After blowing a wind of madness on the English garage scene, Yak is back with a new album. We met with Oliver Henry Burslem the singer of the trio for an interview under the sign of letting go and let live.
You’ve got a new record coming in two weeks on the 8th of February. We received the record as a press release from your promotion company and it was good, we really liked it.
Oliver Henry Burslem (vocals/guitare): Oh good good good.
How was the recording process for the album as there has been a change in the line up?
Oliver Henry Burslem: Yes. A few times. It’s like a revolving door. My best friend, who started [the band] Andy – We never thought we would do one record so by the time we finished the first album he was already going move to Melbourne. That was the plan but we kind of pull it off because the band was doing pretty well. But when came the time to do the second record it was like the elephant in the room. We kind of knew this wasn’t going to be working, him being in Melbourne, us being in the UK. But we tried to make it work by going to Perth to record some ideas with Jay Watson who plays in Pond and Tame Impala. So we ended up going there and recording which was fun but we didn’t finish any recording. We had a nice time but then it became apparent the band was not going to be the same anymore. It could not be the three of us. Andy had to go back to Melbourne and start his new life and I came back to the UK… And I’ve been to Japan before as well. So I came back after a few months away with no band, no record, no record contract, no house.
Oliver Henry Burslem: So it was like: “OK, cool, this is interesting.” So I was kind of lost for a year and then I met Vince who’s now our bass player and then we started to… Get our shit together.
So how is it going now, is your situation better?
Oliver Henry Burslem: Oh yeah. I mean I still live in a car but I stay at friends’ houses. Basically, I’m at my parents during the day and my friends got a place in Hackney so I might be moving into this house. I like floating around. It’s kind of like being on tour but not really.
Does floating around like that nourishes your inspiration for working?
Oliver Henry Burslem [Thinking] I don’t know.
Like a hobo?
Oliver Henry Burslem: I certainly don’t romanticize it but it was just a necessity but it’s nice to have a bit cash to do what you want to do. It kinds of influence the record.
Especially because of the name of the record, “Pursuit Of Momentary Happiness“. What was the main influences on the record? What did you listen to when you were recording the album?
Oliver Henry Burslem: I was listening to loads of different music so every song has so many million steps going into it. I suppose the way my situation properly influence the record just because predominately I wrote the song on an acoustic guitar. That seems like influencing the record in some kind of a way. But influences I constantly listen to music so it was not different really.
You also collaborated with Jason Pierce from the band Spiritualized. How did you come up with this collaboration?
Oliver Henry Burslem: We were being friends beforehand. We did our record deal and we were going to do some demos and I bumped into Jason, and he was like: “what are you gonna do with the band” and I was like: “I’m not too sure but we’re gonna try to do some demos next week”. He said: “I’ll come and help”, I said: “that’d be amazing” not thinking maybe he would not come; And the first day he wasn’t around. The second day he turned up and he said: “play some songs” so we played some songs. He seemed to be encouraging. We’re fans of his [band], it was a privilege to be in a situation where someone you respect says, when you think nothing would be worth pursuing, that the songs are good. That was a the bold side. And then we got a record deal quick. And then he started coming to sessions, he was really happy and sings on the last song.
Yeah, it’s a good one.
Oliver Henry Burslem: Yeah, it’s my favorite.
What could be the least favorite of the record? That’s a shameful question.
Oliver Henry Burslem: (laughs) I don’t know, I like all of them. I mostly do. There are so good. I think they are all good. (laughs)
Come on. (laughs)
Oliver Henry Burslem: The ones I probably feel uncomfortable about are probably the ones which are really open because I’m not really used to. I’m not an open person. So sing things that you would not say to your best friend or to the people that you love the most. Somehow singing the songs and put them on record seems mental really.
After the first record as you said you had some troubles in your personal situation and with the band. Could it appear to you there would be only one album made, like the first one, and then you would have started something completely different?
