Forum Senior Member
Joined: April 12 2008
Posted: September 09 2013 at 08:53
Cryptozoology-themed avant-prog? Sign me up, please.
"The past is not some static being, it is not a previous present, nor a present that has passed away; the past has its own dynamic being which is constantly renewed and renewing." - Claire Colebrook
Forum Senior Member
Joined: July 22 2005
Location: United States
such a good band
Joined: February 11 2009
Location: Vancouver, CA
In all of my musical listening, I can think of few bands that have had the same baffling effect on me as Yowie. They- perhaps moreso than any band I’ve ever heard in the canon of rock music- take the concept of dissonance directly to heart. It’s weird enough to challenge the foundation of what makes music good or not; initial impressions may overwhelm the listener with the matter-of-fact, barebones production and sporadic compositions, but the more familiar listener might begin to notice method to the madness Yowie are pushing here. Tis’ music for the musically adventurous indeed, and the band were kind enough to offer some insight into this chaos.
First of all, what’s in the name Yowie? An interesting origin story, perhaps?
Not really that interesting. It had to do with a discussion about the prevalence of pseudoscientific ideas- which is a topic I think and talk about way too much- and it was mentioned that so many different cultures have something like a sasquatch/bigfoot/abominable snowman. The name “yowie” was mentioned, the Australian Bigfoot, and seemed so perfect for us- esoteric, surreal, angry.
How might you describe yourselves and your sound to someone that has never experienced your work before?
I usually say, “It’s weird stuff and you wouldn’t like
it.” I could probably work on my marketing skills. But if I don’t have some
indication that the person I’m talking to has adventurous tastes or at least an
unusually open mind, I don’t bother. Sometimes, I just say “it’s prog rock.”
But of course, that is a terrible label for us, because even thought it is
basically correct, the popular connotation with that term is Dream Theater or
Rush, which we have really no relation to; we are a different species
altogether. I could talk on and on about it, but people don’t want a
dissertation; they want at most a couple of sentences. So, I will say that we intentionally
disregard musical conventions a great deal, and so if you like conventional
music, we are not for you. We play around a lot with meter, and are highly
rhythmic as opposed to melodic, often trying to maximize the layers of
interactions that we can have at one time. Our music is about girth and
intensity; there is basically no extra room, no space in our music, we tend to
repeat very little and play to the limits of our abilities on every level we
can, with speed, with polyrhythms, with uncomfortable tones, and we pack a hell
of a punch, with often dramatic swells and crescendos…I am not sure if this is
really communicating much. I think I will just go back to saying we play weird
sh*t. There is a segment of people who are musically trained or at least
somewhat astute, and they are interested by the compositions, and then there is
a segment of people who are not so much into those things but find it
compelling on an emotional level (which I appreciate). And then there are
groups of people, astute or not, who just hate it, hate the rules we break,
whether they are aware of them or not. In
Yowie have one of the most unique and unsettling sounds I think I’ve ever heard in rock music. How did your style come together; was it a matter of discussing musical direction, or did it converge naturally as a result of jamming?
We do not jam; it’s just not something we do. And honestly, we never discussed musical direction much either. We started this band and immediately began pushing ourselves, forcing ourselves to play things that we could imagine, but could not play at all. And we started writing pieces that became an extreme reaction, the antithesis of what we disliked in composition. For instance, in traditional progressive rock, a lot of times there are amazing parts that are embedded in what are honestly mediocre compositions overall; it’s like the composers have all this ability and vision, and they have great ideas, and they stick them in the middle of sort of boring parts, because the good parts have to be hidden within more “accessible” (i.e., repetitive, simplistic, bland) compositions, or else not enough people would listen. And so we said f**k that, let’s make songs that are almost nothing but those parts; we want to get right to the point, to the climax, and then keep that going, even if that makes us take years and years to write an album and learn to play what we write. We still do that- push ourselves to the point of absurdity, and then keep doing it until it becomes something we can pull off consistently. And this is maybe why the previously referenced composers do what they do; it can be exhausting to play- and to listen to- songs that are composed of nothing but those intricately crafted parts. At least for most.
Listening to Yowie, I’m very interested as to how these compositions come together. Although it comes across as incredibly chaotic, the common rhythmic tightness shared between band members gives the music the impression of begin something meticulously crafted. What’s Yowie’s songwriting process?
Well if it is chaotic, it is definitely meticulously crafted chaos, if that makes any sense. The song writing process is really hard to describe, which is part of the reason it takes us so long to write new material. We often start off with a barebones element, usually a basic rhythm. And then we start to map it out, how each player will start to interact with it. We record it, we critique it, we argue about it (a lot sometimes), and we refine it. We don’t start off with a concept for the composition; we start off with a riff or a rhythm, and we develop it until it has its own identity and voice. And then we start a new one, do it again, and again, and we let the parts start to cluster together- different ones will seem related, and we will start to assemble them. In the process, making them work with one another, they sometimes lose some of the character of the way we composed them, and then that can be a process of grief and compromise and more arguing. So it’s like we make dozens and dozens of small compositions, and then let them start to take on their own character, and then we try to relate them to one another, by changing and changing them again so that they start to coexist. Then we assess, record, argue, and repeat, making the object of the scrutiny larger and larger. It is an extremely time consuming way to do things, and in some ways horribly inefficient, but it is what produces Yowie jams. We are notorious for not repeating things terribly much, and that has even been taken to the point where some of these mini-compositions don’t even make it through once. That is, we have a riff someone loves, but due to the demands of the larger piece, not only is it not repeated, it actually never even makes it into the song one whole time; it’s just a sad fraction, a remnant of its former self. Our pieces are strewn with these disappointing sacrifices and unrealized potentials (and interpersonal conflicts).
