Interview: Yeah You

Interview: Yeah You

As someone with an 80-mile motorway commute, I really appreciate how Yeah You convey the sense of movement. When traveling by car, the travellers are ultimately stationary – instead, it is the landscape that hurtles through us, with colours, pedestrians and logos melting into the speed and pirouetting around the edges of roundabouts. It’s a lot to take in. While creating their music in a moving car, the father-daughter duo of Gustav Thomas and Elvin Brandhi do their utmost to keep pace with the blur of sensation and sentiment that pours in through the windshield, using battery-operated electronics and stream-of-consciousness lyricism to interpret a world that won’t sit still.

Earlier this year, the group released their latest album on Slip, titled Krutch. The freneticism has cranked up a gear. Another album, called VHOD, is coming out soon on ALTER, and the duo are due to play London Contemporary Music Festival on December 10th. Below, we talk about self-insult, lorry driver kudos and leaving the handbrake off.

To me, this record feels slightly bleaker than your last album, Id Vendor. The rhythms often feel a bit more stall-prone and unsteady. Did you have any particular thoughts about where you wanted to go, musically, with this new record?

ELLE VIN: I expect we are gradually getting worse. This release is a bit more frantic. It’s built on inconsistency. Id Vendor was a complementary mix of songs – I feel like were aiming more for aesthetic balance. Krutch is integrally self-insulting, the songs resist alliance, it’s a hectic brawl of pop-flushed metal.

With the Holland trip, we really were using music as a way not to fall asleep while doing late drives after shows; that intense energy was necessary as kind of a safety precaution.

GUSTAV: Yes and no. “No”, in that the way our stuff progresses is entirely dependent on where our heads are in relation to everything else – “life”… so how we feel about the world ends up informing what comes out when we get a chance to spend some time together doing sessions. But, “Yes,” in that we were both listening to a lot of things around then (the February tour in Holland and Germany) which were overtly bleak, harsh… cold and nasty. Obviously lots of black metal, but other nasty-noisy things too. There’s no telling really what will direct your listening choices and the sense of what you want your own music to sound like, but I would say that the last year or so has had more close-to-home affirmations of governing bastardry than usual….

I understand that Krutch was recorded earlier this year in a black Renault Clio in Holland and Germany and at Aurora, Budapest. Can you tell me more about these journeys? What were you up to in these various places?

GUSTAV: We played at Sonic Acts, in Amsterdam. If at all possible we like to build a tour round a festival like that. Although now I think of it, the first invite came from WORM in Rotterdam…because of how Holland is, we were actually able to drive back to Amsterdam from wherever else we were playing (Leiden, Utrecht…) in order to catch the late-night/early-hours festival shows. We always record on the move, so the sessions which Krutch was cut from were recorded on the way to those other gigs, then later at night on the way back to Amsterdam. I can’t remember why or how we decided to include the track from Aurora, but that gig was from a Winter visit to central Europe, like a year ago…

ELVIN: Yeah Budapest that song was one of the last choices, it is kind of the most indulgent, it’s about the texture of the sound, it’s so sludgy, just horrible distortion. But it definitely fits to a similar mood as the Holland trip – cold dark winter drives.

You mentioned in an interview with The Quietus that you like to keep you instrument setup simple. What equipment did you have with you this time round, and is simplicity still a driving (sorry, horrible/unintentional pun) factor for your instrument choices?

GUSTAV: Our set-up has been changing a lot lately, but it’s still very simple – our whole recording set-up fits into one padded camera bag, with an occasional keyboard tucked under one arm… But most of Krutch was still made using the same handful of battery-op cheapo gadget instruments we’ve used for years. Elvin’s Casio SA-1 plays a big part, only for the Holland sessions we had a yellow one, which seemed to make it very different somehow…

Elvent: It’s important that nothing gets in the way, that input and output stay fused. Making music while driving is a great strategy since you can’t cut off your environment and get lost in creative abstraction. The point is to stay on the border between ‘real’ life and the absurd. A nice example of this in one song from the trip you hear me sing, “No, wait, the car is moving!”, as Gustav had forgot to put the handbrake on…so yeah, the less fiddly the set-up, the more raw stimulus can be directly integrated. That’s why the technical quality / accuracy isn’t a priority, it’s not the work of an expert horticulturalist, it’s weeds sprouting. 

What’s it like to be back recording music in the car again? I understand that Id Vendor was recorded in other locations since Elvin’s move to Vienna.

