I am leaning against the only bit of wall other people aren’t pressed against in the packed Stag’s Head, and can’t shake the feeling that I’m channelling Angela from excellent early 90s teen drama My So-Called Life. I’m watching YUCK on stage for the second time this week at only their third gig, the single launch for EGYPTIAN HIP HOP (interviewed here). YUCK’s music is beguilingly interior, evoking inner monologues and sideways glances through eyelashes framed by burning cheeks. Vocals weave through a haze of reverb and feedback arches through frisson-filled dusky melodies. There are moments of angst in songs The Wall and Get Away (the one with the heartbreaker chorus) but it’s ultimately sweetly uplifting, none more so than Georgia (download it above), their forthcoming single on Transparent (who we profiled here) that feels like a forgotten anthem. Grunge would be an easy reference to make, but a lazy one too. Sure, you can spot-call the elements but the underlying feeling isn’t apathy. This isn’t a 90s revival; YUCK are the sound of growing up.
Rewind a couple of days and Mikael and I are at The Lexington to meet the band before their magical gig with REAL ESTATE at gig night Bird On The Wire that evening. We are greeted with big grins and bear hugs, an immediate and infectious enthusiasm that set the tone for the rest of the afternoon. Retreating to a nearby pub for shandy and coffees, I sit down with Danny (vocals, guitar), Max (guitar), Jonny (drums), Mariko (bass) and part-time fifth member, Danny’s sister Ilana (vocals). They’re full of deadpan jokes and easy silliness, really fun to be around. It’s just the beginning for them and they’re clearly excited. Well, it’s not quite the beginning for Danny and Max. They’ve been here before, a couple of years ago as two fifths of Cajun Dance Party, an altogether different incarnation. “That feels like quite a long time ago, like a distant dream in a way,” says Danny. “It was great, we made an album when we were 15, but obviously you change between the ages of 15 and 19. Although it must seem like a big difference, to us it doesn’t feel as different.” Max continues: “And we weren’t writing songs in Cajun. Even though Daniel and I have known each other for ages, this is the first time we’ve written with each other.”
Without the “pressure of anything”, they spent a year or so writing songs, recording demos on Danny’s “really good dictaphone” in Max’s bedroom. Jonny joined in December, after a chance meeting with Danny in Israel last February. “He was in this commune, a kibbutz, working in the kitchen, smoking hash. I was there visiting some friends.” Jonny goes on: “We’d spent one day together, honestly. In the actual desert.” When Danny got back in touch in December, Jonny “dropped everything” to come over, including the degree he’d just started in his native New Jersey. “I was in a band called Impossible Voyage, which was heavily influenced by a lot more progressive, hardcore bands,” he explains. “But when I heard the songs that Daniel sent me I was like, this is the kind of music that I’ve always wanted to play but I’ve never really had the right people to play it with.” Mariko was also wooed by Danny and Max: “I’d just split up with my band Levelload and we already kind of knew each other. And they wanted a female bass player who could sing,” she laughs. And their sometime fifth member? “Ilana is integral to the band but obviously she’s still at school. She’s got her A Levels to do and we’ve got to be really careful with damaging her. We were damaged very young,” says Danny with a smile.
The five are at their most animated when they’re talking about the music they love, elements of which can be heard in their sound; from bands originally recording 10, 15, 20 years ago (Dinosaur Jr., Sonic Youth, Red House Painters, Pavement, Velocity Girl, Black Tambourine) to new bands who sound like they could have been (A Grave With No Name, Ivansxtc, Casiotone For The Painfully Alone, Memoryhouse and Herzog, who they’re doing a split single with on Transparent). So we’re back in revival territory. But ‘revival’ is so very short sighted. Yes, okay, their sound does the recall the 90s but it’s only natural it should. Sounds and feelings in music come, go and return again because of the cyclic way we experience life. We mythologise that which is directly inaccessible to us; make icons of those that are not within our tangible existence. So it makes perfect sense that there are a wave of new bands today inspired by music that was made a generation ago. What’s more, the music of the slacker generation feels relevant and exciting again because it’s in direct contrast to the neon coloured, bravado-fuelled Indie Pop (Cajun included) that was soundtracking Skins a few years ago. Or maybe, as Max points out when I clumsily try to convey some of the above, that’s just “slightly overcomplicating things.” Danny agrees: “We don’t write songs thinking ‘we want it to sound like this’. We just want to write lots of songs.”
You should also check out our interview with A Grave With No Name.