Who Are…Yuppies

Douglas Wolk

By Douglas Wolk

on 10.04.13 in Who Is...?s

File under: Unnerving, serrated-edged, spacious art-punks who love dissonance and contrast

For fans of: Teenage Jesus & the Jerks, Sonic Youth, Arab Strap, Xiu Xiu, and The Birthday Party

From: Omaha, Nebraska

Personae: Jack Begley (guitar, vocals), Noah Sterba (guitar, vocals), Jeff Sedrel (bass), Kevin Donahue (drums)

Yuppies took a very long time to make their first album — the band formed in 2007 and has released a handful of singles and a split EP over the past few years, but their self-titled, full-length debut has just appeared on Parquet Courts’ label Dull Tools. It’s a terrifically unsettling record, flowing from quiet, spacious passages (with main vocalist Jack Begley muttering or chanting lyrics that sound like every phrase is in a separate set of quotation marks) to out-of-control punk slaloms like “Hitchin a Ride,” which Noah Sterba screams so hard his voice cracks. And the band’s years of playing together are evident in the way they run every song into the next, without a pause.

There’s a lot of history audible on Yuppies — the atonal hammer-and-release textures and shambling rhythms of some of these songs echo the late ’70s no wave scene, and Begley and Sterba’s voices recall the Midwestern punk rock of the ’80s. But it’s also an assured, startling take on the psychogeography of the Dust Belt landscape that spawned the band. “All right, all right, we’re going for a ride, whether you like it or not,” Begley snaps at the beginning of “A Ride,” and that’s Yuppies’ attitude, right there.

Douglas Wolk talked with Sterba as the band geared up for a month-long tour.

On the band’s origins in high school corridors:

Me, Kevin and Jack all grew up together. In high school, I was writing songs, and Jack was writing songs, and we knew Kevin played drums, so we started playing together. Our earliest stuff was very primitive and…”young.” We were learning to play our instruments as we were playing songs. As we’ve gone on, we’ve kind of gotten more competent. We graduated from high school in 2007, and then in probably 2010, Jeff joined — we’d just been guitars and drums, and we thought, “Oh man — we gotta have some low end!”

On geographical separation and making their first album after six years:

Jeff lives in Virginia now, and Jack lived in St. Louis for a year or two. We’ve only had two or three years of being in the same city as a band. But once we got Jeff, we couldn’t play with anyone else. Even if after this tour we can’t play for another year, we won’t stop being a band — we’ll just kind of try to work with what we have and where we are.

The album’s definitely been a long time coming. One or two of the songs on the album we’ve had for four or five years; there are a few that we’ve thrown out, then reclaimed and put on the record. Most of the songs flow together, but I’d almost say that’s not something we consciously did — we’ve had a lot of space between times when we could practice, so the songs form their relationship with each other. Which is pretty cool.

On their nonstop live sets and how that translated to the recording:

Our shows are high-energy and anxiety-ridden. There are a lot of moments of chaos. We don’t take any breaks between songs, although we’ve got a bunch of different sets. We don’t have very long attention spans; we try to push ourselves to do new things at every show. The first side of the album we did in one long take. We recorded it live except for the vocals, and we thought, “This could take all day if we keep fucking it up 15 minutes in,” but we got the whole thing in one take. The second side we did in two parts — the first few songs run together, and then the last two.

On “What’s That?”:

That was one of the coolest songs to be a part of. We never talked about the writing of that song, we just started playing, said, “That’s kinda cool!,” practiced it again and started playing it at shows. When it started out, it was so different from how it turned out on the record. We never once talked about the structure of the song until the day before we recorded it. It was a bizarre process to be part of, watching this thing form itself.

On what they do when they’re not being Yuppies:

Kevin and I play with Simon Joyner — I’ve been playing with him for three or four years, Kevin just joined the group this year. We just made a new record and it’s awesome — more of an experimental record than Simon’s ever done. Simon lent me a space with an 8-track, and I recorded a solo album where I play all the instruments — that was released on Unread Records. Jack had a solo tape close to a year ago. And Kevin and I work at a diner that our friend owns in Omaha. Jack also works in a restaurant, and Jeff works in a restaurant in Richmond.

On the band’s favorite reactions to their music:

I’ve had a lot of people come up to me after a show and say, “It was good, but it made me feel really weird.” To be able to conjure up an emotion in someone, just from the sounds we’re making — to be able to create a feeling and have them really feel it too — that’s so flattering to me.