Brooklyn-based Fort Lean has been churning out some incredibly infectious, freewheeling indie rock for the last year, and their profile is about to rise even more with the release of their New Hobbies EP and album Quiet Day later in the year.
To fill those long hours on the road the quintet has been consuming plenty of tunes, and they were gracious enough to make us a playlist of what kept them going as they cruised from Cambridge, MA to Tulsa, OK. Hit the jump to continue.
The Internet is a speedway of information. Keeping up with the fast pace music game is the job of every music blog, but the best blogs will be unafraid to stop mid-race to appreciate high quality releases that might slipped through the cracks. Earlier this year, Yellerkin, a duo from Brooklyn comprised of childhood friends Adrian Galvin and Luca Buccellati, released a triumphant, four track debut EP. For me, the Yellerkin EP has been a natural stimulant, dragging me from the depths of creative gridlock into much brighter places. The expansive EP depicts the powerful bonds of kinship and friendship derived from Adrian’s past relationships but placed in the context of the duo’s great friendship. I had the privilege of talking to the guys about how they met, their music new and old, a legendary acid trip in Pennsylvania, and the talented friends who have helped them along the way.
Just yesterday, Yellerkin released an exceptional single entitled “Tools.” Man, these guys just keep improving.
Tell me about how you met.
Adrian: So, we met in the first grade in Ms. McCormack’s class, hatching chicklets.
Adrian: Yeah, it was like a school project, and we were hatching chickens, and I have distinct memories of me and Luca bending over the incubator, and looking at this one chicken who was constipated and we were not sure if he was going to make it because there’s poop half stuck out of his butt. They said it wasn’t doing so well. I have distinct memories of the two of us leaning over the incubator and looking at it.
And that… was the start of everything. Can you tell us how you came up with the name “Yellerkin”?
Adrian: Yeah, I talk about Yellerkin kind of like a feeling; like, the feeling that makes you need to yell: whether it’s like pain or anguish or sheer happiness. I have memories of being little and running and screaming–not because of anything–when you’re little you just scream sometimes. It’s kind of like that: the thing that makes you yell. It is also about family, you know, yelling for the ones you love and like, I’d yell for my brothers and I’d yell for my sisters and my friends. It’s about the ones I’d yell for.
So Adrian is a part of Poor Remy, and Luca produced Tei Shi’s EP. Can you talk about where Yellerkin fits into the mix, and how you separate it from the other projects?
Luca: Well, all three projects are very separate things. Although, I did facilitate the process of Poor Remy’s latest EP.
Adrian: He produced it all.
Luca: But Yellerkin kind of sprung out of something after Adrian had graduated college, and I still had a year left at Berklee. And we kind of just got together, and I was just getting started on producing songs. I had never produced anything in my life before that I thought was worth sharing with anybody.
Adrian: But we both knew each other’s capacities. We had been in a bunch of silly bands with each other growing up. We were in Chicken Fist, Plaid Cabbage, Knights of the Lunch Table, and Name Crisis.
Those other band names sound like Name Crises.
Adrian: [Laughs] Yeah, they are all name crises.
Luca: So yeah, Adrian and I got together, and he had like these skeletons of songs, which is what the Yellerkin process usually starts with. They are Adrian’s skeletons.
Adrian: Yeah so, I make skeletons. They’re like okay skeletons, and then I bring them to Luca and he works like a magician and speaks to the computer and makes them into like real people that have minds of their own and histories of their own and potentials of their own.
Luca: And with the other projects it’s kind of a similar process with Tei Shi–Val’s really bringing the skeletons–and I’m helping her work out the arrangements to her songs and, you know, making them into what they are. And with Poor Remy, Adrian or Kenny or Andy is going to bring in the skeleton, and together they’re gonna folk it out.
Adrian: Yeah, I think with the different projects: the things they’re about, the feelings they’re about are kind of indicative of the different relationships they’re set within. Like, Poor Remy is me and my two roommates, Kenny and Andrew, who live in this house. That is very much about the three of us: we’ve known each other for a really long time, and we’ve been living together for like four years now, in college and out of college–so it’s about that. Yellerkin is very much about me and Luca’s relationship and our history as boys together.
Luca: Boyz 2 Men.
Adrian: [Laughs] Yeah, Boyz 2 Men. It’s very much about our history. And Tei Shi is very much about Luca and Val and their relationship.
Luca: It comes with every project; it’s a matter of the relationships with the people involved.
Adrian: Yeah, definitely.
I heard that Yellerkin and Tei Shi have a song coming out together. [Ed. note: I botched the first recording of the interview where the guys volunteered the information about this upcoming collaboration. So I jokingly brought it up during the second attempt at the interview.]
