There’s a lot of bad news out there this week, but fortunately we DO have something nice to report (on Friday the 13th, ironically), which is that New Zealand’s Yumi Zouma have a brand new full-length out on Polyvinyl today! I’ve been listening to Truth or Consequences on fairly heavy rotation since it was ever so kindly sent to me earlier this year (it’s REAL GOOD), and I am v. excited for everybody to hear it; grab a download right here.
Of course, the band was supposed to be taking these songs live, but coronavirus has (like many things) fucked up shows, meaning tonight’s NYC gig looks like it’s been postponed. Fortunately the songs sound just as good at home, though; Josh Burgess and Charlie Ryder assured me that all you need to enjoy the new album is a deep sofa and a decent set of speakers when we spoke over the phone last month, so do be sure to give it a download, and then feel free to internet-eavesdrop on our full chat below:
So congratulations on the new record that’s about to be out! Third full-length, very exciting! What was the feeling going into this one? Did you have the intention of creating a full album? Because it does feel very cohesive.
Josh: Yeah, I think what we’ve been doing a little more of recently is getting together in the studio and doing week-long writing sessions, trying to have a few of those. So I think with that there’s definitely a cohesion when you start working together on a bunch of songs. There’s kind of a momentum that goes through there. But yeah, I think we definitely went into most sessions saying, “Let’s do a record.” We like alternating between records and EPs; I think it gives you the ability to focus on the strengths of both of those formats. What do you think, Charlie?
Charlie: I think you covered everything there, Josh! Yeah, nothing else to add there!
How do you feel long distance collaboration works to your advantage? I think a lot of people might see not being in the same room together as a setback, but it seems like you’ve figured out how to prioritize your time really well when you are in the same room together.
Charlie: We’ve sort of alternated between the two, and got the best of each method. Like, when you do long distance you get the benefit of everybody being in different time zones, and people have space to work on things on their own while other people are asleep. You can sort of set it up like a factory line. But when you work in the same room, you get the benefit of songs veering off into weird places way quicker, because you can bounce ideas off each other in real time, right? The drawback to that is you don’t get the same room to experiment, because the people whose ideas you’re messing with are right in front of you.
Josh: Yeah, it’s funny; we get this question a lot, and it feels weird answering it since none of it is by design. Like, it’s not like we ever set out to be a band that has this duality between being in a room and long term collaborations, it’s just by circumstance. So I feel like what’s almost more important than that is just trusting us as a unit, like each step you’re taking forward with a song is progressing to somewhere that hopefully everyone feels like we were able to say what we wanted in that song. So it’s kind of hard, because I almost wish it was some sort of stylistic choice we’d made to be totally isolated from one another, but it’s kind of not that at all. I think for me, the magic of making music is that it’s never the same. No one song’s process or feeling or whatever you’re trying to do is the same each time, so it’s like, you kind of just jump down the rabbit hole with the two other people in the band that you have this common language with, or this common idea of what it is you’re trying to express. To Charlie’s point, there’s benefits and downsides to each way of it, but none of it is by design. We literally just like to always have stuff to work on, and we’ve worked out that when we’re together we prioritize it, but when we’re not, we sort of just stumble in the dark together.
For sure! And obviously it’s super normal for bands to have reconfigurations in terms of membership; how does that affect your sense of identity? Does that factor in at all when somebody leaves or there’s a shake-up, even if it’s amicable?
Josh: I like that you say “membership”, because that makes it feel like a club.
I mean, it kind of is!
Charlie: On this record, the noticable thing is that it’s the first time we’ve got live drums. On one song in particular, which comes out tomorrow, you can hear it coming through in the songwriting for the first time. It’s a very simple Yumi Zouma drum beat that’s plodding along as usual, but then in the chorus it switches to Olivia playing live in a way we’d never have done before. So yeah, it keeps things fresh.
