Let Them Wander: An Interview With Yeah You
, July 26th, 2016 08:15
Yeah You are a father-daughter duo based in Newcastle and Vienna making noise-pop out of field recordings taken in Ikea car parks. The band's singer Elvin Brandhi talks to Tristan Bath about being in a genre of one
Car journeys, afternoon walks, trips to the shopping centre, slip roads – equipped with camera and microphones, anywhere and everywhere have become both studio and source of inspiration for Yeah You. The father-daughter duo from Newcastle, comprising Elvin Brandhi and Mykl Jaxn, may have only released a handful of albums to date but these draw on the huge archive of audio and video recordings made completely on the fly that they've been amassing since Brandhi was a teenager. Musically, they come to make a sort of lo-fi noise pop, often leaning on dirty beats and heavily distorted miniature synthesisers to create a bed for Brandhi to loose her stream-of-consciousness lyrics over. Improvised music doesn't come much more raw.
The project grew from a desire to make something during every spare moment, using compact recording gear to turn even a quick family drive to do the weekly shop into a spontaneous recording session, documented in dozens of videos representing the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the pair's archive. Brandhi's currently studying in Vienna and the result has been both an increasing number of trips abroad and, by necessity, a deceleration in the pair's relentless daily recording schedule. She adds, though, that it's for this same reason that their latest album is their most outrightly punishing to date, as the duo's time apart leaves them with scope for their brains to fill up with material, ready to explode the second they finally get to hit the record button.
The duo have begun touring increasingly far and wide, playing festivals including Glasgow's Counterflows, Borealis in Bergen, Norway, and Kraak in Brussels, as well as countless gigs at home in Newcastle. The latest of the band's releases, which have been both digital and on cassette, is the utterly raw and uncompromising Id Vendor, out on the London/Berlin label Slip. It's easily the duo's most aggressive outing to date, with Brandhi sing-rapping improvised words and twisting her voice via effects into the sound of all manner of strange monsters while her dad crafts increasingly noisy beds of beats and grinding electronics.
How did you start doing music?
Elvin Brandhi: I was always into bands and stuff when I was younger, but from the age of like 12-15 music had more of a social importance and so I was just really into pop music and chart stuff. Then suddenly I had a massive change with, I think it was Crystal Castles that pushed me out because they were kind of on the edge of pop but at the time felt like they expressed the emotional extremes pop doesn't. Then I starting listening to loads of different stuff… it retriggered the personal rather than just social connection to music.
I also started making music on Ableton at this time under the name Ugly Child. The thing with my dad started because I wanted to work towards a live set, so we were just like jamming together. It was never the intention to start a band; it was just giving me some practice. But then it was instantly clear that organisation of songs was never, like, the right thing. There was a complete resistance to repetition of one idea. It always went way beyond control or what we had in mind before, which was actually way better. But even then it was never meant to be a project. We were just doing it for ourselves at home.
Then we moved to Newcastle, and it became a vital part of routine. Every day when we were driving to college we'd be in the car with this set-up, jamming.
Your dad was already making music, so there must have been instruments just lying around the house?
EB: Yeah, when I was really little I'd be like putting my Polly Pockets on turntables! I did mess around with samplers and stuff but my brother did a lot more of that than me. It was really sudden when I got into it.
So how did that turn into this Yeah You project?
EB: Well, always, and a lot of the time filming as well. I think that's just something my dad had in his system, when you do a jam, record and film. We went about doing them with no intention of releasing it or anything, and we'd be recording every day, sometimes doing three sessions a day, going out doing three different trips in the car and stuff. Just going to Asda could become such a like… "Yes! Let's go!" And we'd end up doing extra detours for hours. It could get ridiculous, ending with, "We need to go home now!"
Locations definitely play a big part. Watching your Vimeo channel there's all these videos of you guys playing in a Tesco car park…
EB: Exactly, that's the thing about improvised music. In a moving car is just so perfect. There's so much to feed off the whole time, lyrics-wise, watching everything fly by. So we got into experimenting with the location as well. We chose places based on their atmosphere, it was like an experiment to see what sort of music you'll actually make in that situation…
A big moment was this tour that we just sort of set up ourselves, sending some of these videos to different venues in places. My brother was living in Holland and we needed to take the car to get all of his stuff when he was moving back to England, so we built this tour around it. We went to Amsterdam with a boat from Newcastle, then we played in Nickelsdorf with Noid, at his birthday party… That one was quite funny as it was a group of close friends having a casual celebration, but our ethos was always like, fuck it, anything will be a laugh. I think that comes out of experimenting with what situation we play in – the absurder the better. Then we played in Vienna with an amazing saxophonist, Michael Fischer, then Slovenia – we have family in Slovenia, my grandmother's Slovenian – and twice in Marseille. That whole trip was the first time it felt like putting ourselves out there as an actual band, kind of. But the whole trip was crazy; jamming on the autobahn was a highlight.
