Halfway between Los Angeles and San Francisco is a place that calls itself that “last of the California beach towns.” It’s official name is Cayucos, the Spanish remix of the native population’s word for “kayak.” And if a California beach town is defined in part by its size, then Caycucas and its population of 2,600 certainly fits the bill. But others were argue it’s about much more than size. “Precious few of the West Coast’s surf towns can be called under-the-radar,” actor and designer Channon Rowe wrote for the New York Times a few years back. “Cayucos is many an Angeleno’s favorite secret. Its sleepy strip of kitschy shops and bars is a throwback to ’70s California.”
Zach Yudin is one such Angeleno. The California native named his band after the beach town, though in a twist befitting the word’s history, he further perverted the spelling to Cayucas. The moniker snuggly fits the music that Yudin – in collaboration with his brother Ben and Casey Wojtalewicz – creates on his band’s debut LP, Bigfoot: breezy, wholesome, beachy, almost frozen in time. (Despite so effectively challenging the vibe of its namesake, the record was actually recorded with studio ace Richard Swift at this National Freedom studio in the less sunny state of Oregon.)
Yudin has resided in L.A. for the past eight years, bouncing between Santa Monica, Echo Park, and Venice neighborhoods. When I connected with him last month, though, he was visiting some family in Northern California. We talked briefly about the Beach Boys, playing with his brother, and Cayucas’ in-the-works sophomore effort.
Bigfoot has been out since last April. What’s the past year been like?
Well, we toured basically for about a year – about 15 months. We’ve been touring pretty frequently. Last year, we had two or three U.S. tours. There were a couple of opening things. We went to Europe twice. When the album came out, we had a headlining tour. We toured the U.S. and Europe, and we came back and had an opening tour for Ra Ra Riot. In February and March, we were opening for Young the Giant. Now we’re in this coasting period of a small tour and festivals through the summer.
Do you like festival gigs?
I do like them. They’re fun. Being at a festival is fun. The U.S. ones have been really good. We’ve played a couple of festival in Europe where you’re on some weird side stage and, like, nobody knows who you are. [Laughs]
Have you been working on anything new?
Over the past year, we’ve been writing down some song ideas and lyrics – sort of haphazardly. Once this last tour ended in middle of March, we spent the last two months turning all of those ideas into actual songs. We had to buckle down, but not too much.
You’ve said that you started making music with a sample-based approach. Has that changed as Cayucas has become more of a proper band?
A little bit, yeah. On the first record, half the songs were based on sampled stuff. The other half were written on guitar and piano. This time, pretty much all of the songs are going to be written on guitar or piano, but I still have three songs that were based on samples.
How would you describe the vibe of the material?
It’s in the early stages, but I want to keep it same vibe [as Bigfoot]. I think it’s going to be less nostalgic. Writing on piano, the songs have come down a little bit. We have a couple of songs that I would describe as epic, with big choruses and chant-y stuff.
What do you mean by “nostalgic”?
It’s a general spirit. I think Cayucas identified with vintage gear – like, vintage guitar sounds and vintage bass – and nice spring reverb on vocals. I want to stay true to that on this album.
“Surf rock” is a label that’s often been affixed to your music. There are a lot of Beach Boys comparisons. Are those signifiers that you identify with?
It’s weird; I don’t usually have one thing – like a Beach Boys – that I’m inspired by. There are too many things. But I do love the Beach Boys. When I was originally writing the songs, I was listening to the Beach Boys quite a bit and thinking about doing something in that space. It’s about the harmonies and reverbs – nice, really spring reverbs, and organic sounds. That’s what I gravitate towards.
Do you have a favorite Beach Boys record?
I guess my favorite album would be Pet Sounds. But I love The Smile Sessions, and I also love Surfin’ Safari too. There’s this album – I think some of the songs ended up on Smile Sessions – that’s split into two parts. I think the first part is called “Wild Flower” and the second part is called “Smile” or something. The first half is by Denis [Wilson] and is kinda whatever, but the second half is all of these Brian Wilson songs that were written at his house with this very lo-fi sound. Tracks 9 to 21 are incredible. That’s something that I always love to listen to.
You made Bigfoot with the popular and talented Richard Swift. Did you see him on SNL the other day?
Yeah, with the Black Keys. I would see him pop on TV when he was playing with the Shins too. He’s doing his thing.
What was it like working with him?
He’s cool. He’s a really talented musician. It’s kind of cool to see him playing bass in the Black Keys, because he’s such a good bass player. People don’t really know that about him. They know him for his piano playing. He’s also an amazing drummer. I think it’ll be cool to see him play drums in a project at some point.
What’s it like being in a band with your brother? There’s a long history of brotherly turmoil in rock.
There’s not a whole lot of turmoil. It’s pretty easy. It’s good to have him around. I’m typically the decision maker, I guess, but we have a lot of conversations about this opinion before we decide to do something. The first album was this idea that I wanted to bring to life, and he helped me to do that and write the songs, but with the second album, he’s been way more involved with the songwriting. It’s been helpful.
Aside from the tour, what does the rest of the year have in store for you?
We’ll be doing the tour, and then in July, we’ll have two or three more festivals. We’re closing it out with a show in Santa Monica on the pier. That’ll be fun. It’ll be nice to close things out with Santa Monica and Venice people.
We’re trying to finalize recording dates to go into the studio, which we plan to do this summer and maybe into the fall a little bit.