As Adrian Galvin sprawls his legs on a wooden bench in the Think Coffee shop on Bowery, the 28-year-old who performs as Yoke Lore tells me something that I’d never imagine any self-respecting New York musician would admit.
“Like, maybe you listen to Nickelback on Sunday evenings when no one’s around. And that’s okay! Go, listen to Nickelback. That’s great. And for the rest of the week, you can listen to your cool-ass hip music. Have a day of the week where you listen to shitty music ‘cuz you enjoy it.”
Somehow, Galvin’s refreshing honesty makes me respect him all the more—one of many surprises during our afternoon conversation on a muggy July day. We’re discussing Galvin’s single for his third and latest EP Absolutes, which drops this Friday, July 27 from Arts & Crafts Productions. “Cut and Run” focuses on the need to let go of society’s obsession with healthy living and allow yourself to occasionally do things that may not be “good” for you. Like listening to Nickelback. Or staying in a relationship that may not have the legs for a long-term partnership, but gives you temporary satisfaction.
“Maybe you’re not going to marry them, but it’s okay because it’s not going to fucking kill you,” says Galvin with a straight face.
The video for “Cut and Run,” which Galvin produced with his friend Nick Lieberman, features a disorienting array of environments, from a desert near the Angeles National Forest to a basement inside of a dollar store in LA. With the help of elaborate time-lapse sequences, Galvin moves through them with dizzying speed as he experiences a series of heightened emotions. While Galvin’s body occupies the video’s frame, his vocals play in the background with a sort of warped, distant quality to them: “But you make me forget myself/I love you/I don’t want anybody else.”
Galvin breaks down the concept behind the video, which is about investigating the idea of speed in different emotional and environmental contexts. “I struggle with speed, because I like to move really fast through life and everything in it…I jump really fast into relationships. When I meet someone I dig, I’m like, Fuck yeah, we’re in love. Let’s do this. And they’re a part of my life. Not the best thing to do all the time.”
The themes swirling around the desert in “Cut and Run” tie in to the broader circuitry of Absolutes. The album centers on Galvin’s desire to question the rigidity in his own intellectual and emotional thought processes, which can lead to a black-and-white worldview that may not be true to reality.
He pauses, sipping on his iced green tea as he fumbles for an appropriate analogy. “We all grow up with these ideas that our parents are infallible…and there’s always a time in everyone’s life when you realize that’s not true. Oh shit, they’re just regular-ass human beings. They’re just doing their fucking best. I think that’s one of those moments when you’re forced to contend with the fact that the world is not structured in absolutes.”
As I listen to Yoke Lore’s singles “Cut and Run” and “Fake You,” I have a hard time putting my finger on the genre, given that some of his songs rely more heavily on vocals and others on drums and analog synthesizers. Is it pop? Electronic? Folk music? It strikes me as strange combination of all three. When I ask Galvin, he summarizes his songs best as “folk sheets on a pop bed.”
In both his professional and personal life, Galvin seems to adhere to a sort of deeply contemplative, meditative thought process that seems to underlie all his actions. He’s also an ardent practitioner of Chinese Daoist yoga. His thoughtful attitude stems from the way his parents—also both artists—raised him to be deeply mindful of the impact of his actions on others around him. He shares a story of when he took tap dancing classes and wanted to give up, but his mom wouldn’t let him go without a kind word to the teacher.
“Three classes in, I was like, I don’t want to do this anymore. It was all girls, they’re all making fun of me. I don’t want to tap dance anymore,” says Galvin, laughing. “My mom was like, ‘That’s fine, but you can’t just go. We’re going to go and you’re going to have a conversation with the teacher about why you don’t want to be with it.’ And I was, like, eight years old.”
Although Galvin was born in Washington Heights and now lives on the Upper West Side (he recently moved from Brooklyn), he spent most of his childhood in the suburban woods of Katonah in Westchester County, which he says fostered self-introspection that contributed to his thinking as an artist. His love for his family—a big brood of siblings and cousins—also shaped his musical ambitions. He first got into drums around the age of four or five in imitation of his beloved older sister, Emma, who had recently started lessons. And the rest is history.
Although he has a tendency to mumble (“I have this idea that people who speak loudly have nothing to say”), Galvin speaks with both the sage wisdom of a monk and the boyish attitude of a youth fresh off his first concert, though that’s far from the case. He’s been rotating between bands since middle school—when he performed Green Day covers—all the way through college and the present day, spanning groups with wild names like Plaid Cabbage, Kool-Aid Jammers, Motley Shrew, The Name Crisis (“because it was a bit of a crisis”) Real Fake and Walk the Moon.
He left the last band, Yellerkin, to pursue a career as solo artist Yoke Lore. The yoke in the name refers to the wooden beam that binds oxen together as they till fields, Galvin says while pointing to a tattoo of that same yoke on his upper arm. “I’m interested in telling those kind of stories about how things are connected…Being yoked. What we’re yoked to. And how we want to be yoked better.”
Since going solo, Galvin’s songs, including from his 2017 EP Goodpain, have racked up more than 10 million listens on Spotify and scored him nods from the likes of Taylor Swift. I ask Galvin about his reaction to Swift adding his cover of Savage Garden’s song “Truly Madly Deeply” to her Spotify playlist “Songs Taylor Loves.” Despite his gratitude for her support, Galvin hesitates to shower her with full-blown praise.
“She seems a bit, I don’t know, man. It’s like, I don’t know if those kinds of people are real people…if you have that much going on, how can you think like a normal person? How can you have normal people feelings?”
I wonder how that sort of thinking influences the way Galvin views his own artistic trajectory. Would he never want to achieve a Swift-level of fame? Noticing the hesitant look on Galvin’s face, I quickly rephrase. Or at the very least, would it be a moral reckoning for him?
“I’d have to make a lot of compromises for sure. And that scares me a lot. Even at the level I’m at, it’s a struggle to keep it sincere. To keep the songs full of integrity. To keep the business practices full of integrity,” says Galvin. “But it’s a struggle that I think is a really necessary and worthy battle to fight. And one that I’m super excited to be able to fight.”