When did you start with Yeah You and why?
We liked listening to chart music whilst driving around. It’s nice. You see the world and match your feelings about it to music. Then one day what you feel about the world becomes too complicated for the limited motives of pop music to fulfill, so you feel the need to find your own voice in order to react to the world.
There will always come a time when you realize that people are nowhere near having an answer to the most basic question in life, ‘What the fuck actually is the world and why am I supposed to be in it?’ (Which happened for us in 2013.) To even begin to tackle this question requires a uniquely sculpted platform from which to conduct an investigation. For both of us this platform was improvisation in music.
How would you describe your collaboration?
Making up pop music on the spot – total improvisation without prior discussion. Calling it ‘pop’ because we wanted it to sound like finished, stand-alone songs – a lot of ‘improv’ gives itself the license to be sort of formless without narrative. For us, the idea was not to say ‘this is improvised,’ not to advertise the fact – we were often on a bill with bands who write and rehearse; we wanted the audience to take us on the same level as them. I’ve started calling what we do ‘wild pop,’ which is now also a new label I’m starting. It could also even be a movement… Wild Pop.
‘Yeah you’ is like an abstract agreement of mutual devotion to the unknown. Starting to improvise music daily in a duo is a development of a back and forth correspondence, you have to be up for it, like ‘yeah’ and then there always has to be the ready response like, ‘you’. Always trying new things was for both of us a natural impulse; the location would shift every time, as would the instruments, the style, the energy... Yeah You is the self-reflexive fusing of two minds, demonstrating how you learn more about yourself through direct comparison to an other. ‘Yeah’ is also an oath. To affirm all musical impulse, never letting your ideas be clipped by conscious preferences, concerning audience response or personal ideals... To value expression itself before actually considering the value of what is expressed. This band never had the intention of being something in the society; rather it was an escape from it, which was to us both an indispensable necessity. This duo has no ulterior motive; it is just the result of a need to capture the internal effects of existential phenomena and translate this creatively, to be a mediator of the absurd, reaffirming the importance of the individual struggle so disregarded in western society.
What’s your method of working? Do you rehearse together on a regular basis or do you each work on stuff and send it to each other?
… whenever and wherever. It is a living transformation and so naturally resists any kind of categorization, for us both it had to be daily and as much as possible as this was the way of reflecting on the world for us, so as much as life and new unique experiences happen on a daily basis so the music too must be daily. The potency comes from the condensed combination of all the individual events in a day, finally crushed into one impulsive narrative, transforming all the fragments and unconscious effects of one day into one emotional outpour.
The Google results for your band name are cluttered with N.E.R.D. videos. Do you mind that Pharrell is taking up so much space?
Interesting question… Because when the Neptunes first came out it was very exciting, but Pharell gradually settled into the kind of 70s-revival thing that eventually made him huge. N.E.R.D.’s ‘Yeah You’ is that kind of song, I don’t really like it. The ‘Yeah You’ that I really DO like is the one by Shabazz Palaces, the beat on that is really cool, much closer to the kind of thing we like to make.
I do not Google myself and I don’t know what N.E.R.D is, but once I tried to find ‘Catagorically Impressive’ online and found it had been used for the beginning of a YouTube makeup tutorial… this was really great, I laughed so much.
Will, I found out that you teach a course on the roots of hiphop. What’s a good flow in a song?
I don’t know if I can answer that, really. ‘Flow’ is one of those things that defines and MC, and in that sense it’s such an individual thing. Subjectively, to me, a ‘good flow’ is one that constantly questions itself, turns itself inside out, plays all kinds of games with the underlying groove… So, I always loved MCs like ODB, Sensational, Kool Keith, Doom… but then who can resist the imperiousness of a ‘conventional’ flow like Q-Tip’s, or Nas? And then there’s the historical dimension, where a flowing ‘flow’ goes out the window in the wake of Trap and Drill… I’ve been really enjoying Travis Porter lately, who seem to bring that self-questioning into a post-Trap flow with gratuitous autotune hooks… And then there’s Young Thug… Or Tommy Genesis…
You’ll find the flow as soon as you stop asking what it is.
Does any musician benefit from an official music education (like on a Conservatory)? I’m more of the “learn your trade and try to forget it immediately after” type.
As an educator, I’m passionately against the ‘official’ music education because it is specific only to European traditions and ideological frameworks. What we call ‘classical music’ was the cultural facilitator for the rise of capitalism and imperialism. I have no problem with anyone choosing to learn western notation and harmony – but the fact that most people think it’s ‘the’ way to learn music is incredibly harmful. Elvin Brandhi is actually the best musician I’ve ever worked with, she has no formal training, she makes all her stuff directly with sound. Cage advocated working ‘directly with sound’ in the 1940s – music educators still haven’t heard what he was saying, they’re a long, long way behind.
Are you part of a scene? Who are your peers in music?