Oliver Henry Burslem: I think the songs set my life now, that is what I want to pursue but also I don’t think music is the end, there’s lot of other stuff. There was a chance it was. But I never wrote the songs thinking [about it] because we didn’t have a record deal or so, it was just: “let me write it somewhere I can remember and I can record them”. That’s just a document of that time. There could ever be the last record you do but I said that for the first one. But there’s lot of other stuff. I really like furniture, I live in the countryside, I travel. I like to do loads of things when I am not in the band.
What would you do if you were not in the band?
Oliver Henry Burslem: [Thinking] I would probably buy some furniture. Travel a bit. I definitely would be anything. Once I was down in a pub with my mate and he was like: “how’s going with your album, do you still live in your car” and I was like: “mate I don’t wanna know.”.”Do you want a pint?” “Oh yeah”. (laughs) But it is weird, it’s a like a therapy. He was being indulgent, listening to me talking about the whole album but it was good.
The sound of this record sounds more mature because it is less punk. There is less of this youthful punk energy than on the first one. How did you get the idea of getting a brass section?
Oliver Henry Burslem: I think this record for me is much heavier. I love the first one but I wasn’t so confident singing I suppose and hiding behind the “roar” (screaming). This is heavier because the vocals are right then and the content’s probably heavier. It seems to be better to try to make something that last really. That is also why we put a load of work into it: the idea of going just recording a record is great but what we can’t do is just doing loads of records. It was a conscious decision, we had our opportunity to go to a big studio for 10 days and to use the facilities and try to make a record that sounded sonically wider, not just like recorded on an iPhone. I doubt doing it again but it was good. I always wanted to do it. And the brass section for 6 hours is not much cash. (laughs)
Was it something that you had the idea before, like when you started writing songs you thought: “there could be a brass section on this part of the song”?
Oliver Henry Burslem: Yes, on some bits I thought: “there’s definitely need there” but it didn’t work out and on bits I didn’t think it could work it actually worked. I was just quite starting to use different things and I was listening to a lot of soul music like Al Green’ records, Aretha Franklin’ records, a lot of old Motown, classical music.
You would not do it for another record?
Oliver Henry Burslem: I wouldn’t record it the same way, it might be staying on a different orientation. It’s nice to have a different approach on each record. Maybe I might do the next one on an iPhone or in my bedroom.
This would be different.
Oliver Henry Burslem: I’d be writing songs for the next one, and then the next one would be the last one. But it might all change . What I might be liking, who knows?
So you just like float around?
Oliver Henry Burslem: Just have different varieties to spice up life. I was back in the midlands with some eighty year old listening some jazz on a Sunday and then I’m with my mate down the pub with people I worked with, people I went to school with, that don’t do anything with music. And then on the next day I’ll be in London in some weird pub. It’s nice to just be part and not be part of anything. Just be floating around. Anyway I’m not a musician.
Oliver Henry Burslem: I just don’t really. I was the best man for Andy’s wedding who used to play bass in the band, and he said I had to sign the register. It said “occupation” and I genuinely didn’t know what to write. I wrote “musician” and spelt it wrong which I thought was kind of funny really. Andy will go check the archives in years and he’ll be asked “who was your bestman?” “Musician spelt wrong”.
You’re going to tour in February. Which city do you want to go the most?
Oliver Henry Burslem: I don’t know where we are playing. I usually do know a week ahead so I’m going on the Eurostar, I’ll have a pint with my friends, I’m going to jump in my car, I’ll spend some time in the countryside and in the fields for a week. I’ll see my sister’s kids and I’m going to look for some furniture. And I’ll came back and DJ, and then the next day we’re playing a gig, and the next week. But I don’t really know. I like when everything’s is unsure. I think the variety is the best thing. We play different sets every gig, we play with different leads. Sometimes there’s 10 people in the room, maybe it’s more. I love change really. I once had a job which was like an office job and it paid not much. They paid me a certain amount that was set for two years and the manager said they were going to do everything to make sure we were happy. I said what I’d like is that you take all the money in a year and you just flip randomly, pay me random amounts so at least at that moment I know how much I have for lunch, how much is my rent and it became quite formulated. I like the idea of being paid random amounts cause at least it’s making it more interesting. I was once driving with the fuel light on.
You’re this kind of guy.
