — any, any house school that owns or that earns over a million a year, you know. it’s just like, yeah, can we get some fucking basic, like, wealth redistribution here?
Dave (7:23): Yeah, (sighs) yeah, and there’s so many people hurting that it’s, it’s like how can you, how can you not? Your story, as powerful as it, there’s like so many people across this state that are experiencing the same kind of pain right now. I wonder, also ‘cause I know your other, your other kind of life is involved with, uh, housing advocacy, right?
Jean (7:49): I served on the board of the San Francisco community land trust for five years, I think, and I served on the board of another non-housing nonprofit called Home Ownership SF that helped basically implement the first time homebuyers programming and below market rate programming with the Mayor’s Office of Housing. So that was like, a project that I was a part of, and you know, and then I was like a founding board member of the Adobe books cooperative that moved to 24th Street, and then I was an organizer for the clearing alley mural project for like 4 or 5 years. So, it– when it all happened I was displaced in 2012. I had a place where I had autonomy and I was on the lease, and it was fucking taken from me. And that was the end of, like, any degree of power that I could have in housing, because then, since then, unless you can afford a marketplace — which, who can afford like a 1500 dollars per bedroom? So then you’re, you’re, you’re invited into other people’s places that are like rent controlled, and even though you’re paying a fair share of the rent, they completely treat you like they have the power. They are literally called the master tenant, I mean, this is like terminology that was used in slavery, like the master, you know, and we have the landlord which is, like, just feudalism.
Dave (9:13): Yeah, there you go. That’s, like, literally I never thought about that.
Jean (9:16): Anyway, I try to call him property owner ‘cause I do think language matters, you know, and like, the terms we use can be like psychic prisons. Or they can be liberating.
Dave (9:21): If we think about what could we change now– like, we’re in the middle of a pandemic and, like, a lot of people are trying to rethink the city.
Jean (9:51): Well, you know, what Dean Preston did, I’m sure you saw — where he wrote the legislation to extend the eviction ban to be permanent, right? So that passed.
Dave (10:02): Okay. Yeah, yeah. I didn’t realize I was permanent. That’s San Francisco, that’s for good?
Jean (10:07): Yeah, from what I know, it’s basically– like, you would still owe the rent that you were not able to pay during COVID, but you can never be, now, like physically, legally evicted from your home due to non-payment of rent during COVID. But it will still be like, ascribed to your, uh, like financial situation. Like, you’ll owe the debt, you know, and like it could affect your credit. So yeah, so that’s a permanent law in San Francisco now. But, in terms of other things, you know, it’s like mutual aid and just like looking out for your literal neighbors, you know, and just being kind and, like, not letting the fear, like, take over, you know, andlike remembering, like real people and, like.. I remember seeing something a long time ago in some sitcom where they were talking about, I think it was Friends even, like Phoebe, where somebody was like, isn’t doing a good deed actually selfish because you feel so good afterwards?
Dave (11:11): Yeah, yeah. (laughs)
Jean (11:13): The thing is, is, like, it’s true. And like, people really need the help. So people that I know, they’re doing shopping for elders, you know, so that the elders don’t have to expose themselves to the outside as much. Things like that, it’s just like the revolution of the self, where you’re like, I can do like, transcend this, like, fear. Transcend it and turn it into like vigilance or care or something.
Dave (11:37): Yeah, no, I think that’s a big thing is that the pandemic is definitely bringing communities together in, in ways especially ub, you know, wealthy cities like San Francisco, where you, you tend to have people just kind of keep to themselves a lot of the time and there’s a lack of community. Hopefully in the future, when we can reconvene together safely, like, I think artists are going to play a pretty key role in bringing people together, and kind of, like, reflecting and healing on, on all-all that’s happening right now. How can we help artists kind of get out of this situation where they’re not making money– how can we support them?
