A new musical project led by Sitka-based Nicholas Galanin has signed with legendary SubPop records.
“Close the Distance” is the first single off the debut album for Ya Tseen, the latest project from Otis Calvin III, Zak D. Wass and Yéil Ya-Tseen Nicholas Galanin.
Ya-Tseen is a nod to Galanin’s name.
“The Tlingit title Ya Tseen, which means to be alive translation,” Galanin said. “Using language … it's such a core of our ways of being and thinking. I am always trying to implement or engage in language when I can even though I'm not really the speaker of the language. But I'm always a student.”
Galanin, who is Tlingit and Unangax̂, also works as a carver, engraver and visual artist. He is based in Sitka, Alaska.
Like Galanin, musician and guitarist Wass also lives and works in Sitka. Wass works summers commercial fishing with his father, and works on music and projects in the off-season.
“We're excited about this new album and it's been a long time coming,” he said. “Nick really put a lot of work in on the album this time around. And it's really above and beyond anything that we've ever done before.”
On February 10th, SubPop announced the label had signed Ya Tseen.
Formed in 1986, the label gained a reputation for signing keystone Seattle grunge bands like Nirvana and Soundgarden. Its current roster includes Fleet Foxes and The Postal Service.
Though the two didn’t know it at the time, Wass and Galanin had personal relationships with SubPop co-founder Jonathan Poneman – and those connections sparked the project that would eventually become the studio album, Galanin says.
“Jonathan, who is co-founder of the label, who's been working very closely with me on this project from the very beginning has really been wonderful to work with and provide us with quite an opportunity.” Galanin said of his work with SubPop. “They'll always have a deep-rooted history in music history. To have Indigenous artists in the space, even, I think is incredible and necessary.
The group worked previously under the name Indian Agent. Work on the latest album began about three years ago while Galanin was carving a pole in Juneau. For Galanin, the change from Indian Agent to Ya Tseen was intentional.
“Project dyanmics are always changing, process is always changing. Intentions for Indian Agent as the title at the time were to bring light to a history, the conversation that's often overlooked,” Galanin said. “It's served its purpose and its intent.”
Galanin says that with joining SubPop, they wanted to step away from the context of Indian Agent, and establish a new platform for their music as Ya Tseen.
“Often times Indigenous communities are so dehumanized intentionally … in order to inflict so much violence on our communities, dehumanizing a group of people is part of that process oftentimes to make it easier for the perpetrator of that violence to carry it and continue to believe that they can do so,” he said. “Humanizing our experiences in life is what a lot of some of these songs are, too, and that includes love and joy, so many different aspects of where we really come from, you know. We’re just not built and based in trauma.”
Beside his frequent bandmates Wass and Calvin, the full-length album “Indian Yard” features a number of collaborations, including two names that might be familiar to Alaskans – Qacung of Pumyua and Portugal. The Man.
Other collaborators include tunia, Shabazz Palaces, Nick Hakim among others.
Wass says the collaborations help keep playing with the band fresh.
“I like that about working with Nick. It's never like the same thing again and again,” he said. “What we do to bring in these other people and it's like we're always evolving and changing. So it always feels fresh and it's fun.”
Galanin says that normally the band would likely be planning for a tour with the release, but a global pandemic has halted most live performances and touring.
“It's definitely a learning process and. I think the industry has changed so much, it continually does, but all industries and all creative fields and stuff have been deeply impacted by COVID times,” he said. “We're learning what it looks like as we go in a lot of ways.”
The album is scheduled to release April 30th. The single “Close the Distance” is available to stream on a number of platforms.