Portland Singer-songwriter Nina Yates Talks Debut LP ‘Mama’s Heart’, Healing Power of Songwriting and More (INTERVIEW)

Nina Yates is a healer. If you are fortunate enough to share even a little time with her you will surely feel her presence as it calms your nervous system and steadies your heartbeat. On Nina’s debut record, Mama’s Heart (out October 30th), eight of the ten songs were penned for a weekly Open Mic song challenge, hosted by the prodigious songwriter, Taylor Kingman (TK & The Holy Know-Nothings). The other two songs were co-written with acclaimed Oregon based singer-songwriter, producer and multi-instrumentalist, Mike Coykendall. For fans of legendary tunesmiths Joni Mitchell, Linda Ronstadt, Gillian Welch, and Emmylou Harris, Nina too carries the torch of powerful women whose voice needs to be heard. Drawing inspiration from the emotional world we live in, turning pain and sorrow into beauty and medicinal remedies, Mama’s Heart is a stunning collection of Americana songs that had no premeditated plan as a record. It was more just a collection of therapeutic breaths meant to move air to pen, pen to paper, paper to song, and song to her community’s ears.  

I had the absolute pleasure of sitting down with Nina, soaking in her radiance for a few minutes and talking about the conception of her debut record – while specifically digging into one of my favorite songs on the album, “To Save Me.”

Do you remember writing “To Save Me?” 

Yeah. It was a song prompt from the Laurelthirst Open Mic. Right in the first verse of the song, I keep this old guitar of mine to make my pretty tune. To save me, to save me, to save me tonight, I was just thinking about how in a sense, songwriting is very comforting. 

Is this a song that is an ode to the healing power of songwriting?

Yeah. Most of the songs I write are sad in some way. And “To Save Me” is talking about those sad feelings that would drive one to write. Although I do feel that the songs I write are also comforting. I think there is a lot of sadness or struggle that feels good to express. There is a sense of comfort or redemption in it. For the most part when writing songs I will start with an emotion or a feeling; maybe there is a phrase or melody or hook that goes with the feeling. Then it is fun to get into the story that goes with that feeling. For me it starts emotionally. 

It’s therapeutic?

Very much so. 

Tell me about your new record. What made you decide to record it? 

It started with Mike’s (Coykendall) project. He offered to record the songs that people wrote for the ‘Seeds and Stems’ project. I started off doing the two songs that he and I co-wrote, and then saying “Hey, how about let’s do a couple more?” And then again saying, “Hey, I don’t know, it seems like this is going pretty well, do you want to do a couple more?” And then finally, getting up the nerve to say, “Hey, how about we make a whole album? Are you willing?” 

And then it was picking the songs. I don’t know if I necessarily picked the songs thematically, but I think we just tried to pick the ones we both liked the best. When I listen back, there are definitely some songs that have similar themes that we didn’t use on the record. One thing that worked well for me, while doing the Open Mic song prompts, was having only three or four days to write the song. This helped me to hold them more lightly and to play with them. I didn’t feel any pressure to mine my soul, instead make the process more of a game. My favorite part of this record has definitely been all the collaborating with dear and talented friends of mine. To see the way that another artist tells the story of a song like Emma Allen does with the videos and Janet Julian did with the album art – it’s so exciting. 

It’s interesting – “To Save Me” is the song that I recorded closest to when I wrote it. We probably recorded the track within a couple weeks of writing it. Usually there are months or years. I fall in love with every song at first, don’t you?


It’s just that they’re not all long-term relationships (both laugh). But I really liked the simplicity of it. It felt like it could have been written by anybody or at a different time.

I definitely sense that. 

I’m curious what you like about it since it was one of your picks.

I like the feeling right off the bat. The mood it sets. The phrasing and the lyrics are timeless. 

One of the things that I geeked out on a little bit with “To Save Me” was trying to get the same syllables sung with the same rhythm and all the emphasis in the same places. Somewhere along the way I heard that those are the songs that stand the test of time. The ones where people can find a sense of repetition. Making it more structured makes it sound a bit more traditional.

That’s a very cool exercise. 

Yeah, I like puzzles.

Preorder Mama’s Heart HERE

Photo credit: Emma Allen

Related Content

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Recent Posts

New to Glide

Keep up-to-date with Glide