Tue 3 Jan 2012
Ashes to Ashes
Formed on a Kibbutz in Israel, Yuck is a British band proudly rocking an American sound. They’re heading to New Zealand later this month to play at the annual Laneway Festival. Here’s a brief exchange we had with Yuck’s chief songwriter Max Bloom.
(EMJ) Hi Max. Where are you at the moment?
(Max) I’m just in London, at my house.
How long have you been back home since finishing your last tour?
It’s been about two weeks now. I went on holiday to Stockholm for a week and I just got back yesterday.
You guys have spent most of the year over in the US, haven’t you?
Yeah, for the most part.
You’re signed to Fat Possum Records in the US. Do you think there’s much of a difference between the way your music is received in the US to the way it’s received in the UK?
It depends. Different cultures, different people. America’s a bigger place so obviously there’s a lot more to cover. England could probably fit into the size of Texas, so it definitely requires a lot more work. I don’t know if the people who like our music in England differ to those in America.
But Yuck has quite an American sound, certainly when you hear comparisons made between your band and other bands, it tends to be American bands that people reference. Bands like Superchunk, Pavement and Dinosaur Jr.
Does that reflect a lot of the music you were listening to when you were growing up?
The bands that people often mention when they’re talking about us are the bands that I was completely obsessed with throughout the recording and writing of the first album. I didn’t listen to anything else because I was completely obsessed with guitar music. I guess it’s an album that’s born out of an obsession with stuff like that. It was kind of a period of this obsession, discovering what I liked and what I didn’t like, listening to various people playing guitar and feeling inspired to write music.
You were in a band called Cajun Dance Party when you were a lot younger, and that band has a very British sound…
I guess that was a whole different ball park. I wasn’t really writing music in Cajun, I was just playing bass. Obviously it was a really good time, and it was kind of fucked up because we were fifteen. We were still at school, it was a really fun time, but when we got a little bit older I felt more like I wanted to be in a band where I had a little bit of control over the creative effort. I wanted to be playing guitar and writing songs and my old band would not have been the group of musicians to do that with, so I formed a new band.
Like you say, you and Daniel Blumberg were only fifteen when you were in Cajun Dance Party. How is it now, touring and playing with people in other bands who are much older but perhaps less experienced?
Although I was in a touring band before this band I feel like starting Yuck was a little bit like going back to square one, in the sense that we were in school then and that meant that we couldn’t do any touring, we couldn’t do all the stuff we could do if we were out of school. We didn’t do much touring, we only released one album – it was something that we made when we were fifteen and that’s all we have to show for ourselves really. It wasn’t like reality, we didn’t actually do much. The amount of work we’ve all put in to this band in the past year is not comparable to anything with my old band.
Yuck’s a far more grown-up band then?
Yeah maybe, I guess you could say that insofar as we’re older people. It wasn’t necessarily the band I wanted to be in for the rest of my life, Yuck is.
The formation of the band is quoted in most press is dating back to 2009, but do the foundations of the band go back much further than that, especially considering that you and Daniel have been friends for so long?
I’m really not good with dates, but I think late 2009 is when things got started. Me and Daniel were writing together before that point. We spent a year not really doing much, just writing and recording music in my bedroom and stuff. But once it got to the stage where we had a large amount of songs to deal with we thought, ‘Let’s start playing live now.’ That’s when we got in touch with the other guys (Mariko Doi and Jonny Rogoff).
“The bands that people often mention when they’re talking about us are the bands that I was completely obsessed with throughout the recording and writing of the first album.”
You’ve played live quite a bit now. You had your first major tour with Times New Viking?
Yeah, I don’t know. I don’t know if that was a major tour, but I guess it was. It was just a situation where we travelled around the UK in a car and slept at friends’ houses and kind of got paid nothing, but I guess that was our first kind of tour.
And you’ve since toured with Unknown Mortal Orchestra?
Yeah, lovely boys.
Is Laneway your first run of festival dates?
Yeah I think so. In the summer we usually do things like a gig a week or whatever, but this is the first thing of this nature that we’ve ever done, definitely.
Have you played a few smaller festivals in other parts of the world?
We’ve done a couple of American ones and a couple of European festivals. I guess we’ll do a European festival this year, around Germany or somewhere.
So who looks after that side of the band’s affairs?
We’ve got an agent in America.
So you don’t look after much of the managerial side of things, bookings, etc?
I don’t think we’re the kind of band to let other people do those things, because, like, our situation with our English label and our American label is that we make sure we have control over everything. We make sure everything goes through us and that all the decisions are made by us.
I want to ask about that band being more of a live band than a studio band. Your records sound like they may be recorded live rather than tracked. Is playing live your priority?
No, I think with us recording and playing live are two very different things. The way we write and the way we record are very dependant on the way a song will start in my bedroom, where we have a studio. I record a rough demo and I might have the bare bones of a song or whatever and record it on the spot. The album wasn’t recorded like that, it was done in tracks. We spent a lot of time, when we were kind of developing our songs and stuff, developing our sound and deciding on things we liked and things we didn’t. We’d have to trial it again and again, seeing what worked and what didn’t and that’s how the album is recorded. Playing it live is something completely different, especially on this album, because some of the tracks are just mine and Daniel’s take on the song entirely and that’s all you’re hearing, whereas when it’s live obviously there’s four people involved, and the way we play live is really different to the way the album sounds. Things are different just because of the way you’re feeling. The album was recorded quite a long time ago, so the way we were feeling then might be different to the way we’re feeling in the moment, standing on stage.
So have you got some new material to play live and then record as well?
Yeah, I think the recording will come first, just because I’ve been meaning to do that. It’s getting there, I have an idea of how I want it to sound.
Yuck play the Laneway Festival on January 30 at Auckland’s Wynyard Quarter