Well I'm glad you mentioned The Fall. It's a cliche to compare everything to The Fall but there really is something about your intonation which is a bit like Mark E Smith.
EB: I think it's mostly Mark. E Smith's attitude to music, just producing all the time in a dedicated but not overly self-conscious manner, like no hesitation, it is what it is. That really comes off in their live sets as well; it's not just like watching a band doing their songs, it's more direct. There's definitely times in our live sets where I feel like that happens, like the urgency of speaking here and now to specific people takes over.
With the lyrics, I have to be completely lost in it. The first times it would only be like once every five sessions where it would happen and I'd completely lose control over what I was saying. It's a crazy feeling, like being in a completely different state of mind. It just comes out. That's why we started with such simple elements – just a Monotribe [synthesiser] providing a sort of rhythm and melody and then words. Just the key elements of pop really. The things I'm saying just come from things that I see a lot, but also everything else that's going through my head. It's like thinking and speaking simultaneously.
There's just no hesitation either.
EB: Yeah, listening back is this absurd thing. Sometimes it feels like I'm saying things that are completely true, but that I didn't know were true before. Sometimes you can make quite sweeping statements too, it can become quite prophetic in the songs too. I just sort of fall into a random persona of the atmosphere we're in; these different characters that are this music.
So the new album, Id Vendor, was that all recorded during car journeys?
EB: No, only the first track, I think. We were doing the car thing when we were still both living in Newcastle, but since I moved to Vienna, the only times we meet is when we're playing a concert or something like that. The last track on the new one, 'I, Catalysed', was in Brussels just on the street. Somehow the urgency is really getting stronger in the newer music actually. It's as if when we meet, everything that's been stored up comes into these songs. This one in Brussels was just after we'd played Kraak festival, and we just set up next to this graffiti. I really like the vibe of Brussels, it felt especially raw in contrast to the calmness of Vienna! Brussels has got this real energy and tension; that definitely contributed to the intensity of that track.
And the whole album, in fact, it's all a lot more high energy and loud than a lot of the previous stuff.
EB: Well the first track actually is from when I was 16, and the rest are really recent. So it's a funny mix, but they fit together. The video of that first track is crazy - it was the last one from a long car session and we were pretty much circling around our house at that point just waiting for the song to finish. For some reason, making music makes your memory of trivial things and imagery so much stronger. Listening back to stuff, quite often I get all the images of the stuff I was seeing. It makes all these random moments memorable.
How have you felt about the gigs as they've happened more and more? You seem a lot more timid in some of the earlier footage that I've seen.
EB: It's all about getting into that frame of mind where it's just coming out. To me, that's a success, because no matter what it was like at least we meant it. It does feel like a bit of a clash sometimes though. After the first gigs I'd actually get all these weird feelings of, like, guilt. Like the feeling after you just let rip and let it all out in the performance, and then just have to go and talk to the people right afterwards! In social situations I don't have the same fluency. Also, the main thing people seem to focus on is, "Oh, it's so nice that you're playing with your dad!"
Well, it is pretty rare! Can you think of any other father-daughter duos? Frank and Nancy Sinatra?
EB: It was something I did think about initially – you know, "Is this what you're supposed to do?" The music and letting-go part of it is already sort of social suicide – and then on top of that I'm doing it with my dad.
I particularly loved the video of you guys playing in the Ikea car park here in Vienna. I'd just been there to buy some furniture in fact, only the day before I saw it and suddenly it made it seem like this exciting place!
EB: Well, it's about making these situations productive. If a trip to Asda for your weekly shop becomes a way of making some tracks, then everything changes. You have freedom in this weird way. Waiting in traffic jams is like, "Great! We've got five minutes to change the beat a bit!" There shouldn't be a time and a place for art.
Id Vendor is out now on Slip