Oliver Henry Burslem: I’m always like “meh” like I was driving and it started to snow. I’m driving all through the night to get to the Eurostar and the fuel light come on and it was like 2 miles to the petrol station, or 20. I think I can do 20 and it goes like (gesture the fuel light going off) and I was like shit! And I think the band is a little bit like that. I don’t do it on purpose, it must be the way I operate.
That’s the way you are.
Oliver Henry Burslem: Yes and you can never be disappointed. You could break down a bit. Most people would be like “fuck”. I couldn’t make a record if I was worried about stuff like that.
Your record sometimes sounds like The Black Keys, especially the guitar. And other time it was more like some britpop. There are also a couple of slow songs which was surprising. The interlude is also really sweet. Isn’t it a bit “brave” to have an interlude?
Oliver Henry Burslem: I don’t think as myself as a musician, nor a careerist. It’s quite nice to be true to yourself and just do what turns you on and hopefully turn the people on and if not. But maybe I’ve always been “pig headed”, so I just get to do what I want to do. This is quite nice to try to do things and I am not afraid of failure. I remember running races as I kid and I loved the idea of being first or last. Anywhere in between is boring to me. So I was like (miming running very fast) until someone was like (miming someone going in front of him) so I was like “okay”. (miming someone surrender)
Is it how you see life? Either black or either white?
Oliver Henry Burslem: [Thinking] I like to take as it comes. You know someone was telling me the other day he was into 50’s and 60’s rock n’roll and he had to get the haircut and the glasses, and the guitar. Everything has to be traditional which is fine. When I was a kid I was really into certain things but then I’d just like… Getting out of bed, not forgetting to do your hair but it’s too much work to be as traditional. I was just kind of letting go and see how it works. I’m just the guy who doesn’t care about having the right haircut and the band’s the same. We don’t sit down and ask each other what we’re going to wear, what we’re going to have for breakfast. We just let each other do what they want to do, and put it all in a pot and what would came out be horrendous and that is what it is. A mess.
Can you explain a bit how you wrote the song “Payoff Vs The Struggle” because you wrote “Get off my back”. Who is it aimed at?
Oliver Henry Burslem: No one really in particular. I suppose that song just came out like “Let’s repeat [the lyric Get off my back] it in a different time and just make it louder” and just having fun really. I remember it was quite hard at some time doing the record and I just remember thinking to myself well, is it worth it? Is the pay off worth the struggle it’s taking to do this? The monster of the record.
Did you find the answer to that?
Oliver Henry Burslem: No. What is the pay off? I don’t know. It’s already a success for me because it’s done. I just enjoy it I suppose because it won’t last forever.
How many did you already put out?
Oliver Henry Burslem: 3.
Why did you put “White Male Carnivore” as the first one?
Oliver Henry Burslem: I think that was the record label wanted to do. There will be probably more singles than on the first record. It shows the trust of the label and it is quite nice.
It’s one of the heaviest song.
Oliver Henry Burslem: It represented something about the times we are living in.
To us it’s like the junction between the first album and the second album.
Oliver Henry Burslem: I like that. Someone told me today it got banned on Facebook. Someone posted it and they got taken off because of the name, which I thought was really good. It shows that people don’t know what’s right. You know back in the 70’s they did songs like “Down With The Monarchy”. And now everything is just so polarizing. You just have to write your dietary requirements, or your chosen requirements, your gender, and your race and that seems to be. “It’s OK”. That song is more of a question. The way people react to it probably says more about it. Or not react to it.
As it was banned from Facebook people reacted to it. There’s a reaction on it so what’s a good thing.
Oliver Henry Burslem: Yes, which is good. Everyone needs to got together, love each other.
It’s one of the biggest question of the century. How to be together and how to respect each other.
Oliver Henry Burslem: I’m positive, I think it’s just a bump in the road.
2019 will be a bump in the road? For the band.
Oliver Henry Burslem: I don’t know. I have to think about it. It is what it is. Nothing is planned.
Last question: what rocks your life?
Oliver Henry Burslem: Rocks my life? As a child it was my mother at the age of 2 or 3. (laughs) But now variation. Variety. Nice people, mean people. It’s all positive.