When Ian Janes was trying to come up with a title for his latest album, he didn’t have to look far. The Dartmouth, Nova Scotia-based singer-songwriter landed quickly on Yes Man, the name of a catchy song with a groovy beat that he’d co-written for the album with Joel Plaskett. “Let me be your yes man/if anyone can do it I can,” Janes sings in the chorus. “Let me be your yes man/I’m never gonna say no.”

For Janes, it was a sentiment that he felt evoked something of his own attitude going into the making of the soulful album, his fourth in nearly 20 years. “‘Yes Man’ is a song on the record, but it’s also who I’m trying to be,” says Janes. “Not in a spineless way, but in having positive energy, and an open-to-whatever attitude.”

Janes released his first album, Occasional Crush, to critical acclaim in 1998, when he was 20. It even landed him a spot on Maclean’s magazine’s annual list of 100 Canadians to Watch. Looking back, Janes gently criticizes his younger self for being afraid to take risks, and for missing out on opportunities as a result.

“I used to get too caught up in trying to control outcomes, or too rigidly plan and direct things,” he recalls.  “The younger me might have said ‘I’m not sure’ to opportunities. Now I’ve just started saying yes.”

“Songwriting is a muscle. The more you use it, the better you get at it.”

But it’s not just his attitude that has changed. While Janes, who grew up in Nova Scotia’s Annapolis Valley, has been making music for most of his life, he hasn’t always been driven to make it the focus.

It was just after releasing his second album, 2002’s As It Seems – nominated for two East Coast Music Awards and named Record of the Year by Music Nova Scotia – that Janes met the woman who would become his wife, and shifted his attention from music to growing his family.

“Music is a huge part of who I am, but it’s not the only thing I am,” says Janes, now a father of three. “It was important to me not to miss out on those parts of my life in blind pursuit of music, or of reaching some sort of level of achievement. I always wanted to balance the two.”

It wasn’t until the release of his third self-produced album, Piece of Mine, in 2010, that Janes, who was making part of his living doing carpentry work and renovation projects, started feeling the pull to return to making music, full-time.

“I realized I needed to try and focus 100 percent of my vocational energy on music,” he says. “Your ‘B’ plan can all of a sudden take all of your energy, at the expense of your ‘A’ plan. So my wife and I decided to make it so that I could spend all of my energy on the music.”

For Janes, who cites Joni Mitchell, Carole King and James Taylor among his many musical influences, it meant both pro-actively seeking out new opportunities to get heard, and opening himself up to more co-writing.

Indeed, it was after participating in Music Nova Scotia showcase that he connected with Los Angeles-based songwriter Andy Stochansky (Goo Goo Dolls, Ani DiFranco) and soon found himself in California for a writing session. He later collaborated with Lee Ann and Daryl Burgess (Irma Thomas, Colin James) in Nashville, a city he’s since visited six times in the last two years for co-writing sessions. In both cities, Janes was thrilled to have the chance to stay at the SOCAN Houses. “I wouldn’t have been able to do it without that,” he says gratefully.

In the end, two-thirds of the songs on Yes Man are co-writes, recorded in hotel rooms, studios and homes from Nashville to St. John’s, NL. Most were produced in Janes’ home studio in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, while final overdubs and mixing were done at Joel Plaskett’s New Scotland Yard studio.

Janes has also had some success writing for others, most recently when his country ballad “Can’t Remember Never Loving You,” co-written with Byron Hill, was featured prominently in the TV drama Nashville – where it was performed by lead characters as part of the show’s mid-season finale. At least two Canadian artists will also be releasing songs written by Janes in the coming year.

“It’s a muscle,” Janes says simply of the writing process. “The more you use it, the better you get at it.”

Ultimately, he’s thrilled to see that his commitment to making music full-time is starting to pay off. “Certainly, I’m still pedaling the bicycle up a hill, but I’m further up the hill now,” he laughs. “I guess it’s all about trying to keep the positivity and the pursuit going, while still trying to enjoy the process as much as you can.”