An Interview with Chicago’s YAWN

Though you may not assume it when listening to their music, YAWN are DIY renegades. The phrase DIY usually doesn’t bring the type of immaculate production style that YAWN’s recordings feature. They represent a sort of hybrid animal within current music that reflects aspects of both recent DIY and archaic pop aspects of music. On one side, they are self-producing and recording. On the other, they have quality sounding recordings with an acute attention to detail. They have the assets of time and artistic control on their side and it has shown ever since their first EP in 2010.

They’ve been a seminal part of the Chicago’s DIY scene outside of their own band as well with two members being two-thirds of the founding group of FEELTRIP, a local DIY studio space, venue, and label. All of but the latter are now extinct since the closing the actual space nearly a year ago. The place was host to numerous acts of all types including the ever-blossoming young locals TWIN PEAKS and THE ORWELLS, as well as JUICEBOXXX, SISTER CRYSTALS, DIRTY BEACHES, STARFOXXX (the other 1/3 of Feeltrip's founders), MICRODOT and many many others.  Who knows, we might even see a non-fiction book in Barnes and Noble in thirty years about the place and the renowned acts that played there in the span of just a couple years. But YAWN has had their own individual success as well, especially for a band who has handled their own business primarily. They’ve opened for acts like Yeasayer, Tame Impala, The Kooks, Mates of State and Yuck as well as getting featured on Pitchfork a handful of times. They came to The Empty Bottle for the release of their new LP Love Chills (Old Flame Records). As YAWN seems to be discovering (as many DIY outfits do as they mature) that when it comes to DIY-ing it, the actual release of albums and EP’s is the part you may want to DI-don’t. Even more important though is that this album marks the largest shift in YAWN's sound as they stray further away from their sampling tendencies and introduce a more traditional, instrumental approach. Most notably, percussionist/drummer Jorge Perez is heard rocking a full drum kit where before the beat would be comprised of many singular, sampled drum elements. With more guitar and organic key sounds than ever, one gets the impression of people in a room jamming rather than music being made in some strange dimension of space and time which was been the feeling of past works. YAWN was able to sit down and  talk with The Empty Bottle about their new album, new label, and how they came to be before their performance.

The new album is out on Old Flame Records. How did that happen?

Adam: We’d been sitting on it for four months, shopping around to labels. We'd met this guy Rob Mason, the guy  who runs old flame back in 2011, when we were in New york. He wanted to put out our first EP but it was already old at that point. And so we reconnected. Just a friend basically. You guys have been heavily DIY for a while, self-releasing your first LP. This one is out on Brooklyn label Old Flame Records. What was the motivation for going through a label instead of self-releasing it? Daniel: We needed the outside help. When we self-released the last album we felt like it didn’t go off as well as we wanted it to. It didn’t get the traction. When you have outside help people are willing to help with their connections and resources. Even though we essentially recorded and produced the whole thing on our own, releasing it and having someone push it out and have people listening to it was important to us. Where did you guys record the new LP, Love Chills? D: We recorded it at a place where we lived that was a recording place and a venue called Feeltrip. It used to be the studio of seminal 2000’s rock band Disturbed. So you guys had has all of the recording done by the time Feeltrips was closed about a year ago? A: Well except for one song. Could you attribute Feeltrips to the fact that there are a lot of live drums on the album and having the space to rock out? D: Absolutely. We recorded everything on our own starting with the first EP. We always had the mentality “Lets just do it and make it sound as best as possible, however we can do it.” So we were always scrappy about it. Recording one drum at a time. That’s why everything before this LP heavily weighed on samples, especially drum samples because we couldn’t get the drums to sound that big. Here with collaborative efforts with all of our friends who had equipment, who had microphones and interfaces, we finally had a way of just sitting there, going take after taker, learning as we went, recording drums. Feeltrip allowed us to do all that live drumming.

Was the dynamic of collaborating any different? Did roles within the band switch or change? Or did you guys stick to your guns?

A: Daniel started playing more bass. Right? And I definitely played more guitar. Or took it more seriously, not just sort of interjecting a solo. It weighed a lot on my guitar playing this time around. Nothing really changed, we just started focusing more on one of our instruments. D: And then production mostly. So a lot of the times when we had a song written, we were grabbing random stuff in our studio like a Rhodes that is running through the pedals, and thats cool sonically. Having a lot of fun getting cool sounds without having to go to samples. At the core of it, it was kind of the same. We all play the instruments that we usually do. Are there any pieces of gear that you fell in love with while recording this album? Any new tricks or common occurrences while recording? D: The Carbon Copy. A: The Carbon copy delay is great. That Pedal. S: Yamaha DX-& we used a lot. A: I love my VOX AC30 for recording. How has your live set-up changed with this new album? S: I’m running through Ableton on a laptop now just having a MIDI keyboard setup with the sampler machine on it and that’s pretty different because before I was just using analogue synths and this allowed us to use any sound we want. It’s different when you can just basically choose any sound that you want. Especially the ones that we used in the studio that we couldn’t use live before, now the laptop’s right there and we can just play it then and there. Before you were using a sampler/hardware pieces? S: I was using a mono synth, a DX-7 for a while, an Akai Ax80. And they're all great but they’re limited in comparison with what you can do with a laptop. There’s so many different analogue plug ins, it’s pretty endless. I know you guys are all about the studio, and have heard you guys mentioning Harry Nilson as an influence. He's notorious for never touring and basically strictly being a "studio artist." Would you guys just be in the studio all the time if you could?

A: We’d love to but that’s just a dream. You couldn’t make any money off of it. Right now, the bands make a lot on touring. But we’ve always loved the later Beatles stuff just because they explored with recordings, and pushed things you know. Brian Eno’s solo stuff where he just sat in a room and recorded.

S: Kate Bush too. It just seems so unreal to us that someone could make a living enough that they don’t have to tour.

D: But at the same time, over the last year we didn’t tour. I’m fucking excited just to go. There’s a lot of excitement that goes into it. And just traveling around…

S: Leaving Chicago. Seeing other places. Seeing other People.

D: It’s a pain in the ass sometimes. Especially if you have a piece of shit van or no money, it’s still way more fun than just sitting on your ass all year.

Speaking of vans I saw Hanksy just painted your van recently? Are you guys friends with him?

S: He used to be a writer for a blog and he interviewed us and that’s how we actually met him. We’ve kept in touch since then. He lives in New York now, but he comes by pretty often and we go to New York pretty often.

What did he paint again?

D: Vanny McBride.

vanny mcbride

S: The one before that was Van Akroyd.

van a

D: And that van got stolen.

(laughing) How do you steal a Van Akroyd?

S: I think they might have broken it for parts like the second they got it. Brought it to some chop shop or something.

For us Chicagoans looking to discover new music, what/who should we be watching out for in the local music/art scene?

A: Jimmy Whispers is Great.

S: We like this band Sexy Fights a lot and we are good friends with them but they never seem to get out of the studio so hopefully, we’ll see if they can.

A: There kind of like us; studio heads.

YAWN: Sister Crystals.

D: Yeah they’re recording. Kangaroo is recording. Their playing tonight. They’re recording with Colin Croon (Sister Crystals) at the Observatory.

A: The new Twin Peaks album of course.

D: Yeah. That shit was awesome.

Any post album release plans? New videos in the works? Tour?

A: I think we’re gonna do a house show DIY venue little tour. Try to play as many as we can in Chicago before we head out on the road in November. Hopefully November. (laughs)

S: We’re telling everybody that.

D: That’s what makes it happen. (laughs)

Words by Luke Otwell


Posted October 10th, 2014

Categories News