If you are yet to hear of the almighty Yak, then I’m surprised, they play loud enough.
2019 has been a success from start to finish; they’ve dominated festivals all over the globe with their athletic performances and rock ‘n’ roll spirited antics.
The Wolverhampton trio topped the Official Record Store Charts with their sophomore LP release, ‘Pursuit of Momentary Happiness’, and continued to make a name for themselves on tour.
To bring their triumph year to a close, Yak are presenting us with an EP recorded in a little-known Nashville studio owned by Jack White.
They’ve recently graced us with their leading single “Am I Good Man”, a haunting more subdued release, sharing similarities with Pond’s sonic themes on their 2015 record ‘Man It Feels Like Space Again’.
Embarking on a UK tour next month before a well-deserved hiatus, I sat down for a chat with front-man Oli Burslem to discuss their chaotic artwork, year and sound.
Harvey : February 8th saw the release of your second LP ‘Pursuit of Momentary Happiness’; how are you feeling now that this chapter has come to an end?
Oli : I’m feeling super proud and ready to move onto the next thing. The last album is definitely about a certain point in my life, which I would prefer to put behind me now. I’m just happy that we managed to not completely capsize the ship.
H : Yak are to release a new EP in November…
O : I believe we are. I’ve just finished it last week. We started recording it at Third Man Records in Nashville a couple of months back and finished it in London. It was wonderful to eat some hot chicken in Nashville and meet all of our label out there who have helped us so much. We recorded on the old desk White Stripes recorded Elephant, which was originally used by Toe Rag Studios in Hackney…
H : Was extensive touring this year a catalyst for inspiration or a slight hindrance to getting it completed?
O : Recording and the live element of the band are completely different disciplines but always seem to influence each other. I personally still don’t live anywhere so going on tour is great for me and can fill you with lots of ideas for more songs but the logistics of sitting down and having time to think and write can be problematic.
YAK – BELLYACHE – MUSIC VIDEO
H : Are you quick to get recording in the studio when you have an idea or do you continue experimenting until it feels ready?
O : Once we are in the studio we usually don’t have a great deal of time so we have to work quickly. Most of my favourite records are a document of the time they were made. There are so many decisions you have to make in the studio that I believe the quicker you make them the more honest the outcome. If we were left with more resources and more time it would just mean more faffing around. Plus my attention span is short so I’d probably go mad.
H : You seem to have an eclectic collection of instruments…
O : Not anymore, I’ve had to sell them to make sure we can still get out there and play gigs. I kind of love that everything we own is kind of worthless as we have butchered all the gear over years of gigging. I only tour with one guitar now – if it breaks then that’s it. I like to drive with the petrol light on and I like to run the band the same.
H : Your artwork is chaotic and bold, very apt, Nick Waplington is to be praised for this, you’ve stuck with him for some years now…
What’s your relationship with Nick and his body of work?
O : First and foremost, Nick and I are great friends. He’s personally helped me over the years in so many ways and it just so happens that he’s an amazing artist too. He spent a lot of his early life watching and hanging around bands in the late 70’s and early 80’s (Joy Division being one) and turned me on to a few things as well as the DIY ethic that he saw at the time.
H : The direction of your songs can stray away from a formulaic structure, suggesting parts are an improvised jam – akin to jazz’s property.
Which out of all your songs took the most takes until you were happy with the outcome, and, is it hard to abandon a song?
O : The improvised nature of the band has been there from the outset, ever since we started playing in the basement of a shop I had in Hackney. I often find myself at Cafe Oto in Hackney watching improvised music and love the sense of adventure – a conversation between individuals, never scripted, always being sympathetic to each other in the name of sounds and the element of surprise. If I remember correctly we never seem to do that many takes but we do spend a fair bit of time before we get into the studio I suppose.
H : What was the first album that woke you up to music’s great ability to move and inspire?
O : I was always into music from an early age and had grown up seeing my older brother play gigs so there wasn’t one moment. I do remember going to see The White Stripes play my local venue The Civic in Wolverhampton. I had booked the tickets months prior not knowing it was the first gig they would play the week Elephant went straight to number one. It was a hell of a show….all the brand new hits and the old covers of Son House and Dolly Parton. Every show they played seemed to be a complete one-off, something that was never going to be repeated again. That idea has stayed with me.
H: You crowd surf without fail at most gigs, on what occasion have you significantly regretted this?
O : Never. If I feel like it, I get straight in. Sometimes from the get-go. You have to earn an audience.
H : There’s much that can be said for the way Yak have evolved live. What’s the biggest difference in how the band conduct themselves on stage now?
O : It’s hard to say but I personally feel more confident than we did when we started. I think it was easier to hide behind the distortion and the shouting when we first started. All the greatest sets we have played seem to make their own narrative. If the set has a story to them you can lose yourself in it. But I have never seen us live so you’re probably a better judge than me.
H : ‘Pursuit of Momentary Happiness’ explores the flaws in human behaviour:
How conscience when writing LP 2 were you of the avenues you explored lyrically, to that of discontentment and dissatisfaction?
O : The time that it was written was a little bit of a blur as I was kind of out of it. I had written lots of different kinds of songs but the ones that seemed to be the most engaging were the ones that mirrored my existence at the time. Now I can look back and see a lot of humour and self-indulgence!
H : Is 2020’s plan for Yak starting to shape up?
O : To be honest, who knows? We have an EP coming out in a few weeks and a tour in November and then no plan. I need to house myself, Elliot doesn’t have a visa and Vincent is off doing his own thing. I’m sure we will be back but you never know.
H : And finally, would you rather fight 100 chicken-sized horses or 1 horse-sized chicken?
O : Horse-sized chicken.
Well, there you have it. Yak may be lying low for a while, their year has been nothing but great, they deserve every last drop of respect from their listeners and long may they reign as psychedelic-punk rock legends.
YAK embark on a UK tour in November. Buy tickets below…