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Verse & Vision: Exclusive Conversation with Astrid Young on Music, Writing, and Creative Mastery

Join Jay Lang in “Verse & Vision” for an interview with Astrid Young for insights on music, writing, and her creative process and inspiration.

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Astrid Young in 2024
Astrid Young in 2024

Welcome back to “Verse & Vision,” the sixth installment in our ongoing series, where we explore the multifaceted world of writing and publishing (check out the last instalment in case you missed it). When I sat down with Astrid Young, I was immediately struck by her multifaceted artistic journey. As the daughter of esteemed journalist and novelist Scott Alexander Young and the sister of Canadian music icon Neil Young, Astrid’s creative lineage is undeniable.

Yet, her career is a testament to her unique talents and relentless pursuit of artistic excellence. From her early days as a musician to her ventures into screenwriting and authorship, Astrid has carved out a distinct path in the arts. In our conversation, she delved into her inspirations, her creative process, and the experiences that have shaped her diverse career.

Join me as we explore the mind of this Canadian treasure who continues to redefine the boundaries of creative expression.

Jay Lang: What initially inspired you to pursue a career in music?

Astrid Young: “I’ve been playing music since I was a toddler… so it was in me. I was also a bit of a show-off and loved to perform. But I think the defining moment was when I announced to my mother at the age of 6 that I wanted to be a singer like my brother, she put her foot down and said, ‘Oh no you’re not! You’re going to go to college and have a respectable job!’ I took that as a challenge.

“Even at that age, telling me I couldn’t do something was an invitation to prove you wrong. Not much has changed!”

How did your journey as a musician influence your decision to explore writing?

“I grew up in a writing family—my father was a newspaperman and author, his mother was a writer, my mother helped my dad write some of his books, and later on my stepmother was a newspaper editor. So it’s in my blood and it’s always come easily to me. In retrospect, I should have stuck with writing from the start but I had this tendency to try to do the hardest things I could find and writing wasn’t enough of a challenge.

“I’ve had some good successes, my first short story published when I was 15, some screenplays optioned, a bestselling book. I feel very grateful that it’s easy for me because these days it’s a big part of how I make a living.”

“I think one of the mistakes beginning writers make is in thinking they have to start at the beginning. Start anywhere. Just write what you’re inspired to write and keep going.

Can you share a bit about your creative process when it comes to composing music and writing books?

“With songs, the music always comes first. In truth, I’m challenged with lyrics these days. it needs to come to me, I don’t force it. this is why I like collaborating with other songwriters, it’s a great way to stimulate ideas.

“As for books, I was kind of intimidated to write my first one; when my dad wrote a book it took forever, the research, the travel, interviews, piles of carbons stacked up beside the typewriter, multiple rounds of edits… but once I started I figured it out.

“I think one of the mistakes beginning writers make is in thinking they have to start at the beginning. Start anywhere. Just write what you’re inspired to write and keep going.

“I like the 90-minute rule: even if you don’t feel like writing, do it for 90 minutes a day. You might get inspired to go longer and you might quit after 90 minutes, but you’ll always be that much farther ahead than when you started.

“Also, write what you know. Don’t bother with the rest. Or if you need some information to flesh out a character or a scene, do your research. Ask an expert.

“And never be afraid to ask for feedback—that’s another mistake a lot of writers make, not asking. Editors are awesome. They’re there to make your work better. Take the help when you can and don’t be so precious about it.”

Vision & Verse banner, image by Lance Marwood

Vision & Verse banner, image by Lance Marwood

What do you find most rewarding about expressing yourself through both music and literature?

“Well, inasmuch as I don’t feel that ‘literature’ is what I do… for me, it’s partly about the process, but also it’s about having a finished thing at the end of the work. There’s nothing more satisfying than to look at something (or listen to it) and go, yep, I made that!”

How do you balance your time between creating music and writing books?

“Unfortunately gainful work takes priority and I wish that wasn’t always necessary. I have three book projects simmering right now but I spend so much time writing for other people that my brain is a bit fried for my own stuff. So there’s no balance.

“I try to carve out time to be creative and hope that the muse is lurking about. I am inherently distrustful of routine. It never works for me. But I am always open to inspiration and I’m usually smart enough to jump on it when it hits me!”

“I like the 90-minute rule: even if you don’t feel like writing, do it for 90 minutes a day. You might get inspired to go longer and you might quit after 90 minutes, but you’ll always be that much farther ahead than when you started.

Are there any particular themes or messages that you aim to convey through your music and writing?

“I like taking people on a ride through my mind, haha. You’ll get that if you listen to my albums or read my book.

“Message-wise, I’m not trying to tell anybody what to think. In fact, there’s a lot of room for interpretation in my songs, which is what I think music should be.

“Far be it for me to tell any of my ex-boyfriends that ‘Patchouli Boy’ is NOT about them! Hopefully I can convince them to roll around in my world for a while, that is all.”

How do you feel your background and experiences as a musician inform your approach to storytelling in your books?

“I don’t really know how to answer that except to say, my experiences are what make me who I am, so that’s always going to influence how I approach everything I do.

“Honestly I don’t think the music has any bearing on my writing-writing, two different animals. Remember, I was a musician first and the music was always separate from the words for a long time.”

Can you discuss any upcoming projects or collaborations in either music or writing that you’re particularly excited about?

