Who Are…Yuck

J. Edward Keyes

By J. Edward Keyes

on 02.18.11 in Who Is...?s

File under: The new sound of classic indie rock: shaggy, unshaven, with melodies for days

From: London. And New Jersey.

Personae: Daniel Blumberg (guitar, lead vocals), Mariko Doi (bass), Jonny Rogoff (drums), Max Bloom (guitar), Ilana Blumberg (backing vocals)

Nineties indie-rock revivalists and self-described “alternative band” Yuck may be enjoying the first fruits of rabid blog buzz, but their first steps at world domination didn't come without a few bumps. The UK band — which includes former members of the hot-for-a-millisecond Cajun Dance Party — found their attempts to get into America to begin a national tour thwarted by a Gilliam-esque diplomatic snafu. “As it turned out,” explains frontman Daniel Blumberg, “when they were issuing our visas, one of them had a typo. So they couldn't be processed.” They were promised that proper visas would be waiting for them when they arrived at the airport later that week, and they were — kind of. “When we got to the airport, the visas and passports had arrived, but they'd written the issue date wrong. They were telling us it was going to take three weeks to sort out.” A bit of begging and good luck found the band on the next flight to New York (after having to cancel their first U.S. show), but the time crunch forced them to barrel straight from the airport to the overstuffed Brooklyn club Glasslands. “Fortunately,” laughs Blumberg, “the show was amazing.” That same combination of bad luck and teenage determination colors the bands grizzled songs, which bury taffy-sweet melodies underneath layers of grizzled guitars. It's a knowing throwback to everything that made early indie rock work, with an urgency and honesty that rescues it from mere pastiche.

eMusic's J. Edward Keyes talked with Blumberg about his record collection, his summer trip to Israel, and why the Red House Painters' “Katy Song” might be one of the best songs ever recorded.

On the songs that saved his life:

I came quite late into music. I wasn't brought up with records. Music wasn't something that was an everyday part of my life. For me, it started with hearing Neil YoungHarvest, After the Gold Rush, On the Beach. After that, a massive thing was hearing Smog's Dongs of Sevotion and Bonnie “Prince” Billy's I See A Darkness. That got me into the whole Drag City roster. After that, it was hearing Pavement, and then hearing [Dinosaur Jr.'s] You're Living All Over Me. And last year, when I heard Rollercoaster — which is, technically, the “self-titled record” by Red House Painters… I think “Katy Song” is probably my favorite song ever. That lyric, “I know tomorrow you'll be somewhere in London/ living with someone/ You've got some kind of family there to turn to/ and that's more than I could ever give you” — it kills me every time. I had to start holding back on listening to it because it gets me so much. Those are the moments that are the pinnacles of my life.

On young indifference and the boring details of album marketing:

When I look back on [Cajun Dance Party], it feels like I'm looking back on a completely different person. When we started that band, I was 15. It was a school band, and we played in a battle of the bands. We wrote eight songs in the first month, which later went on to a nine-track album which was released three years later. Everything that came after it was just an added bonus — it took three years to release the record and we were getting hyped up in the U.K., but I was getting more and more into music and less and less into the things that come along with it. I started to become more and more difficult — we did no interviews, we basically just gave the record label the album so that we wouldn't have to promote it. We wanted to put it out while we were at school and just move on.

On the benefits of constantly changing your aesthetic:

When I first heard Neil Young, my response was to write a piano album. I played it for someone and they introduced me to Lambchop, and I actually ended up going to record with Mark Nevers in Nashville, right when the Cajun Dance Party record was coming out. So I didn't really care about the record that was coming out, I cared about the record I was making. I was spending time with Kurt Wagner, and some of the Lambchop and Silver Jews members played on the record. I was leaving this really intense thing in the U.K. to do something completely different.

But then at this same time, I remember getting on the plane and listening to Slanted & Enchanted and suddenly thinking, “Fuck. I don't want to make this piano record anymore, I want to form a band and make a record that sounds like this.” Max, who was also in Cajun Dance Party, had been recording in his room. I'd heard his songs, and I'd been enjoying them, but they weren't really my thing. Well, he wrote the song “Operation,” which is on the record. When I got back and I heard that song I was like, “Oh, you fuck. This is exactly the kind of music I want to be making!” [laughs]. I was like, “Stop right there. I'm getting involved with this!” So we started the band from there.

On the unlikely role of Israel in the group's formation:

I don't like the idea of traveling or holidays — I don't like gate-crashing other people's cultures. But I had some friends living in Israel for the year, and the tickets were so cheap because there had been some fighting there, so I went for five days. I basically hitchhiked to the desert, where some friends were working on a kibbutz. I keep calling it a “socialist commune” because it's a quick and easy way to describe it, but I've come to hate people who abuse the word “Socialist” — it adds embarrassment to an amazing word.

So I arrived at the kibbutz around lunch and the first person I saw was Jonny, and he was like “You want some iced tea?'” I was like “Shit!” He had this massive afro and was wearing an Animal Collective T-shirt. So I was like, “Where are you from?” and he was like, “New Jersey,” and I thought, “I bet he's really into the Titus Andronicus record.” So we just started talking about them and singing Silver Jews songs.

I just had this weird feeling about him. I managed to get in contact with him later and thought “We should send him the demos.” So I sent him the 15 songs Max and I had recorded, and he loved them. He was literally three weeks into college but was like, “Yeah, I'm gonna come over.” So he flew over to the U.K. right away, and we started working.

On the lovely and bewitching “Georgia,” which is not about Georgia Hubley:

“Georgia” was a song Max and I wrote together. A lot of the time, Max will write an instrumental. He sent me this instrumental, and I was just like “Yay!” We normally spend very little time on the songs, but I did want to make a pop song. That was the first time we really has my sister on a song. We must have been really annoying — we kept making her try a bunch of different things when we were rehearsing it. That recording on the album is the only recording we've ever done — we were using electronic drums on it.

On what it feels like to be the “band of the moment”:

I was asking the tour manager the other day if he thought the band was doing “well,” and he said, “Uh, yeah, I think so.” It's difficult for me — I don't really follow that kind of thing. But I'm starting to get the sense. I mean, I literally just want to make records. It's a bonus to be touring America. It was all so unexpected — you never know if people are going to like your music, especially if you just write things because you write them, not because you have some master plan. We don't sit down and talk about what we wanna do — it's all quite instinctive. And fortunately, we haven't really had to do anything we feel uncomfortable about.