Jacob Brett, also known by his stage name Yakub T. Coyote, is a local musician who uses songwriting to work through the complex issues he’s faced in his life. These include heartbreak, loss and homelessness, to name a few. (Mark Brett - Western News)

Living life through music

Local musician uses songwriting to overcome life’s issues

For some, music is a way to express joy, bouncing along to an upbeat rhythm with uplifting lyrics, but for Jacob Brett, it is an outlet to come to grips with his circumstances in life.

Being raised, along with his brother, in foster care in Ontario, Brett is no stranger to hardship, and were it not for a friend in high school pushing to him explore his musical talents, his story may well have turned out differently. He is grateful now for his friend’s influence, which set him onto a path of not only playing but eventually writing his own songs.

“My first introduction to music was probably in Grade 10, then my friend kind of forced me to be in his band. I didn’t play music, but he said ‘I need somebody to jam with so I’m going to force you against your will to learn music,’” laughed Brett. “I started with ukulele, and then once we started jamming with other people I moved to bass and slowly worked my way up to six strings.”

He is essentially self-taught, aside from the instruction he received from his friends and the experience he gained with jamming with other musicians. Brett said singing as he played came naturally, and with that his first sense of fulfillment in creating music.

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“Singing and playing at the same time was the only way I really felt fulfilled doing it,” said Brett. “I think that singing is a really emotional experience that you don’t get with instruments, there’s something more honest about it.”

Music became a constant for Brett in his otherwise transient lifestyle. He explained he moved around more than people in his social circle so being a member of a band was just not possible. During his first year of university, taking sociology, he began putting pen to paper, finding a way to turn his passion into a therapeutic experience.

“I just couldn’t stay in one spot long enough to make a group project work,” said Brett. “And a few years back, there were some things I needed to get off my chest, something that’s so deeply personal, it feels weird to share it with other bandmates. When the music is therapy then it’s sometimes best to do it alone.”

After earning his degree, Brett began spending his summers in Penticton about three years ago, working numerous jobs to support himself as he further developed his music. He said he really only started promoting his music about one year ago, taking the leap to start his own bandcamp profile on the popular band music website. He said he also began playing a few solo gigs in Penticton at Tug’s Taphouse and Craft Corner Kitchen under his stage name Yakub T. Coyote.

“I started to really make an online presence for myself and felt that drive to push for something a little more out of music. It was upon completing my album that I felt like I really had something that I could show people,” said Brett. “I recorded the album all by myself. It’s kind of weird when you’re in that space because you don’t have any outside input, so you don’t know if what you’re doing is good or bad or what. You just have to try and be as honest as you can.

Jacob Brett doesn’t look like a stereotypical homeless person, though he has experienced bouts of homelessness in his life. Rather than accepting his circumstances, he uses music and songwriting to work through his issues and pursue his passion. (Mark Brett – Western News)

“It’s such a cathartic experience doing a solo project, but listening to your own music over and over again also makes you feel so detached from the world and in your own head. It took a lot to work up the enthusiasm to put finally put it online.”

Brett describes the album, titled If I Had a Nickel, as a true expression of himself and said it’s the best way to get to know him since his music “speaks to who (he) is as a person.”

In his music, he tackles the subjects of heartbreak and loss, and even opens up about more complex and personal subjects like homelessness in his newest song, something he has experienced firsthand.

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“I have had a few instances in my life where I’ve either been living out of my car for a while or having to go couch to couch, like all last winter I was couch-surfing. It makes you feel so lost sometimes, and I think writing that song was a way of trying to ground myself and come to peace with the idea that you’re not always going to have somewhere to go back to. There’s not always a home for you to stay at,” said Brett. “Like when I spend my winters in Ontario, growing up in foster care, there’s not really a home for me to go back to. So I just bounce around and lean on my friends, and that can really make you feel like a burden when you have to ask so much of people and you feel like you don’t have much to give back, besides your company.”

Brett is not the stereotypical image of a homeless person. He is clean and well-spoken, able to work in a variety of jobs, but like others who have been in similar situations, he has fallen on hard times in the past and found himself without a roof over his head. He recognizes the correlation between his upbringing and the hardships he’s faced in his adult life but chooses to focus on moving forward and bettering his life.

“Growing up in foster care and experiencing bouts of homelessness are very closely related. Former foster kids are at least twice as likely to live this kind of instability as adults. My point is that someone can make a lot of assumptions about a person’s work ethic and character flaws when they see them living out of a car or in a tent,” said Brett. “But the reasons are often far more complex and reflect the contrast between the institutionalized lifestyle experienced by youth (specifically those in care) and the ambiguous and unstable nature of the world after care and out of school.”

Though he has a sociology degree, Jacob Brett doesn’t envision himself entering the social work field until later in his life. Having grown up in foster care himself, he’d like to one day help improve the system. For now, his satisfaction comes from writing and performing music, while working whatever job he can to support this endeavour. (Mark Brett – Western News)

Brett’s ideal job would incorporate his passion for music with helping others, but until then he said he’s willing to take whatever position he can, noting that currently, he works four jobs in Penticton.

“With my sociology degree, I thought about getting into social work at some point, I think it would be nice to work with foster kids and try and make some improvements to that system if possible,” said Brett. “But that’s something I don’t think I’m ready for right now. It’s a pursuit I can see myself getting behind, but I don’t get the same enthusiasm with it as I do with music.”

Brett plans to spend his winter in Ontario again, taking the time to “write as much content as possible” so that he can record another album.

He would also like to try his hand at getting involved with a band or some other musical project that would help support his musical aspirations and his nomadic lifestyle. After that, the plan, for now, is to return to Penticton where he will continue to build on his current relationships with the local establishments that offer live music.

To report a typo, email: editor@pentictonwesternnews.com.

Jordyn Thomson | Reporter
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