One of the most distinctive elements of your sound is the notable absence of effects and embellishment. Although the sounds are strange as anything, it seems far more a result of the musicianship, rather than the sort of post-production magic many avant-garde bands use to get their ‘weirdness’ across. What’s behind the decision to go for this ‘barebones’ sort of sound?
It wasn’t a conscious decision, a part of our ethos. We were extremely poor when we created this band and had no decent equipment, and so fancy effects pedals or other accoutrements weren’t even an option. If we wanted weird sounds (and we did), we needed to make them with what we had. I was in grad school, Jeremiah worked in social services, and so did Lil Pumpkin. We were dirt poor. Like no climate control, stealing toilet paper from public bathrooms, house infested with brown recluses but couldn’t afford an exterminator poor. We recorded our first album for under $400, and mixed and mastered it ourselves, teaching ourselves to use free software along the way. That album was done with no resources but dedication. So it wasn’t really a decision, to utilize a barebones sound. On the other hand, we weren’t ever saying “I wish I could afford an awesome flanger pedal,” either. One clarification though- Lil Pumpkin did put a rubber band on his guitar on one part in “Slowly but Surly.” So that was an effect of sorts; pretty hi-tech sh*t. I guess then, our rule is that effects must be worth one penny or less. And now Chris plays that part au naturale. So our effects phase is over. In the future, no doubt countless pundits will debate which phase of Yowie’s body of work had more merit. Pick a side.
Between “Cryptooology” and the second album “Damning With Faint Praise”, the latter seems to be a little more hook-oriented and focused than its chaotic predecessor. What were the differences in making these two albums; were there different challenges you came across?
This marks the first time Yowie’s music was described as “hook -oriented,” and I am thankful that this has finally come to pass. But earlier, we were “unsettling” and our sounds were “strange.” Maybe that’s what I can say when someone asks us what we are like- we are a band that creates strange, unsettling hooks.
Cryptooology was extreme, no doubt. We wanted it to be harsh, and we fully appreciated that this harshness was pushed to absurd levels, but it was meticulously harsh. We wanted the songs to be balls out, all the time, without concern for smoothing out edges, making things easier to consume- we wanted to let the parts exist and flow on their own terms and found strange ways to make them have to work with one another. But just doing that, over and over, seemed like it would get old. So on “Damning with Faint Praise” I was very insistent on finding a way to take the essence of what Yowie is, the odd times, the impenetrably thick rhythms and harsh tones, but also make them flow. The idea for me was to not lose the complexity and girth while also having a sense that, within its own rule set, the songs flowed somewhat intuitively. And the ladies clearly prefer Damning with Faint Praise, so I must’ve been onto something. That is what it was really all about. This band is all about impressing the women. They love polyrhythmic microtones.
Yowie marks one of the few times I’ve been expressly interested in terms of equipment, particularly due to the risky ‘barebones’ approach you take to your recordings. What equipment does the band use; are there certain brands better-suited to this sort of music?
Ha. Nope. Man, you have been saving up your gear question all this time, so I am sorry to disappoint, but we are possibly the least gear focused band on earth. Jeremiah doesn’t even have his own guitar or his own amp; his head is held together with tape. He borrowed a guitar years ago, and still plays on a cabinet that someone left in a practice space of one of my old bands, when they tried out and never came back for it. So again, I think the necessity of poverty is part of what drove the sound. We make the most of what we have. I am not sure he would be able to do what he does with a non-defective guitar though, so maybe there is something special in it. But again, not by design. Maybe us getting a unique and coherent sound out of all this pedestrian equipment is a testament to our ingenuity, or maybe it is just plain dumb luck. Glad no one left a Gorilla Amp and a Series 10 in that space.
I can only imagine what your live shows would be like. What’s the live experience with Yowie like? Any particularly notable shows? Any particularly shocked concertgoers?
You’re invited anytime. The live experience is usually intense; we assault people with what we do. If we are playing in front of a Yowie-naïve crowd, usually a lot of them stand there confused for the first song or two, and then start talking amongst themselves, and then we lose a few people to natural selection, and once the herd is sufficiently thinned, the remaining superior specimens usually start to get excited. For this reason, we wonder whether we should start off with our harshest material or our least harsh. In between songs, I am usually encouraging people to dance, and even though that may seem like I am trying to be ironic because everything is odd meter and constantly changing, it is quite sincere. One of my favourite things in my entire musical life is that when we finally toured Europe last year, we had many people take us up on that. This basically does not occur in the US.