Adrian: [Laughs] Yeah, so we’re working on a collaboration right now. It’s a song I wrote. So I studied liberation theology a lot when I was in school, and I’m still really into liberation theology and the way it kind of uses history and uses text to help liberate people’s cultures. There’s like a liberation theology for Jews; there’s a liberation theology for blacks and for women, etc. So I studied liberation theology of the Bible and it turns the story of Jesus, and it makes him just an angry, Jewish dude who wants to incite rebellion against the Romans. So I wrote this song about a love story between Jesus and Mary Magdalene because it makes him into a real person. And I can’t really sing all the parts because it’s just like really high, so Val is always around; she’s great. It’s wonderful to work with her.
Okay, awesome. I’m looking forward to hearing that. The video for “Solar Laws” I thought was really cool. It seemed at least visually inspired by Where the Wild Things Are and that sort of creative space. Can you just talk about where you got the idea and the making of the actual video?
Adrian: Yeah, we were up at Luca’s house in Pennsylvania, just hanging out, and this one day we tripped acid. We had all just graduated and we were all just starting to be like real people kind of, and the acid trip was basically about making our place in this universe; kind of like what we’re gonna do and how we’re gonna go about doing it. We were all friends growing up: me, Luca, and Nick Pesce, who directed the video. And so there’s this sense of us when we’re together–like we still see each other as kids because that’s how we met and that’s how we grew up together and got to know each other–as kids. So there’s this thing that’s different now; like, we know each other and we’re together and we’re like real people doing real things. And so there’s this juxtaposition that sets up between becoming your own identity and like doing your own thing and leaving behind a kind of innocence, a kind of boyhood, a kind of wonder about the world and a kind of unbelievable quality about the world. And so when we were tripping, we all sat and we kind of talked about this idea about “The Chase” and kind of chasing after that boyhood and not wanting to lose it and not wanting to let go. And it was really captivating; we had a really wild time–the three of us talking about this.
Luca: Tripping with your friends from back in the day.
Adrian: Yeah, it was wild. It was great.
[Laughs] Sounds great.
Adrian: We decided to go into a studio and we decided to start with a monster, and we just sat down and discussed the situation we wanted this boy to go through and like him kind of chasing after his past and then killing it to move on and then regretting his lofty hopes of moving on and then struggling with the fact that he has just like thrown away his childhood. So it’s like a struggle that we all go through–to some degree at least. But I think it’s about what we were really going through at the time.
What was the actual monster?
Adrian: Oh, the monster is Andrew from Poor Remy. He’s the monster! [Laughs] But it was a costume that Nick and his father made; his father is an awesome costume designer, and they made the monster costume together.
And I also read the story on your Tumblr about the video. There’s this science fiction vibe with the “Seer” and stuff? What’s your relationship with creating different worlds and using fictional landscapes for your storytelling?
Adrian: I think narrative is a really strong way to present an idea, or to present a struggle or a concept. I’ve always been a student of philosophy. And I’ve read a lot of philosophy that’s put in the narrative structure, whether it be like Goethe or Ayn Rand or even Shakespeare. Nick is a real science fiction head. He loves, you know, Aliens. I watched a lot of X-Files. The X-Files is probably my favorite TV show. So we’re both into the fantasy and kind of the idea of the mythic. And I think, it was exciting to paint this really personal story in like a fantastic way. And I think that’s something we were never really able to do.
The EP was only 4 songs and 15 minutes long. But it feels like this journey you take us on. Can you talk about sequencing the EP and making 15 minutes of music feel really big and important?
Luca: Well, we recorded the EP in the summer of 2012. There were four songs done in one weekend and then two songs done in another weekend. And we kind of sat on the material for awhile, so I could finish up school. Then over time after listening to the songs, we picked the four that would stand alone for like a taste of what we’re capable of, if you will. Because we found ourselves in a place where we need to be able to make the time to do this.
Adrian: Yeah, we felt like the songs were important enough that we wanted to do it right. The songs are basically about three different girls in my life–all like pretty intense relationships. Let me think–“Solar Laws” and “Leave Me Be” are about one girl, “Tomboy” is about my sister, and “Vines” is about another girl. And each of them are really intense, powerful women and very wild relationships that I’ve had with all of them. So that was one half of the process, and the other half was bringing them to Luca and making them about us and not just about me crying about failed relationships [laughs] and making them about me and Luca’s relationship–me and Luca’s entrance into the world kind of. I think the way we built the project and the way we started to build the team that really comes through on the album. We’re going for longevity. We’re going for a lasting relationship with people that respond to ideas. People that respond to this journey that we are just starting.
Luca: And the decision to make it a four song EP as opposed to a six song EP was basically made because we felt like we could develop the other songs further, and since then we’ve been working on a lot of new material.
Adrian: [Laughs] Yeah, we have two albums worth of material.
Luca: [Laughs] Yeah, so we’re working hard on following up something that has had such a good response.