There are two scenes – your hometown scene, where you ply your trade most regularly; and the scene ‘out there’ where you learn to spot people on the same wavelength, who are making the same exciting discoveries… And there’s a third ‘scene’ which is when you get a bit of a rep and the two start mixing. In Newcastle, we come from a scene with a lot of improv with a noise aesthetic, we’ve tended to mostly play gigs on bills with people from that scene, which is really well-established – Jazzfinger, Culver, Zoviet France, Posset, Wrest… Elvin and I both play with Wrest, we’ve learnt so much from him. I have a duo with Posset. Richard Dawson comes from that scene, dyed-in-the-wool (did you ever hear his noise stuff, like Eyeballs?), but then he started bringing in that folk song element and that has now become a part of the scene itself – someone like Newcastle’s Mark Wardlaw/Forest of Eyes, who started out in his early teens as Noise Bastard, is a great example of that.
Then in that ‘second scene,’ for us there’s people like Human Heads, Odie Ji Ghast, THF Drenching in Manchester; in a wider sense Dean Blunt, Inga Copeland, Pharmakon, Mumdance, even… people who recognize the essentialness of pop, how avant garde music must always learn from it.
What does performing live mean for you? Is it important to experience Yeah You completely?
The whole idea is really that, well, pop music can be made up on the spot, so we’re trying to suggest that anyone/everyone can/should by illustrating the power of doing so… There are so many implications in there about power, control, resistance to exploitation and so on... The internet videos and the gigs are equally important, they both have the same intention: to be arresting and to entertain, but in a way that shows people how easy it is to do something exceptional themselves. The best thing anyone’s ever said after gigs is ‘you make me realize anything is possible!’ Wild pop is music that resists market frameworks without forgetting that people want something they can get hold of and get into. The videos and the gigs are obviously totally different things. On balance, yes, the gigs are the ‘real thing’ we reach a wider range of people that way.
On the subject of ‘anything possible’ and audience, there’s a gig on our vimeo page where a woman who’s never seen us before, never heard of us, asks to join in for the last song.
You both have different pseudonyms under which you operate. What makes a good pseudonym and do you keep a list ?
A good pseudonym is when you don’t need to think about it, it just fits. Like Elvin Brandhi, it was completely random. I’d just bought a pitch-shifter FX pedal and was really loving the new characters this alien-like voice manipulator triggered, like some strange creature chanting absurd doctrines… it just was Elvin Brandhi. Then MYKL JAXN is just like so good because you can’t call yourself Michael Jackson… It’s just like the opposite of a good pseudonym yet somehow so perfect and fitting with our energetic, warped pop - returning to the world a regurgitated version of what we were given.
We riff on ‘good band names’ all the time just as jokes, that we write down for fun… like someone would just say a random phrase and would be like haha ‘that’s a good band name’. But it’s often more a search for the worst name you could possibly give yourself that inspires the best names. Although we found a lot of relevance in the name ‘Yeah You’ concerning our general ethos, ‘Yeah You’ is also kind of deliberately shit. It references those dead-end small-talk conversations where you ask a question and the answer is just ‘yeah, you?’ hostilely bouncing the question straight back into the hands of the questioner, leaving them empty-handed.
… no need for a list – because with each new persona you give birth to a new mythology that’s yours to shape. Your real name is a trap, it’s tied to all the other things in your life like family, jobs, tax, law… What makes a good pseudonym? That’s tricky, because in a way it doesn’t ever matter what you call something, it’s the force of the work and the brilliance of its insistence that will make the name into something. I mean, how off the map is Fetty Wap or Lil Uzi Vert? Or Casey Veggies? And was ‘Gang Starr’ ever really a good name? On the other hand, I’ve always favoured neatness and colour in a pseudonym, something that can feel like a brand, but then… I can’t remember why I started using MYKL JAXN for Yeah You. I thought of it one day and like the joke of being able to use the biggest name in pop history simply by spelling it all in consonant consonants… Not sure if I even like it, but for now it’s woven into the Yeah You fabric.
I really like the randomness in your videos, especially the one in the office space where Elvin is facing the camera with her back or the ones in the car. When do you decide it’s time to make video?
We video almost every session we do then decide afterwards which ones should be seen. Our HDs have over 2,000 video-songs, many of which we’ve still not really had a chance to watch. When I’m trawling the archive, editing and dubbing, there are loads of really great ones, but what amazes me is that there’s almost nothing ‘bad’ in there at all – every one has something.
It is random because it’s all spontaneous. We choose to film because the particular situation we are in is such an important ingredient to the music. Like, in improvisation the environment you are feeding of is like the musical score, or like the opera setting… ‘Life is a stage’ etc?
Like in pop music videos, there is often some kind of dramatized narrative, which compliments the emotion of the song. It’s the same thing with our videos except both music and video are improvised in the moment rather than patched together afterwards. It is a revolt against the fallacious idealism of pop music videos. It reminds people that music is reality, and reality produces music, an empirical description of an event beyond the limits of factual language.
Showing the location is necessary to communicating the full expression. Music is life translated through subjective interpretation; so we wanted to document both the specific aspect of life as well as the personal response to it. We are like photographers who see certain moments in the external world that they want to capture, except we seek to capture not just the visual aspect, but also the phenomenological presence via music.
What are your other (musical) endeavours?
Outside of Yeah You, I tend to play in some collaboration in the studio or a gig most weeks, usually 2-3 times a week. A lot of that activity is on the Wild Pop vimeo page (vimeo.com/wildpop) and on the Felt Beak tumblr archive (feltbeak.tumblr.com). For most of those kinds of things, and for solo, I carry on being Gwilly Edmondez.
Play and play and play and play and play and play and play and play and play and play and play and play…