“I have a new album coming out later this year, produced by Eddie Kramer. I worked with some amazing people and co-wrote/sang a duet with David J. (of Bauhaus and Love & Rockets), who also plays bass on the record—as does my long-time collaborator, Victor DeLorenzo (an original Violent Femme). I’ll be touring this summer in the US and hoping to get back in the studio when I return in the fall, the record is actually almost finished, so I’m pretty excited about that. It’s gonna be called How the Beautiful Get Away With Murder.”

How do you think your audience perceives the connection between your music and your writing?

“I genuinely don’t know if they know there is a connection. I can tell you that more people have discovered my music after reading my book than the other way around.”

You wrote and starred in the film Haunted. Could you share what inspired you to create this screenplay, and what was the experience like for you?

“I started writing the short story Haunted was based on in 1985. It’s about a female rock star who’s also a serial killer. I was listening to Love and Rockets’ album Haunted When the Minutes Drag on a loop at the time (I didn’t know David J. back then) so that music inspired me in many ways.

“In 1986, I was working in a bar in Hollywood and I overheard two producers talking about how they needed stories, so I pitched them my idea and they loved it. So I wrote up a synopsis and they paid me real money for it—that was my first option. Literally a one-page synopsis. I optioned it a second time as a treatment a few years later after the rights came back to me.

“Again, it never got made. So a friend encouraged me to write a feature script. I didn’t know what I was doing, but with a little encouragement, a copy of Sid Field’s “Screenplay,” and help from a few very patient story editors, I knocked it out.

“Around that time I came back to Canada for family reasons and had the opportunity to pitch it to a director. He loved it but at the time (pre-9/11) nobody was funding horror movies and there was no interest in serial killer stories.

“So there was no money, but we still wanted to do it. We decided to make a fake documentary-style piece that followed the events of the feature, and that’s what ended up being the short film Haunted. Because we had no money, I had to act in it (it was never my intention to play this character and it was hard!), my band was in it, my music, etc.

“In the end, I was not happy with the result. The director got a paying gig toward the end of production and slapped the cut together like he was building a house out of popsicle sticks and white glue … ugh. I had zero control over it. But it got a theatrical release, it won some awards in festivals. It did okay. But in terms of my standard of quality it’s a piece of crap.

So until I get to re-cut it and fix the myriad problems it has, nobody’s going to see it. I doubt the feature will ever get made … however, with that in mind, I am writing a novel so I can actually get something finished and out there. I wish I had more time for it to be honest, it’s a great story and has been workshopped by some pretty amazing authors, including F. Paul Wilson and Peter Straub. Nice to have that kind of validation!”

“Pay attention to what gets you excited and keep doing those things. Don’t worry about “success” because it is 100% never what you think it’s going to be. That being said, crazy things can happen if you put the work in.

Astrid Young

Astrid Young

Are there any plans for you to write more screenplays in the future?

“Oh sure. I always have a few crazy ideas kicking around. Writing a screenplay is way easier and faster than writing a book! I still write scripts, I’ve written a couple of radio docu-series in the past year, but nothing for my own purposes.”

How do you find the challenges you face as a musician compare to those you encounter as a writer?

“Both industries are challenging. There’s no money in songs anymore and I don’t feel like I’m the kind of artist who’s ever going to do well with streaming. So I’ll tour until I can’t do it anymore and sell my stuff that way.

“As for writing, the publishing industry has its own issues: my publisher went out of business, advances are nonexistent, and I don’t have an agent at the moment.

“Anyway, I’m happy for the successes I’ve had, and grateful that opportunities still come my way that keep me going. It ain’t easy and I have no idea how young people can justify choosing music as a career these days. and writing? I don’t know. I guess I’m just lucky people still pay me to write. Hey, I just made a record with Eddie Kramer! If that’s not the rock and roll dream I don’t know what is!

“All that is to say, it didn’t happen overnight. A lifetime of hard work led to this. Once that’s out and successful, once I finish the Haunted novel, maybe that’s all I really want.”

What advice would you give to aspiring musicians and authors who are looking to follow in your footsteps?

“Run!

“Pay attention to what gets you excited and keep doing those things. Don’t worry about “success” because it is 100% never what you think it’s going to be. That being said, crazy things can happen if you put the work in. my 20-year-old self never would have fathomed I’d be collaborating with members of Bauhaus and the Violent Femmes and making a record with Eddie Kramer—or that those people would love my music so much.

“That’s a testament to being true to your muse, embracing what makes you unique, and not being afraid to fail.

“Just focus on getting good and whatever’s going to happen will happen. It’ll never turn into anything if you don’t push yourself beyond what you thought you were capable of.”

Do you have a bucket list? If so, what are some of the things you aspire to achieve as both a music artist and an author?

“Right now it’s just finishing the new record. Also having the time to finish writing the Haunted book. Finding a literary agent so I can focus more on my own projects. Musically, I’ve already made a record with Eddie Kramer, so where is there to go?? I’d love to write or record with Kate Bush. That would be next level awesome.”

Jay Lang is an extraordinary author known for her prolific talent, having written an impressive 13 novels in a mere 4 years. Her journey into writing began when she fearlessly ventured into a university education in 2019, where her passion for learning ignited. Thanks in part to the seclusion of the pandemic, Jay has emerged from that period an author published many times over. She now resides in Abbotsford, B.C. Jay’s latest book, One Take Jake: Last Call, fueled by an unconventional creative process, captivated musicians and artists, earning praise from industry heavyweights.

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