The famed Troubadour club in London has hosted the likes of Bob Dylan, Jimi Hendrix, Adele and Amy Winehouse. Yet in March 2013, there stood Wayzata resident Courtney Yasmineh, on stage, ready to close the show. Yasmineh worried that everyone would leave before she even strummed her first note, since she and her bandmates were following three acts of British natives.
“We finished the first song and I thought people were just hanging around talking to their friends or getting ready to go,” Yasmineh says. “Then they were cheering like crazy. I turned and looked back because I thought something must be going on behind me, and [drummer] Rob [Genadek] was saying, ‘They’re cheering for you.’”
The story represents Yasmineh perfectly, showing the insecurity of a musician coming to grips with her own success through a career that began with a rock-star attitude and followed an arc that is beyond unconventional.
Yasmineh always dreamed of playing music for a living. She sang in the church choir at age 8, got her first guitar at the same age, and wrote her first songs at 12, all the while watching other musicians and thinking, “How do I get to do that?” After issues in her home life in Chicago got to be too much, Yasmineh ran away and took refuge in the home of her grandfather (now deceased) on the Iron Range of Minnesota at age 17. “I moved up to northern Minnesota at that time when people thought Bob Dylan was the bomb. And I did too,” she says.
It took years before this rock-star move made Yasmineh an actual rock star. When her high school principal discovered she was living alone, he got her in touch with the head of the English department at Macalester College. She was granted a full scholarship and graduated with a degree in literature and creative writing, minoring in business and also obtaining her teaching license. Shortly after, she married a doctor, had kids, and ended up in Wayzata living the suburban lifestyle. “I loved what I was doing and I believed in my idea of having a more conventional life and raising children,” she says. “I don’t regret putting in the time.”
The years of waiting paid off in 2001, when she wrote a song after 9/11 and ended up parlaying that into her first album in 2004. “I knew I always wanted to [make an album] and I had been performing, but I thought that if you were good, you would get discovered when you were younger, and I didn’t get discovered,” Yasmineh says. “I didn’t understand you had to put your mind to it and fight for it and not take no for an answer.”
Yasmineh ditched her conventional life to do battle for her dream. She thought she would be rejected by the industry because of her age, and that people would write her off as some lady having a midlife crisis. It’s not often you find a middle-aged woman in Wayzata touring Europe with her band.
Yasmineh’s fourth record was released in December, and in addition to playing the Twin Cities club scene, she’s completed seven European tours since 2010. Over the years, Yasmineh has fine-tuned a sound that she and Genadek, her drummer and a Grammy nominated music producer, describe as “adult alternative.” She writes her own songs, with Genadek serving as a sounding board for ideas while helping create the musical arrangements and giving Yasmineh the honest, sometimes brutal, feedback she needs.
“She’s started coming into her own and becoming more confident in herself,” Genadek says. “From what she was writing about and where she came from, it seems like a pretty battered place. You go through anything like that and you’re going to be standing on shaky ground—especially with something as personal as music.”
Her songs trace her experiences which give her lyrics meaning. Whether it’s her teenage fans who look up to her or her middle-aged fans who understand what she’s going through, Yasmineh has found her audience through coming to grips with her personal history.
“People lose the ability to write about relationships and everyday sentiments that everybody can relate to,” she says of musicians who grind out a life on the road. “As a songwriter, [my background] has been better—what I’d like it to be is I can offer people meaningful lyrics with real-life experiences that matter to them.”
In March, one year after her gig at the Troubadour, Yasmineh and her band went to Austin, Texas, to play SXSW, one of the biggest music festivals of the year. She’s built a music career during a time in life when most people worry their kids will decide one day they’re leaving school to become a rock star.
“You can defy convention with a tiny bit more confidence,” Yasmineh says. “It has taken all these years to convince myself I can do this… Right this minute, I’m happier about my career than I think a lot of women would say with whatever career they’re doing,” she says “I’m doing the best work of my career right now.”