“It’s a strange and exotic creature and I hope over the years we can make some strange, exotic and unpredictable music.” Guitarist and vocalist Marc Bird is talking about the origins of the strange title that describes his band. Yellow Creatures have only just stepped onto the fringes of Newcastle’s music community, never mind the UK’s, but already the quartet have picked up their fair share of support…
It quickly becomes clear as to why when hearing their unusual racket. Although they only started gigging and recording this year, the experimental rock newcomers – who were named after a character in Mervyn Peake’s picture book, ‘Captain Slaughterboard Drops Anchor’ – released a tantalising debut demo in February before offering four stronger tracks in their latest EP, ‘Nature of the Beast’.
“We’ve only been in people’s minds since the beginning of this year,” says Bird. “Because of that, we’re quite happy slowly building on what we’ve got and getting our music out there, getting feedback and making sure that people like what we are doing. I think my goal is very specific in terms of wanting to build a strong platform for a band so we have good control to write our songs and release them. Like anyone else who’s in a band, you want to do it for a living. All of us just want to create an identity as a band and keep improving on what we have got.”
What Yellow Creatures have got is a developing sound quickly finding its own distinctive feel. Mixing elements of post-punk, psychedelic rock and pop, the band have achieved a lot in 2013 already. With seven studio-quality songs released and having gained a fill-in support slot with local doom pop leviathans Nately’s Whore’s Kid Sister, things are moving swiftly. But initially, things only began to take form when Bird relocated from Durham to Newcastle and found the right musicians for the band. Gradually, each new member of the Newcastle act added their own traits, quirks, and styles to make up the signature Yellow Creatures sound you hear in 2013. Bassist Joe Barton has added his own slice of funk, drummer Martin Jacobs provided a sturdy rhythmic backbone while keyboardist Paul Gardner brought a psychedelic twist to the four-piece. For a lot of artists, it’s hard to accept such change, especially in the early stages of the band’s development.
“It’s strange at first,” admits Bird. “You have a set idea in your mind; you want these people who can play these specific instruments to play your songs. But it always changes because they’ve got their own personalities and they’ve got their own way of playing, so they’ll take your bass line and they’ll play it how they play it. Sometimes that can be great, because they can give it something else. Other times you have to reel it in a bit and get it back to what your initial idea was. There’s always some compromising and there’s always changes. Everyone else in the band also write songs which is really helpful when putting a song together. As we’ve gone on, there are some songs that we’ve started to write together. From the initial embryo of what I had, getting new people in has really changed things. You can step back from it and it’s almost like it’s become its own entity. It definitely has improved the songs.”
Proof of that is clear when you hear the ‘Nature of the Beast’ EP. The four-track piece is a definite step-up from their debut demo effort. The initial inspiration for the EP’s name came from the title track, which was, in itself, taken from Bird’s day-to-day work in a sheet metal factory.
“The song started off just by overhearing people at work, when people talk in work-speak – loads of different sayings and things like that. I was talking to someone over the phone who was a sheet metal worker and doing parts or something like that. He said something, then finished with: ‘but that’s the nature of the beast’, relating it to sheet metal work. But then I developed it so that it became a bit more of a Sherloch Holmes, murder-mystery song with those elements!”
Most of Bird’s lyrics are taken from simple situations or grounded experiences; there’s no compulsive desire or need to explore esoteric concepts or create tales of escapism, though Bird admits that there’s a ‘story-like’ quality to each of his creations.
“Lyrically, I always try to make the songs quite story-like, so that there’s a beginning, middle and end. They’re not just random lyrics in order to fit with the music. They have something going on in there where something resolves itself in the song. I suppose it’s about trying to be as honest to myself as possible and get some kind of ‘me’ in there. I think the songs do resolve something in there, but it’s built on small things about how you feel about a certain part of a relationship you’ve had with someone, or taking everyday mundane things like a saying and building that more into a story.”
In terms of mixing and mastering, the EP also revealed new benchmarks for the band; their collective efforts were sharpened by North East producer James Armstrong this time round. Despite this, Bird still records at home or in the practice room with the band, working with tight timescales to complete each piece of work.
“We gave ourselves a deadline to get it done within a week and we got it done,” says Bird. “It still came out exactly how we wanted it to sound. We had a set idea, so we thought the best thing to do would be to do it ourselves. I have recorded a lot of things over the years in my own house. I’ve been in studios where you pay by the hour in the past. It’s like going into a musical photo booth and it gets spat out the end sounding like everyone else’s songs.”
Admittedly, DIY aesthetics have meandered from the original values associated with them. The introduction of better recording equipment at more accessible prices has democratised the production of music – for better or for worse – and nowadays, ‘DIY’ doesn’t necessarily have to mean lo-fi, under-produced and raw. In the same way, the distribution of music has changed and that has also had an impact on how bands conduct themselves. Undoubtedly, Yellow Creatures want to be a financially sustainable band but – unlike a lot of other modern bands with often recklessly determined PR campaigns – they have no intentions to actively seek a label.
“I have set ideas of things I want to do as a band, and I want to make sure I still have that kind of control,” says Bird. “If someone was going to come in and fund us and promote us to do that, it would have to be somebody who really understands and appreciates the kind of music we want to do. But it’s almost like we have released something [with the EP] even though we haven’t actually. I think, especially on Bandcamp, it makes things look professional. At the end of the day, although we love making music, you can’t fund it all yourself. You have to make something back from it, otherwise you’re constantly dipping in your own pocket. The best bands work well as a business.”
A few modern bands that have inspired Bird to “put the effort in” include Clinic, British Sea Power and Thee Oh Sees. Looking across to their respective successes, it’s easy to see why they’ve had an impact on the multi-instrumentalist. But what’s the next step in crafting Yellow Creatures’ own success story?
“Now that we’ve got the EP done, we just want to play live. Now, more than ever, live music is so important. Although the internet is great, you can’t get yourself across in the way you do live. Towards the summer, we just want to be gigging as much as possible.”
Download Yellow Creatures’ new EP ‘Nature of the Beast’ for ‘name your price’ here: http://yellowcreatures.bandcamp.com/album/nature-of-the-beast-ep