Interview Yak: Salvation Army

With countless road miles under their belts, Yak have been focused on gathering a throng since day one. Debut album ‘Alas Salvation’ is their call to arms.

Oli Burslem’s excited. It’s not the momentum Yak are gathering that’s set the frontman’s serotonin a-popping though, nor is it the impossibly accomplished debut album they’re gearing up to let loose on the world. Nope – this time, that beaming smile’s a result of the café below DIY HQ being home to the chairs he used to sell in his old antique shop. In fairness, they’re awfully comfy.

It’s probably a welcome chance to put his feet up too, today marking Yak’s first day off the road in longer than any of the three-piece can remember. Australian dates (with a quick pit-stop in New Zealand so drummer Elliot Rawson could catch up with his family for the first time in three years) backed straight onto a whistle-stop run of Austin, Texas for SXSW festival. From there, they darted “up to Seattle, and then did the West Coast, and then to Chicago, Toronto, Philly, and then we got the flight from New York, and then the next day we were up the road at Hackney Empire with The Last Shadow Puppets,” Elliot reels off, barely pausing for breath. “It’s been pretty full-on, but it’s still all good. It’s like a big holiday.”

‘Harbour The Feeling’

“It’s like a confusion of semi-consciousness and exciting stuff.”

— Oli Burslem

Yak’s passion for road-time has been their calling card from day one. “For any bands who say it’s hard work, it’s fucking bullshit,” Oli told us this time last year, succinctly. It’s an ethos that sticks with them to this day. “We’re just getting things booked in as much as possible,” he says today. “It’s just cracking on, really – just trying to push it as much as we can. Like we said from the start. It’s getting a bit more intense, but it’s still all good.”

“Nothing’s really sunk in because you’ve been busy every hour, basically. Or drunk, so…” he laughs; “It’s like a confusion of semi-consciousness and exciting stuff.”

Top of the list of ‘exciting stuff’: their incoming debut album, ‘Alas Salvation’. The rubber stamp on Yak’s first eighteen months of evolution, it nevertheless remains as fluid as they come. Twisting into new shapes at every opportunity, it’s a whirlpool of crunch, psych and pop melody, all wrapped up in the three-piece’s telepathic instinct.

“All those songs were tracked as a three-piece band – they’re all live takes,” Oli reveals. “There’s stuff – the hurdy-gurdy for instance – that I just love that kinda…” He breaks off, whipping out a clearly well-honed hurdy-gurdy impression – ‘kchrrrr-eeeeeer’ – “but in a live thing, even if you had a hurdy-gurdy, no one’s gonna bloody hear it. It’s not like, ‘Wow, it’s taken on a different thing now!’” he admits, his voice smothered in mock-amazement. “You can still express what you need to express with three people. But just sometimes on a record, it’s just nice sonically to have some different stuff.”

"Guitar music, a three piece, rock’n’roll – it’s not that exciting. But if you put something human in there, then it becomes something you can connect with.”

— Oli Burslem

“Some of the stuff we just tracked on the spot, first take, there and then,” says Elliot. “So when I listen to it, it sounds like a different band. It doesn’t sound like I recorded it. I had to re-learn some of the parts! We were just trying to push ourselves to do four or five songs a day, and some of them were just pieces of songs. We were like, ‘Right, that’s it, we’re doing it.’ And then, in hindsight, it’s like ‘…I don’t remember what we did,’” he laughs.

“You try and prepare as much as you can for the haphazard stuff,” says Oli. “I think this about music so much – I don’t think you can just sit down and write it out and just play it. Especially rock’n’roll music – there’s supposed to be bits in there that are supposed to be magic. I think music’s a bit magic… I know that sounds a bit cheesy, but you’d be a mathematician or something if you wanted something like that.”

“A lot of music now, people edit themselves so much, or have the means at home to do a lot, and it ends up with something quite unnatural about it, I think. Something that doesn’t really turn me on. Guitar music, a three piece, rock’n’roll – it’s not that exciting. But if you put something human in there, then it becomes something you can connect with.”

‘Victorious (National Anthem)’

That spontaneity might be core to their being but “there is a plan,” Oli admits. “I mean… there are gigs. I know we’ve got a gig on Thursday in Amsterdam, but honestly, if you put a gun to my head and said ‘Tell me when the next gig is’, I wouldn’t be able to” - Elliot snorts with laughter – “I know that sounds lame, but it’s the truth!”

“We don’t deserve anything – don’t deserve, whatever, ‘the fruits of our labour’,” Oli continues. “We never felt that. Every time we play a gig, there’s no feeling of entitlement. Some of the gigs are a bit erratic, or something, cause you’re playing and you’re going” – he mimes goading the crowd in front of him – “’Fuck, come on, fuck! I’m fucking no-one, I’m fucking shit, I’ve got no entitlement, you’ve got no entitlement and we’re both FUCKED!’ Every gig, this is not just another gig. We might not even have another album – this might be it! We haven’t got another deal, we haven’t sold anything as we stand, so we might not have another chance to do it again. But if we don’t, then I’m happy.”

"We enjoy it. We probably enjoy it too much.”

— Elliot Rawson

“Like Oli says, we don’t know that we’re gonna go and do another tour, we don’t know when we’re next gonna go over to America, so we look at this like, ‘Shit, we’re in America – this might be the only time we get to be in America, let’s fucking enjoy it.’” says Elliot of their non-stop nature, the trio admitting that they’re already writing and recording for what might make album two. “So we enjoy it. We probably enjoy it too much.”

“Y’know – we can approach this differently,” Oli admits with a grin. “We don’t have to go out and get completely fucked every night. And get so fucked you have two hours’ sleep and you’re vomiting over yourself. I think I’ve still got vomit all over my boots…”

“That’s not a joke,” Elliot interjects.

“I mean, if we wanted to, we could probably be a bit more professional about it, says Oli, “But we’re having a good time!

“And y’know - if it doesn’t work out, I can fix these chairs very well…”

Photos: Nick Sayers / DIY.
Yak's debut album 'Alas Salvation' is released 13th May via Octopus Electrical.

Taken from DIY's May 2016 issue, out now. Subscribe to DIY below.

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