Concert-goers are often kind of saying “what the f**k is going on” but in a way that entices them to listen again. It is very common for people to say something like, “I saw you live and I didn’t know what the hell that was but I was curious, and so I bought the album and after the 20th listen these songs are starting to make some sense.” And I think there is some truth to that; it’s usually too much for people to take in during a single sitting. I recommend to people that they listen to one song, just once, and then wait a bit. Listen to it again later. Don’t try to devour the whole album in one sitting; it will make most get indigestion.
But back to the shows, it is very common for people to ask us how in the hell we write our music. I wish I had a concise answer for this, but as you have already seen, I don’t. The other thing we hear a lot is that people want to know how we improv so well with one another- like how is it that we all are farting around, playing unrelated parts, but then somehow stop on a dime without looking at one another…this is something that used to really piss me the f**k off, since we have never improvised even one note, and since the music takes such a herculean effort to compose and pull off (and also, I honestly can’t musically relate to anyone who might conceive of the idea that this music is improvised)….but now my anger has been eroded by the sheer repetition of this question, and so I usually just answer about how intuitive we are or how the key is to smoke lots of herb, brah, or how we have known each other for years so we have a psychic link. But yeah, there are plenty of shocked people; some are dumbfounded, some are disgusted, some are angry, some are blown away, some are ecstatic. We generally provoke strong reactions, be they good or bad, which I am very glad of. It’s most commonly a mix of befuddlement and excitement, usually.
Particularly notable shows- well I was stoked to play the Skin Graft Homecoming show recently, with Lovely Little Girls and Xaddax. That was a blast. We loved playing with Melt Banana a year or 2 ago. We played Gaffer Records Festival in Lyon, France with some amazing bands-particularly Staer and Poino, and that was fantastic. And then we played with Korekyojinn on their first ever tour in Geneva, and that was pretty damned cool. Over the years, we have played with some truly great ones- Ahleuchatistas, Flying Luttenbachers, Ruins, Boredoms, Hella, US Maple, Marnie Stern, Peter Brotzman, Child Abuse, Cheer-Accident.
One thing I’ve noticed (and forgive me if I’m reading too far into it) is Yowie’s fascination with animals as a visual motif, particularly primordial, ‘monstrous’ creatures. Disregarding the fact that Pterodactyls are objectively more impressive than gerbils and house cats, is there an intention behind this pairing of animalistic imagery with the music?
Sure, don’t we sound like an enormous, lumbering creature crashing through the woods and howling? Also, if you are referring to the pterodactyl looking thing on the cover of Cryptooology, I think that is supposed to be a chupacabra (but almost no one thinks that). That is probably because you have not studied up on the contemporary scientific findings on chupacabras. Really should’ve prepared more for this interview, dude.
What advice might you give to other musicians, or otherwise yet-undiscovered artists wanting to create some good work?
If you yourself don’t think your band is that great yet, don’t tour, don’t record and try to put it out, and don’t even play shows. Stay in your basement and keep working on it until you can be proud of what you have and then nail it. There are way too many f**king bands on this planet; 98% of them suck ass. Don’t be one of them. There are so many who don’t even really believe in what they are doing but they go through the motions because that’s what the band lifestyle is like, and that makes for a very large chance that if someone goes out to hear a band they will hear rehashed half-assed mediocre stuff. If you think that about your own music, keep it to yourself. There is no shame in being halfway there- but don’t put it out there until you feel like you are ready to nail it- performance wise and compositionally.
What lies in the future of Yowie? Another album... a tour?
Yes to both. I’m very excited to be writing with Chris Trull. None of our recorded material so far has anything with him playing or composing on it, and playing with him adds a totally new element to the band. So the next Yowie album will be significantly different, both in terms of technique and overall composition. I think Chris and I are very musically compatible (although he declined to be interviewed for this, possibly because he secretly disagrees with everything I say); we tend to hear things the same way and agree on what needs to be changed, which wasn’t always the case with the old line-up. That’s part of why we seem to be writing much more quickly, and so that’s exciting. There is a sense of momentum that is sort of exhilarating for me. We have had to write 2 songs with minimal input from Jeremiah so far, as he lives a few hours away and hasn’t been able to be as active (but that is changing next week), which might have brought us to a standstill if Chris and I didn’t work well together.
We are absolutely going back to Europe; that is our main priority after the album is complete (or maybe ever before). We had so much fun there, and met so many truly fantastic people, who are really into music, it’s really spoiled us. It was incredibly rewarding, and they inspired us to write more efficiently so we can get back there more quickly. We will probably tour the US again someday too, but there really is no comparison. We miss you, in particular Czech Republic, France, and Italy (but lots of others).
What have you been listening to lately; anything you can recommend?
Guerilla Toss, Normal Love, Die Antwoord, Ni, Poil, Staer, Mary Havorlson, Loincloth, Gigan, Bad Plus.
Do you like cheeseburgers?
Yes but only half as much as double cheeseburgers.
Words of wisdom for a rainy day?
Yowie's PA profile may be found here.
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