Adrian: Yeah, you always got to get better. You gotta up the ante.
Okay, so what’s next for Yellerkin?
Adrian: We just signed with the lawyers, so we have a lawyer. And we just signed with an agent at Billions. And we’re starting to move a little bit faster. So we’re starting to talk to labels and stuff. So that’s starting to happen and we want to make sure we’re in a good position before we release any more music because we could keep self-releasing… we could keep doing that, but at this point me and Luca, like we want more time to just do this, and like, we both do other things, like Luca produces a bunch of people and writes charts, and I’m a yoga teacher, and so we both do a bunch of other things to make sure that we can do this. But we want to make it so we can just do this, and that’s the next step. The material is all there. You’ll hear like new music definitely soon, but like the next step really for Yellerkin is just like making Yellerkin our livelihood.
Yeah… okay. Makes sense. Can you talk about the cover of the Yellerkin EP? And is your logo a font or something you just wrote out?
Adrian: Yeah… the logo I just wrote out one day. I was just like going for it. I just wrote it with–I have one of these big king-sized sharpies, so I was just like uh, going for it. And I liked that one. I did like 300 of them and then picked one [Laughs]. And then the illustrations–
Luca: Tammy. This girl Tammy that we’re friends with. She is a wonderful artist. And she designed the cover.
Adrian: Yeah, she’s been doing these awesome collage pieces, and I had seen them before and I had really responded to them and our manager is a good friend of hers and so, we were just like we’d love to use one and she said of course and it was a great sort of combining of interests.
And I think it really fits the music well. It looks sort of nostalgic–
Adrian: Yeah, it’s a kind of color scheme that’s like, uh… I don’t know, the color scheme of Yellerkin has been like these blues and these like kind of faded pastels. And I’ve been thinking about color a lot lately and like color is just like–you know how your body responds to certain music because like sound waves, like you know give you certain rhythm in your body, and like you respond to rhythm. You respond to like different rhythms of the seasons and the rhythm of like the moon and the rhythm of the ocean. Color is just like the same thing. Color is just like different wave lengths, you know? Red is like the really big wavelength, and blue is a really short wavelength. Those colors have really amazingly eccentric, different emotional responses. I think it’s really awesome to use that in multimedia art and to mix that with sound and meddle it with language.
Luca: Induce the synesthesia in people.
[Ed. note: At this point I get excited and talk about how that reminded me of the philosophy of Jackson Sonnanfield Arden spotlighted by LA band Deru here.]
On “Vines” the lyric “Days they feel like murder” really stood out to me. Can you talk about writing that and the dark imagery of the song?
Adrian: Yeah, it’s kind of about anticipation in a way. I was going through a kind of break up but not really breaking up. I just knew it was going to happen soon. And it was like torture. That was so much worse than the actual break up was, you know? It’s almost like how the anticipation of going on stage is so much worse than being on stage. It’s the same thing. I was kind of just like exploring like the kind of intensity of not knowing or like, knowing and not knowing–kind of like the deep, hurt that you get from being uncertain. It’s the scariest thing in the world to be uncertain. It was just frightening.
Okay, my last question is do you think music is made differently now that everything is just put on the Internet? You’re not going to make something for someone’s first CD; you’re making something for someone’s first iTunes purchase or illegal download.
Luca: Not enough people approach it like you want to make a song that lasts. Because there’s a new band coming out every day every hour on a different website. Some make songs that last; some don’t. And like your last thing could be like five minutes in somebody’s radio playlist that they have at work or like somebody’s song that they listen to every morning on the subway. When it comes to making music, understanding that certainly helps you market your music and put it in the right place. Or is something that artists should consider… because it also doesn’t take that much time to make a song anymore. Because you can make it on your laptop or in your iTunes voice memo, you can just record it. Some people do that and then put it out and do really well because they write good songs.
Adrian: Yeah man, I think people have always been writing good songs. I don’t think anything has changed in that respect, but I think the way people receive songs has changed. When someone sits down and they have an idea and they write it out, I think that’ll always be what it is. I think that’s an amazing inspiration. It’s an amazing miracle. But I think the way people receive music has changed just because the sheer over saturation is so intense right now that it’s hard to sift through bullshit. But that’s what you gotta do: you gotta sift through the bullshit.
[Laughs] Alright, that’s the perfect way to end the interview. Thank you guys for taking the time out to do this interview.
Adrian: Yeah, of course!
Luca: See ya!
Buy the duo’s debut EP on iTunes here.
Need a bit of calming on this Monday evening? I know I do and it’s being brought to me by Tei Shi. “M&Ms” is her debut single and it’s a beauty. It’s got a dash of soul, sexiness and mesmerizing vocals to go along with it. It’ll have you falling into a spell for all of the above reasons. Luckily for us, Tei Shi will be releasing a debut EP called Saudade very soon, so be on the look out for it.