A R T I C L E
Another Timeless Classic: A Q&A with Yolk
With Ian Duggan
Wellington ‘Gutter Folk’ artist Yolk (a.k.a. Yann Le Dorre) has been a favourite at HUP, having featured more times on our ‘Tekau Nga Waiata Pai’ HUP/The Hum radio show and podcast than any other artist! We interviewed Yann last year more broadly about his Yolk project, but with the recent release of a new album, ‘Cherry Blossoms & the Moon’, we interview him again, this time with a focus on the new album, and how he dealt with lockdown!
HUP: ‘Cherry Blossoms & the Moon’ is another brilliant album. One thing I love about your releases, outside of the fantastic songs, is that each is a coherent piece of work, with a consistent feel through them. On this album, the first half in particular appears to be more laid-back, but also more ‘intense’ — particularly lyrically — than your previous releases. For example, last year’s ‘SADEGO’ and 2018s ‘Bad Water’ appear upbeat compared with this release, at least musically, while lyrics here involve themes like sadness, boredom, hopelessness and death. Do the songs on each album reflect what is happening in your life, or do you go into each with a character in mind?
Yolk: Thank you!! Songs are like lovers and you can learn to hate anyone! Musically I wanted to create pretty atmospheric stuff, focusing more on ‘mood’ rather than ‘excitement’. I wanted the songs to drag you along the beach. I think ‘intense easy listening’ is a fitting description. From a writing point of view, Fitzgerald and Hemingway have sort of embedded this ‘authenticity ideal’, in that you should only write about what you know. I think the best way to understand and in turn explain is to feel it first-hand, taste the blood in your mouth and feel those harsh winds whipping you on that lonely walk home.
‘Cherry Blossoms’ was written as a thematic piece. I wanted to capture those few months through summer when the sheer anticipation of the coming heatwave is enough to make you crack a beer and to follow through into the dirge of the dying cicadas when the days aren’t so long and you look back on the blackout and realise the sun has set. Each of my albums could paint a picture for me and each song usually begins as a personal affair, but then time tends to end them in a divorcee fashion. I can be a little disconnected from the older songs. It’s almost like looking at an old photo; you know it's you, but your face has changed, and you don’t dress the same. It seems I’m always feeling pretty sentimental, so I would like to say I write from the heart; whether or not it is kind is a different story. Being rather impressionable, I think my albums tend to take on this character narrative dependent on what I’m listening to, who I’m hanging out with, whose love is involved, etc, and these variables are always changing, and thus a character can live and die throughout an album cycle. The character of ‘Cherry Blossoms’ to me in hindsight was a new man, facing down the barrel of adulthood, whilst still very engaged in the twilight of his youth, desperately thinking, yet always meeting the eye with confidence. I tried to sonically represent the end of an era with the album, looking to be the last of that ‘wall of sound, overdub city, digital vibe’, paired with a more straight-ahead lyrical approach, in which I’ve found more comfortable delivering as I’ve gotten older. These days I care less about hiding behind deep metaphor and don’t need to beat around the bush so much; the term “sighing in plain sight” comes to mind.
HUP: One of the early favourites for me on this album is ‘Another Timeless Classic’, which I find unsettling to listen to with the aggressive dialogue from the 1987 movie ‘Barfly’ running through the background. What was your inspiration for using this dialogue here?
Yolk: The stars aligned in the gutter that summer, and all roads led to [writer Charles] Bukowski. My friends Dad tipped me off to that classic Mickey Rourke performance [in Barfly] while I was hanging around on his farm for a couple of weeks. I held some vague romantic notion about the self-destructing drunkard already and that movie really got me going. My sister ended up lending me a copy of [Bukowski’s semi-autobiographical novel] ‘Ham on Rye’ around that time too. Charles’ writing struck a chord in me with its simple yet emotive layman’s portrayal of existing through the bottle in this indifferent world. “Hey boy, fetch me a draft” became a little phrase between my friends and I, so I felt like it would be right to honour that through song. ‘Another Timeless Classic’ is essentially a eulogy, describing people’s reactions to a funeral. I thought the way the Barfly steamed through life was the perfect tragic comedy to pair with the faux blues piano. I feel the sounds of a brutal fistfight could represent that entropic climax of life perhaps better than any wailing guitar solo could.
HUP: As we covered in the last interview, you are a prolific releaser of albums. The songs on this album were recorded a year ago. Have you been able to concentrate on new music during the lockdown?
Yolk: Haha, ah yeah. For better or for worse the songs are pouring out of me! Fortunately, the month leading up to lockdown happened to be one of the most hectic in my life, so there was plenty of mental baggage to sift through and compose with (haha). Initially, I planned to work on two albums I recorded last year and get them ready for release, but I very quickly realised I only had the patience and interest for the most recent stuff. It has been a little trying at times with lack of external motivation and me beginning to hate my bedroom, but it's surely coming together. I’ve been outsourcing a few parts to other musicians over the internet, which has been a new experience for me. Having other talents on record has opened up the way I have been conceiving the album. I’d say I’m going in a very stripped back direction that feels much more refined.
HUP: This album has beautiful cover art, featuring a literal representation of the album title. Who designed this?
Yolk: My dear friend Catherine painted the cherry blossom tree, then I painted the back drop and arranged the elements on some sketchy software. I wanted the cover to draw you into the 'delicate yet visceral' world of 'Cherry Blossoms & the Moon'.
HUP: The album is available digitally on Bandcamp, but you have also done a run of cassettes for this release. What made you release on this format, and how do people get hold of one?
Yolk: I’ve been a champion of this lo-fi format for quite a few years now. I love the grit and yesteryear feel of cassette and ultimately decided to release it on tape because it was cheap. People don’t tend to have CD players anymore, while a cassette is nostalgic real estate and easy to slip in your pocket. You certainly don’t listen to cassette for fidelity, but it does have that ‘analogue’ sound we all know and love. People can purchase these for the reasonable price of $10, either through my Facebook page, Instagram or Bandcamp.