Wednesday, May 25, 2011
YUCK: YOU CAN SEE ME IF YOU'RE TALL
Interviewing London rock band Yuck’s like yanking your own teeth with a pair of rusty pliers. Or so I’d imagine. I mean, I’m sitting back stage at Scala with one of the fastest rising international alternative rock bands of 2010/2011. They’ve got summer festival shows lined up at Pukkelpop (Belgium), Reading, Leeds, Glastonbury, Primavera (Spain) and Way Out West (Sweden). They’re touring the States again in July, stopping off in Chicago for the annual Pitchfork Festival. They’re heading to São Paulo for one show. Shit... they’re even playing Later With Jools Holland. But all I can think about in Yuck’s tumbleweed-strewn dressing room is the scene in 12 Monkeys where Bruce Willis rips his own teeth out. Considering the awkwardness of our encounter, perhaps my analogy’s an unfair reflection of DIY dentistry.
I’m still trying to decide if that’s just how they are: awkward, socially-inept misfits. Or if it’s just the introverted, art-rock characters they play. Before our interview, they were all laughing and joking, genuinely excited and enthusiastic about the sold out show and the fact that their buffet includes Quorn slices and “hundreds of chocolates”. “If we had this on tour all the time I’d just eat all day”, says lead vocalist and guitarist Daniel Blumberg as he makes a round of coffee for his bandmates and tour manager.
When I ask Yuck about South by Southwest, guitarist Max Bloom replies, “Yeah...” When I ask whether they’d like it if Beavis and Butthead could review one of their music videos, Japanese bassist Mariko Doi replies, “Yeah...” When I ask what Beavis and Butthead might say about ‘Holing Out’, for example, New Jersey-born drummer Jonny Rogoff’s impersonation goes as far as, you guessed it, “Yeah...” At least he did the voice. Sort of.
The only time Yuck’s faces light up during our painful 20 minute exchange is when my Dictaphone crashes and I lose the first few answers. And when I ask the band about any OCD behaviour and possible tensions on the road.
“I’m extremely OCD. There’s so many things. Where do I start?” says Bloom, animated for the first time. “Uh… Uh…” he continues excitedly. “I have to tie my leads up in circles so they’re perfectly tight coils on the ground. If they get tangled then I have to do it again. I have to set up my pedals myself just in case anything’s changed and check all the power cables. The amp has to be about two metres left and the pedal-board straight on. I feel more comfortable on stage if everything’s exactly how I like it.”
“So your ritual is you set up your equipment to play a gig? That’s a good ritual”, jokes Blumberg, shuffling and stapling books of his sketches to sell later at the show.
“What about annoying habits?” I ask. “You must get on each other’s nerves from time to time?”
“This guy burps”, says Doi, pointing at Rogoff. “It’s a new thing. I had a bad stomach. She’s just pointing out health problems, which I think is inappropriate”, replies Rogoff, jokingly.
“Daniel doesn’t let me go to the toilet in the room. He makes me go to the lobby”, adds Bloom, sounding slightly bitter but still joking.
“I think it’s a bit out of order for you to take a massive dump just before I wanna have a shower”, says Blumberg, taking the bait.
“I would argue that it’s my hotel room as well and I can go to the toilet”, continues Bloom, at this stage semi-joking.
“I would argue that it’s really nice to take a dump before you shower”, adds Rogoff, easing the tension.
“Yeah, but if someone else takes a dump before you shower, it’s like, aah, this isn’t as nice. You can’t shower in the scent of someone else’s inner waste”, concludes Blumberg.
Later on, when I ask the band if they’ve been to Reading, Leeds or Glastonbury as fans, Bloom replies, “I went to Reading once when I was younger. It was good. Got drunk, as you do. Threw up everywhere”.
“I told him to throw up in our neighbour’s tent ‘cos I wanted to take a shower in ours”, adds Blumberg, and for a moment, we’re riffing. Although in my haste to keep conversation flowing I kill it dead almost immediately.
When I discuss how fashionable the ‘90s has become and how slacker, generation X bands are cropping up all over London, Yuck react nonchalant. They’ve heard it all before. “We’re the wrong people to speak to, we haven’t really been in London,” says Blumberg. “It’s funny, when we started this band I’m pretty sure everyone said it was really unfashionable”, adds Rogoff.
Another factor to consider is just how young Yuck are – they’re all either 20 or 21. And later on, while opening band Let’s Wrestle is playing, all four of them walk around Scala mostly unknown. At one point I see them showing security their passes to get back stage.
Even later, on stage and hunched over his guitar, Blumberg cuts an awkward, bent figure with Tim Burton hair and oversized work boots. “So we went to America and came back and now, er... there’s lots of people here. It’s nice”, he tells the crowd. So maybe it is just their way.
On stage, there’s no denying the intensity of Yuck’s performance. Things don’t boil over – not until the end – and it’s all pretty tempered and restrained. But Yuck sound electric, delivering a set of perfectly-executed, emotionally-wrought alternative rock classics-in-the-making with flare, style and emotion.
At the end of the show, Blumberg huddles over his extensive pedalboard as the other three band members leave the stage, eventually walking off with a very final, anti-encore-sounding burst of sustained feedback crashing around the hall
One last thing I remember Blumberg saying during our interview, just as I was packing up my things, is, “I don’t know what to say, really, ever, about anything”.