GUSTAV: Actually most of Id Vendor was done in the car, just that it was parked instead of moving…which means I can contribute a lot more. There are four tracks on Krutch which were made by driving – you can tell these generally by how the beat doesn’t change much. Elvin often plays more keyboards on the move, so the first track, for instance, was recorded on the move, late at night, with her playing the keyboard and me using my left hand to fuck around with a cassette… But ‘Discomfort’ is a classic case of a beat not changing at all because to mess with the synth settings would be too dangerous…

ELV: We always make music in and out the car. Even when we make music out the car we often we have to drive to get there, which means making music. It’s just instead of putting music on in the car, we make it. And it’s nice because I hate that there are not even CD players in cars anymore, like fuck it – just go back to basics.

Is there any part of the experience particular to making music on unfamiliar roads abroad, as opposed to those closer to home?

GUSTAV: Unfamiliar roads in foreign lands are definitely a factor, especially cities… We have a 45-minute continuous video-track driving through Brooklyn to an Air BnB where we stayed in Bed-Stuy last year. It’s quite unlike anything else we’ve done. In fact there’s a few from the American trip like that.

ELVIN: What is weird about coming back to the UK is how words directly infiltrate the music. When living somewhere where I’m not familiar with the language I don’t automatically register all the slogans and signs. Coming back I really feel the linguistic invasion in the lyric flow. But it’s always more interesting trying to find a way to articulate yourself into unfamiliar environments. Reacting to new places also relies much more on projection, and voicing your impressions exposes you to your own cultural prejudice more than it reflects another culture. You can’t reach deep inside what you see but it can reach deep inside you.

I sing in my car all the time, yet there’s occasionally a point where I glance across and catch the eye of another driver. It completely takes me out of the moment, and suddenly I feel very self-conscious. Do you have similar such experiences when recording Yeah You material? Are other drivers curious about what you’re up to, and does that affect your mindset at all?

ElFINT: Yes nice question, I love it when this happens! People’s faces really make me feel like I’m invading reality. Children always get it straight away, like waving and cheering… Taxi drivers and lorry drivers seem to respect it, maybe because the road is also their work place?  But a lot of people just look insulted like, “why would you do this?”. It’s difficult to get the point – it’s purpose is pointless. It’s not a performance for a situation but a performance of a situation.

GUSTAV: We’ve had it a lot! In a lot of the early Newcastle videos we used to position the camera so you could see past Elvin into the windows of cars and buses alongside. We found during a recent spell in Wales, during hot weather with windows down, that people would look across and show signs of approval by waving, thumbs up, laughing and so on… People in the Northeast tend to just frown.

Elvin, you mentioned in your interview with The Quietus that there are moments where you lose control over what you’re saying. Is it easier to slip into this state now, given that you’ve been exercising this process for several years at this point?

ELLE VIN: Yeah I can only really speak if I lose control, only then do I really feel like I mean what I say, even if it doesn’t make sense. It definitely gets easier to trick myself out of thinking. Improvising lyrics is like working with internal resistance…you have to find a way out of your skin into the perceptive stream, temporarily displacing subjectivity by tripping up its organisational apparatus. It feels important to do this as much as possible to keep up the joke with reality. When I am not in situations where I can shout my life out daily I sometimes I walk and just do vocals. Footsteps as the beat and surround sounds as like the melodies. I feel much more exposed in these out-the-car solo road sessions, like, “is this just insanity?” I mean how to distinguish between a madman walking around passionately ranting and an “artist at work” in this case? Especially if the point is to lose control/ prevent social norms from limiting your behaviour…

How much studio/post-processing refinement takes after recording these pieces? Given the extent to which I feel throttled by the urgency of these tracks, it sounds like they’ve probably remain relatively untouched…

GUSTAV: Yes, almost none…a bit of compression and EQ and that’s it. Krutch was also recorded more primitively than Id Vendor, using one of those 20-quid battery-op mixers from Maplins. Since then we’ve been using this amazing multitrack thing for everything that makes the quality much posher, but we’ve not abandoned the cheapo stuff for good…

ELTON VHOD: Yeah, to go back to the plants analogy, it’s like giving a bouquet of stingy nettles, duck weed and other inseparably tangled undergrowth.

What records have you both been listening to recently?

GUSTAV: Stuff we got given on the road, like 7” by Lemones, and a recent album by Yann Leguay which is amazing. Otherwise… A load of Darmstadt from the 60s, B L A C K I E, MHYSA, MC Mental, MC Smally… I still crave twists and departures, rediscovery of things not yet ready for it… but there’s always staples like William Parker, Jimmy Lyons… And I’ve been really inspired by live sets lately by Negative Midas Touch, Julia Scott (with Mariam Rezaei) and Basic House

ELV: Artists whose records I have properly been listening through to (as a pose to endlessly threading together Soundcloud clicks and mixes) are Rap Adio, Ligeti, Ziùr, Yves Tumor, Asfast

What’s on the horizon for Yeah You?

GUSTAV: Another service station… Hopefully not the cops. More mischief.

VIN: Counter-produce our selves out the picture.