Larry Yes is a socially-engaged artist, songwriter, and musician whose work focuses on positivity, humor, and fostering social bonds through creativity.
In his nearly 30-year musical career, he has collaborated with Michael Hurley, Mirah, Josephine Foster, Sonny and the Sunsets, Pall Jenkins (Black Heart Procession) The Blue Flowers, The Art of Flying, Bob Corn, Pink Widower, The Yogoman Burning Band, Six Foot Sloth, Hitting Birth, Ape Grave and more.
He has played shows with Donovan, Elliott Smith, Daniel Johnston, Low. He has toured Europe multiple times, played the Quiet Music Festival, as well as SXSW.
His other projects include the Optimist Club, an experimental instrumental musical liquid light experience with artists Toussaint Perrault and William Rihel.
His visual art has been shown at PDX Contemporary Art Window Project and the Portland Building, and he has collaborated with the Portland Museum of Modern Art.
He is currently obsessed with building 3D rainbows and shaking thee light fantastic with his family and friends.
I caught up with Larry in Portland at his home with his wife Sare and son, Zev. He’d just finished his Halloween display.
We talked about his youth and what’s shaped him as an artist of positive change. This is what he had to say.
What was it like growing up for you?
“When I was growing up, my mom was a blues singer, she wanted to be a rock star, she wanted to be Janis Joplin. She did all the partying. It was pretty crazy for me. It was awesome and horrible at the same time.”
“When I was sixteen, my mom got to interview the Dalai Lama and that changed her life. After that meeting, she wanted to help free Tibet so she teamed up with the Beastie Boys and other rock stars and did Lollapalooza ‘94 with 8 Tibetan monks on a bus. I went on tour with them when I was 21. I helped out with the monks and it was pretty crazy and amazing. I learned a lot about Tibetan monks and at the same time, I was a crazy hormonal young man seeing about 40,000 beautiful young people every day. The irony and highly educational ridiculousness was not lost on me.”
“The first song I ever wrote was ‘I Hate School’. I was thirteen. My mom’s band loved it and they recorded me and sent it to this guy Mike Addams who somehow had Brendan O’Brien (Pearl Jam’s producer) record and play on three tracks. He flew me out to Atlanta to record three songs and then shopped them around. I had Stevie Wonder’s drummer and Sade’s horn section backing me up. It was crazy unheard of, mayhemicaly hysterical. Nothing ever became of it, but after that, it was like, “I wanna be a rock and roll star.”
“I started playing in punk bands and tribal rock bands in Portland. I probably played in 40 bands in the course of five years. When I was seventeen, I moved into a big arty party house with all these strange and wonderful artists/musicians and we all had like five bands with each other in different configurations. Bands like Hungry Mob, Hitting Birth, Ape Grave, Water Me, Gotho God X…”
“These guys were all like ten years older than me. They all had fun names like Steven Spirit and Daniel Riddle and David Number 9. I was like, “I’ll be Larry Yes.”
“We kind of became Portland stars because Portland was pretty small back then and I was like, “oh my God, this is happening!! We are going to be big stars… but of course it never really panned out.”
“Then I realized I don’t want to be this person singing about bummer trips. That was happening everywhere. People were singing about bummer trips, painting about bummer trips, the whole “life sucks and we’re all going to die.” That was taken care of, that was covered, you know? So I started writing my own songs about my feelings and loving girls and loving cats and dogs and plants….I’ve been releasing music solo as Larry Yes since 1993.”
Can you tell me about the traumatic experience that changed your life?
“When I was 27 I was riding my bike with four of my friends and a drunk driver swerved to miss me and killed two of my friends and critically injured a third. When I saw these beautiful, amazing people die right in front of my eyes, I was like, “oh God! This is it, you gotta live here for the now.” You know what I mean? I realized then and there I could go either super depressed and go down or I could live here for the now and honor my beautiful friends by standing up and trying my best to live this life to the fullest. I realized this is the only moment I have. It was really horrible and sad and totally fucked and mystical and very real. My friend Orion passed away right underneath the Immortal Piano company sign on Belmont Street. That changed my life. After that, I was like, “this is what it’s all about.” Every day I gots to check myself when I wake up and try to be a positive person remember why I changed my name to larry peace love yes and put out the love and joy with my art.”
“After the accident, I was broken. I had to leave Portland and figure out who thee hell I was… so I ended up moving to Taos and lived there for three years with my friends. It was beautiful there, I lived with and played in a band called the Art of Flying. We had a marching band and a recording studio and it was a great scene.”
“I met my wife Sare there. It was a very amazing solidifying life and love-affirming time for me. I got really into painting there. I had gotten to know Orion’s mom, Aileen Satushek. (Orion was one of Larry’s friends that died in the accident.) Aileen is an amazing painter. She is really my painting guru. She has stacks of paintings she’s been working on for twenty years of beautiful, mystical scenes. She showed me that you need to follow your muse and try to have fun and enjoy the process … try to bring out a story from thee unknown and the dream state… I truly believe she is one of thee best painters/artist ever I hope someday the world can see her work but the great and humbling thing about her is she don’t care about all that!!>> she is process and craft and exploration she is a creative force to reckon with and she ain’t trying to be anybody in thee art scene or anywhere it’s humbling and amazing to me!!>>”
“A year later, Sare wanted to go to New York and I followed her there. She got a job as an artist assistant working for Jacob Hashimoto, a world-renowned artist. He was making three-dimensional kite installations at the time. Sare got me a job and we became like his factory workers making 10,000 kites. We’d cut out a bunch of circles and different shapes build simple kites and he’d put them together. We went to Italy with him several times to make these big installations. I realized, sometimes really great art is a whole bunch of pieces coming together. You make 10,000 of anything and you get a great place. So I thought, ok, I’ll do that with my own art.”
“So now I systematically paint like 300 positive words and put them on a wall. If you paint LOVE 300 times and put it on a wall it makes an impact. Or any art I do, rainbows or even like skeletons for my yard for Halloween I just make a lot and it becomes this grander thing.”
Larry, one of your lyrics is “time doesn’t exist, love is all there is.” What does that mean to you?
“That means love lives forever and all this earthly baggage and bullshit doesn’t. Time is really an illusion, I think?> and no has come back from the dead to tell us what happens next but I think we all have this universal love that’s inside of each of us. If you really get to know somebody and you love them and they love you and then they leave, they may be gone but you can still feel the love that they’ve given to you. Even though my grandmother and aunt aren’t around anymore, I can still feel that love. Even if I haven’t seen a friend for a long time, as soon as I see them, we’re back at it. When that zap of connection happens, it’s real. And it can happen in a snap.”
“Love is the thing that lives forever. Most religions are like, “love each other, be kind to each other.” I think the bottom line of everything is love.”
Larry Yes (503) 360-1165
* little-known fact about Larry: At age 8 he played asteroids with Sun Ra and somehow won.