Jul 20, 2016
Photography by Wendy Lynch Redfern Issue # 57 - M83
It's always striking when such frenzied on-stage performers speak in such a perfectly collected, hushed manner. Yak's Oli Burslem has earned himself a reputation as a captivatingly unhinged frontman—often locking into visceral repetitions so deeply that he seemingly forgets where he is, chanting arbitrary expressions mid-song, hurling his organ into drummer Elliot Rawson's kit or letting loose on the poor thing with his swinging guitar, leaving both in pieces. "I like it when people don't know what to expect," he says with a smirk.
It's more than just recycled rock frontman discourse, though: Burslem genuinely revels in uncertainty. Yak's live sets often end with mammoth improvised organ freakouts, which don't always work out. "Sometimes it sounds alright and sometimes it sounds shit, you know," he admits. "It's good to leave yourself a little bit exposed." It's that kind of willingness to leave the future to write itself that makes the band so intriguing. It's impossible to tell what's next for them as they have no idea themselves.
Burslem is speaking from his London home, having just filmed a new music video. To say his schedule is hectic is an understatement. "I fly to Australia tomorrow," he makes sure to add when I ask about preparation for the band's then upcoming trip to the U.S. for SXSW, which he characteristically sees as "just a gig." That's not to say that Yak are ungrateful. Their attitude is less "it doesn't matter" and more "it all matters the same" when it comes to shows. They've frantically toured the U.K. since debut single "Hungry Heart" captured the imagination of the country's underground music community, playing a slightly bigger venue on each lap; they're a well-oiled gigging machine. "We're pretty much going to be on tour for 12 months straight now," Burslem replies when I ask about living in London. He all but lives on the road already.
Yak's debut LP, Alas Salvation, doesn't stray too far from the wild live show dynamics that the band are synonymous with. Fleshed out by Andy Jones' pummeling basslines as well as Rawson's manic drums, it's a record that flirts with emotional weight in poetry, but relies largely on its uncompromising sound to make its mark. It hits like a train. Rich with monotonous repetition, warped guitar tones, and scalding guitar meltdowns, it's not a record that Yak mapped out too vigorously, although the production by Pulp's Steve Mackey keeps things from completely breaking down. Taking influence from the likes of Spacemen 3, Clinic, and Can, Yak were raised on chaotic, minimalist experimental music, and it shows on Alas Salvation. "We tried to just set ourselves no parameters, really," Burslem explains. "If you can understand it too much, it's probably not that exciting." Yak aren't trying to change the world, but the oddball noise that they're injecting into it is more than welcome. "If nobody likes it then we just won't exist," he happily admits.
[Note: This article originally appeared in Under the Radar's May/June 2016 Issue, which is out now. This is its debut online.]
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