Josh: I think as well, having someone like Olivia come into the group and tour with us and spend that intense amount of time together, you develop that kind of common language. Even having someone else that you’re sending things through to or having more feedback or saying, “What would you do here?” I think it just opens the palette of other possibilities. I try not to think about it too much, though; I think the more records you make and the more you kind of just trust the curiosity of creativity and follow that blindly, I just started to really enjoy leaning into “There are no rules, I still don’t know what I’m doing.” You just try to get to a point where you’re like, “This is cool, this is done, let’s go on to the next thing.”
For sure! And with this record in particular, was there anything specific that felt outside your comfort zone? Anything that really pushed you outside the realm of “normal”?
Josh: I think maybe one of the biggest differences is that we’ve been a band that, since the first song we wrote, were signed to a label called Cascine, who were our home for two records and three EPs. Doing this record, there was no label; we didn’t know when it’d come out, we didn’t know when we had to finish it, and I think that didn’t really affect our wanting to get it done, but I think there was a different feeling. I don’t know, maybe you can expand on that, Charlie. When we were turning in records for Cascine, we knew what they connected with. We had a blank slate with this one.
Charlie: I think I had those feelings more after we were writing and recording. When we were writing and recording, I did feel liberated that we could do whatever we wanted and make the most Yumi Zouma-sounding record that we wanted, and I think we did that, but I think it was only after that I thought, “Oh crap, did we make something that a label would want to release?” Then people got in touch, and we went through the process of talking with Polyvinyl.
Would either of you say you have any advice in terms of what to look for when it comes to partnering with a record label? Anything you try to avoid? Things you like?
Josh: Just nice people who lean left politically. [Laughs] But yeah, honestly, nice people that you can connect with. And when you talk about music and culture and just being alive, if they’re people you feel like you could grab a coffee or a beer with and sit there and not talk about the project for an hour, I think that’s a really good measure for it. Because in music, the deals are fifty-fifty; the label will put as much into it as you’re putting in, and I think you need that kind of commonality of personalities. If you’re looking for who to work with, and it’s something like music that can be a hard graph, you’ve got to at least like the people. It’s like, our drummer is from a jazz background, and she has this thing that she pulls from jazz school – when you’re playing with musicians, you need to have two of the following three things to make sure it’s a good fit for you: good hangs, good musicianship, getting paid. So if you can have two of those, if you can have good hangs and good musicianship, it’s like the pay shouldn’t matter.
Charlie: I was talking to someone the other day who was asking about how you get signed to a record label in 2020 as an unsigned band, “because everyone seems so harsh, no one will reply to my emails,” and I totally get that as someone in a band who went through that process like seven years ago. But signing with Polyvinyl and working with them, and finding such kind people…it’s really life affirming to know that these people do exist, you just need to find them.
Josh: Yeah, and I think we’ve always been in a sort of privileged position. To Charlie’s point, we’ve definitely played in bands where we’ve sent so many emails to no replies. And we were so blessed that from our first song we found a label that wanted to work with us, and then when we wanted to try something different we found something like Polyvinyl. I totally appreciate it’s not that easy for everyone, but the only advice I can give to anyone who’s maybe trying to figure stuff out is just to keep releasing music, working on music yourself, and just have that curiosity and creativity. At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter if you’ve got the best label in the world with the best publicists and the nicest people, because if you don’t feel inspired, everything else is sort of moot. And it be easy to lose sight of that when you’re feeling really deflated, but I think there’s value in every creative output, regardless of if it gets you on Pitchfork, you’re the #1 on Billboard, or you’re playing a show to two or three people. I believe all creativity has value, and just holding onto that truth is a really important thing that should be paramount.
Totally. And lastly, I know you guys have got some live shows coming up, but if you could curate someone’s at-home listening experience with zero logistical constraints, what would you say would create the ideal environment for this latest record?
Josh: If there was a way that you could go back to the Big Bang, and put the world on hyper-speed and see its whole development, that’s probably what would be the most interesting thing for someone to experience. [Laughs] But I don’t know, just some nice, deep sofas, a nice pair of speakers, some friends, maybe a little beer…just comfortable. I know that’s boring, but that or the Big Bang. Take your pick. What about you, Charlie?
Charlie: [Laughs] I’m down with the Big Bang.
Featured photo by Aaron Lee