Interview In the studio: Yak

A collage of “pissed lyrics”, speaker melting riffs and… doo-wop? Yak are upping the ante with their debut.

“I said, ‘we’re just going to record white noise, take your money, and run!” Yak frontman Oli Burslem laughs, recalling talks with the band’s record label before starting work. “They were really cool. They were never in any process of it, and let us do exactly what we got on to do.” The group’s recent activity takes form in the guise of the album, ‘Alas Salvation’, due for release on 13th May.

“I wanted to make something that had no parameters for anything: for lyrics, for any kind of set structure, or for any commercial thing,” Oli explains. Indeed, from his descriptions, the record does seem to avoid fitting within the borders of any single category. “It was just us saying ‘let’s do a song that’s one minute long and that’s really loud,’ or ‘let’s do a song that’s seven minutes long and has Mellotrons,’ or ‘let’s do something that’s really stupid and has one riff’. On one song we’ve got a hurdy-gurdy!” he exclaims. “We were just trying to make something different and exciting.”

The excitement is instantly evident in the way the band discuss the record. “I’ve constantly been listening to it. When we started this, I didn’t think I’d be happy with it, just that I’d be relieved that it was done,” Oli admits. “But I actually feel really, really happy with it. Best feeling ever, really - I never thought I’d be as happy with it as I am. I’m really proud. We’ve given it to everyone who’s worked with us, and close friends who wouldn’t bullshit, and they think it’s good. I believe their judgement. I feel quite spoilt now.”

“When we play live we usually don’t have any gaps between our songs, so we’ve recorded it like that."

— Oli Burslem

Recorded with Steve Mackey of Pulp fame, Yak have every confidence their first album lives up to the infamy their raucous live performances have shrouded them in. “We first started doing the record because we met Steve,” Oli states. “He’s great. There’s no overthinking anything, and no messing around, and we’re recording four or five songs a day. It was basically going back to that blueprint, the idea that basically we’re just rocking it up in a garage, trying to capture the nature of the live thing. It was great to work with Steve, and to become friends. Hopefully friends,” he chuckles. “He might say different – but I don’t think so.”

With two EP’s under their collective belt, Yak’s first full-length release has been heavily anticipated, and is at last ready to see the light of day. “There’s 14 tracks on the album – well, there’s 13 and then a hidden track at the end,” Oli describes. “When we play live we usually don’t have any gaps between our songs, so we’ve recorded it like that. We thought of it like a record, so twenty minutes for each side. The songs overlap into each other, and there are two interludes into other songs. After the first twenty minutes it kind of stops, and then starts again as the second side.”

‘Victorious (National Anthem)’

"We’d piss each other off and then record, so it became a bit more aggressive."

— Oli Burslem

While working on creating their debut full-length, the trio did everything they could to bring the best out of each other. “We didn’t want the process of recording, ‘to click’ or to metronomes or anything, to get in the way of what we actually wanted to achieve. We’d piss each other off and then record, so it became a bit more aggressive,” Oli teases. “There’s a song on the record called ‘Curtain Twitcher’. I think we were all quite pissed off with each other when we recorded that one. It was just loads of Elliot [Rawson, drums] shouting, and he’s getting more and more annoyed, and he just starts to hit the drums even harder. I was just ranting over it, a collage of pissed lyrics. It came out sounding quite aggressive.”

Unleashing pent-up aggression on record is something Yak excel at. “The first song is called ‘Victorious (National Anthem)’,” he tells us. “‘Britons never, never, never shall be slaves’ – I thought that was one of the worst lyrics ever,” he groans. “So I thought we could do something like that, like a national anthem, but it’d all be just horrible. The heaviest thing we’ve ever done. The whole speakers, even on your laptop, will just feel like they’re melting.”

Exciting as that may be, the album is about more than just unrestrained emotion. “We recorded a doo-wop kind of song, a really classic form of a song,” the frontman describes. “I put my guitar next to the amplifier and it’s just feedback the whole of the track, and then I put about four hurdy-gurdys just screaming over the song.” It’s not just instrumentation the band continue to challenge. “In the chorus [of ‘Victorious’] there’s no time signature or anything, so it’s incredibly heavy, but you can’t nod your head to it. It just has a guitar and one mic on the drum kit, and when the chorus comes in, there’s no beat or anything, but bass, and sub synth bass, and five guitars. It’s only two minutes long, but I thought that’d be quite interesting.”

"If you edit yourself too much, it becomes ultimately nothing. We try not to do that.”

— Oli Burslem

Pushing everything to the extreme, Yak have no trouble keeping things interesting. “We try and keep in all the imperfections,” Oli says, of the trio’s creative process. “I think of it a bit like a conversation: if you’re having a conversation with someone, it’s hard to edit yourself. Especially face-to-face, you can see everyone’s reactions, and figure out who people are. But if you edit yourself too much, it becomes ultimately nothing. We try not to do that.”

Uninhibited and in total control, Yak have created a debut that’s as impulsive and vital as they are. “It’s pretty all over the shop,” Oli admits. “From the first song, which is the most aggressive thing we’ve probably ever done, through to the last, which has My Bloody Valentine guitars, Beatles-esque harmonies, and Black Sabbath Mellotrons on it, the influences are all kinds of all over the place. That’s from having two completely different sides of the band. I think that everyone will be quite surprised.”

Yak’s new album ‘Alas Salvation’ is released on 13th May via Octopus Electrical.

Taken from the March 2016 issue of DIY, out now. Subscribe to DIY below.

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