Ever since Yak crash-landed into our vision back in 2015 in a squall of feedback and the kind of chaotic, insane live shows that immediately earmarked the London trio as ones to shield from your grandma, the band – helmed by Jagger-alike ringleader Oli Burslem - have always seemed to attract madness from every angle. Unsurprisingly then, the road to forthcoming second album ‘Pursuit of Momentary Happiness’ – set for release on 8th February – reads something like a cross between Spinal Tap and one of Jack Kerouac’s more cautionary tales.
“We never do anything by halves, so at the end of the first record (2016’s ‘Alas Salvation’) it kind of made sense that I would live in Japan for a month and write a load of songs and then meet [then-bassist] Andy in Australia,” begins Oli, ominously. “Then Jay from Pond said, ‘Why don’t you come and record in Perth?’ But the reality is we got to Perth and Jay likes a pint, I like a pint… So then everyone left Perth and it was just me on a beach going: Fuck.”
With almost nothing written and even less concrete material recorded, Oli found himself essentially stranded on the other side of the world with all of his album advance gone out the window (or, more specifically, out the aeroplane window and down the pub drain). “I had no money, but luckily I had a friend who works for an airline and he got me a first class ticket back to London. I was on this plane, drinking shitloads of champagne, knowing that when I landed I’d have no house and have to explain to management why we didn’t have a record. It was a bit of a disaster really,” he concludes, with somewhat of an understatement.
And so, Oli moved into his van for a full year and a half while he continued making the record. Down to a handful of possessions, he notes, “if I’d have disappeared off the planet, there wouldn’t have been much trace of me”. But, throughout it all, the singer and drummer Elliot Rawson kept on persevering with album two.
By this point, with Andy living in Australia, the pair had recruited new bassist Vinny Davies into the fold after a predictably “in another universe” chat at 3am at Glastonbury. Somewhere along the way, Spiritualized lynchpin Jason Pierce popped in to the sessions to lend a guiding hand, too. And, eventually, music started actually happening. “I suppose [living like that] just puts you in battle mode, but I always thought if you wanted to make uncompromising music then you’d have to make compromises in all other areas,” says Oli. “I suppose it is quite extreme though, isn’t it…”
"I think maybe we're just a tax write off…"
— Oli Burslem
Thankfully, however, all the extremity has resulted in a second album that's visceral and slightly manic and never predictable, much like its maker. "Sonically I wanted to make it go everywhere," the singer explains. "If you listen to the record all the way through, it's supposed to always be a surprise." Recorded eventually in London's RAK Studios, and then "slowly dismantled" and put back together again by the frontman at various points across his travels, it's a labour of love that's seen Oli put literally every ounce of his entire being into its creation.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, both 'Pursuit of Momentary Happiness' title and overarching subject matter also reflects the minute-to-minute nature of Oli's lifestyle throughout its gestation. "In that situation, everything becomes momentary; even brushing your teeth in the morning becomes a mission. It's about not really seeing any future, so you're pursuing something more immediate," he begins, before laughing. "Other people find it quite tragic, but I find the record quite funny."
The punchline? Now, Yak have been snapped up by major label Virgin EMI for its release. "There's a little interlude [I wanted to call] 'Optimum Broadband'. I put that in there because they might be able to recoup on that one, but in general: what a waste of money," he chuckles. "I think maybe we're just a tax write off..."
And as for Oli himself, well now he's living with a pal in a fancy pad in Notting Hill. Obviously. "I've gone from one extreme to the other. It's like Hugh Grant, but better than Hugh because Hugh was bumbling – which I'm not. And he was middle class, but I'm still in better digs than him," theorises the singer. "Also, my story would be a bit more X-rated than Hugh's. I've been quite good this week, but the filth that's happened has been unbelievable really..." And so it continues...
'Pursuit Of Momentary Happiness' is out 8th February via Virgin EMI.
As featured in the December 2018 / January 2019 issue of DIY, out now.