Jean (12:26): Let’s not have prejudice, but let’s definitely zero in on, like, the entitlement as the problem, right? California is so complicated now, because there is so much wealth here, and yet there’s this it’s-cool-to-care culture. But a lot of it is, in my opinion, like performative and not authentic. But, even so, it’s like, even if it’s not authentic and it is performative, you know, how much do you really want that PR line? Like, you really gotta give (laughs), you know? You know, you can basically set it up that people can make a monthly contribution of like five bucks, you know what I mean? So it’s like, if you get, like, 100 people that are like, I’ll give you five bucks a month. That’s like 500 dollars. Like, literal artists support and it’s not, like, figurative like, oh, pay attention to your email and like, buy a record when it comes out. It’s like, you could just give money on a regular basis to some of your favorite artists. People are releasing work, like, send them money, you know? DM people like, what’s your Venmo? Just like make the donation you know, don’t expect something back necessarily, because it’s like, meanwhile, we’re all making free content, like all the time and we live in this horrible, monetized capitalist system that doesn’t value artists, so we get nothing so often.
Dave (14:17): So you, you have this new album that is set to come out.
Jean (14:21): The album is Suffer No Fools and, you know, there’s some songs that I wrote in like 2014, 2015 when I first really went, like, rogue solo. And there’s, like, some collaborative stuff for sure. Uh, one of the title tracks, um, is this song called “Back to Hell”. And, it was inspired by when I read Malcolm X’s autobiography years ago, where he was always talking about sending the white devil back to hell. But now, it’s like there’s nationwide civil unrest because of racist, murderous police departments everywhere. And then, you know, there’s this song called Alice that’s like, about, kinda, it-it, it was a commission from a blog to write a song about a chapter in Alice In Wonderland, but then my grandmother’s name is also Alice and she just passed away, uh, at the beginning of this year and I always, you know, like, I sent that to her before she, like, passed away and was like, this song is for you – it’s called called Alice! Uh, so it’s, it’s a mixture of personal things, and, you know, and it’s like, the personal is political.
Dave (15:39): So you’re able to kind of find inspiration, in spite of all the craziness happening. I know some artists, it’s kind of hard, hard to focus with all this stuff that’s happening around.
Jean (15:49): So, like, for me it’s, I just kind of want to create, not to sound cheesy about it or anything, but almost just this magical world of wonder where it’s like I base out and then use what I see for the inward motion of expression. You know, there’s the, the process, I believe, at least for myself, and I think other people probably do this too where you’re, like, gleaming inspiration, and then you’re like producing work– you’re expressing what you’re seeing and feeling. And then, you have the body of work and then you’re kind of, you’re publishing it. You know, you’re, you’re bringing it out to the world. And, like, those are like distinct cycles. So I try not to get too much like, oh i need to be making stuff all the time. So it’s like I’ve chosen this lifestyle that like, yes, like on paper, it’s like abject poverty, but then it’s like I want to prioritize, like, what I believe matters, you know, and I think that’s like affordable housing– it seems like the big, big struggle of my time and place in San Francisco Bay Area and, and then, you know, making something beautiful in the world.
Dave (17:25): Well, thanks for being on the podcast, Jean. Definitely excited to put this all together and do an episode.
Jean (17:30): Chop it up, chop it up! Make it a delicious word salad for me. Put some dressing on it — a little honey, a little vinegar.
Outro (17:49): That’s all for today’s word salad. All the music you’ve been listening to in the background of today’s episode is off Future Twin’s new album Suffer No Fools. If you want to check out more of Jean’s music and perhaps support her work, check out the link in the episode notes. Now, we all know it isn’t only musicians and sound artists affected by the times, and in the next series of episodes we’re going to talk with artists from other disciplines– sculpture, film, arts education. We’re working on these new ones right now. Hit the subscribe button so you’ll be the first to listen when they drop. If you know someone who could be an interesting potential guest, don’t hesitate to reach out. Also, thanks once again to Jean, as well as Nate Tedesco for his help on this episode. And, thanks to Michelle Anderson for designing the Audium Listens logo. Until next time, I’m Dave Shaff. Be safe, be well, and keep fighting.