Executive Timber Article

Business Class

You may not be able to tell a book by its cover, but, on occasion, the opening moments of an LP can distil something of the spirit of the ensuing forty-five minutes. So, with Mike Watt's ludicrously fast bass slap that kicks off the Minutemen's 1982 What Makes a Man Start Fires we know we're about to be steered through punk waters that are uncharted in their musical scope and ambition. And a US reviewer once remarked that the nasal drawl of the London announcer at the start of Public Enemy's It Takes a Nation of Millions To Hold Us Back introduced the group 'as if to indicate the essential foreignness of what's to come'. Legions, the first track from Yellotone's (aka Simon Harding's) second album, Executive Timber, begins with a tense and jangly two-chord motif, before the woody metronome click of a drum machine and layers of synthesized accompaniment begin to reveal the melting-pot sophistication of the following eleven tracks. It's a very involving listen, as musical genres vie for our attention, sometimes to sit frenetically cheek-by-jowl, at other times merging seamlessly to delicious effect. Not to labour the point, but there is plenty here to delight the aficionado. Built to Laszt has all the thickly textured lushness of My Bloody Valentine, while The Brain and Gang Mentals are deranged and caustic like Bubble and Scrape-era Sebadoh. Still, the new album is thoroughly contemporary, taking its place in a terrain, also inhabited by acts like the Notwist and Sparklehorse, that marries indie song structures with imaginative production and electronic borrowings in an organic whole that never seems in the slightest bit forced. The sequencer, nowadays, is simply another instrument among many. .

Neither does Executive Timber merely join the dots between key indie rock and electronica moments of the 1990s, as it packs a visceral punch all of its own. It subtly shifts the balance away from Tar File Junction's sampled and looped live instruments towards sustained live guitar parts, and away from inch-perfect drum loops towards the adolescent clatter of cymbals that punctuate but never overwhelm the tunes. 'Even though there's stuff on Executive Timber that's made the same way I made stuff in the past, there has been a conscious decision to have lots of continual parts throughout the songs', Harding states. And in capturing this raw, nervous energy, Executive Timber seems a natural evolution from the first album, released on London's Ai Records in late 2004, as Yellotone has always fought stridently against the emotional aridity of the electronica scene, and some of Tar File Junction's greatness was undoubtedly attributed to this tension, as an album of plaintive pop songs simmering on a computerised hob. By contrast, Executive Timber often reaches emotional boiling point, though Harding stresses that the move has indeed been quite gradual over the intervening two and a half years.

'It wasn't like I woke up one morning, decided I was gonna have some breakfast and then play a lot of rock guitar. After Tar File Junction, in 2004, I did a whole album's worth of stuff that was gonna be my second album, but I couldn't produce it in the way that I wanted to, because I wanted to record it either with a band or in a studio to get a better sound than I could achieve at home, so I kind of found myself doing something a bit more lo-fi.'

Not that Harding's lo-fi stylings and production methods are purely a matter of necessity, as his work ethic, too, is very much in the mould of forerunners such as Bob Pollard, churning out more material than would seem humanly possible to release in an official capacity. 'A lot of my favourite music has been done on a lo-fi tip, whether it be the guitar and bass stuff or even stuff like Aphex Twin which has been done at home,' Harding muses. Up to now, Yellotone has been content to release off-the-cuff numbers in extremely limited CD runs, both alongside the Ai EPs and compilation appearances, as well as since his taking leave of that highly-collectable electronica stable. Of these, Yellotone Plays Rush Goalie, coming midway between Tar File Junction and Executive Timber, was pretty much the first to announce the more 'rock-out' sensibility, and in a sense that EP stands in the same relation to the new full-lengther as the 2003 mini-album Geen Mayo (Ai004) does to the debut album.

Since the beginning, Yellotone has had a penchant for intriguing titles, which have often hinted at stories behind the tunes, and an integral part of the new sensibility has been Harding's desire to sing and tell salty sea tales. 'The only lyrics that I had down before I started recording the new songs were those for 38 Orders, which I wrote some time ago. I had them all written out and just adapted them to the song whilst watching The Hustler on TV. I don't know if that had any bearing on anything really. Everything else was written afterwards. Some of it is just words and phrases that people say and that don't really mean a great deal, and in other instances there is a specific subject matter. Hoons Under the Fuselage is a good example of both. I kept singing the first line, 'pipe down at the back inside', in different ways, and that reminded me of the whole 'talking shit' thing of the first few times you get stoned, and the whole thing of being a bit young and just talking bollocks. But there's a bit in the middle where it breaks down and that's based upon a story that my granddad told me about being in the army in the Second World War. He was a lorry driver in the infantry and so he spent a lot of time moving across France clearing the way as they were advancing to take back occupied Europe. They spent one night on a French farm and they ended up being given a load of the local wine and sleeping in a barn with loads of chickens and getting really pissed. My granddad's generation kind of cleared the way for us to all act like stoned buffoons, so at the end of the song, the lyric 'what would you say', is asking what that generation would think now of us acting this way, and having that freedom to do what we like but nevertheless ending up getting caned and arsing about. But I think that what they would say is that they would probably have done the same thing if they'd had the chance.'

Cooking the Books and Spoiling the Broth

As Harding states, much of the intermediate material besides Rush Goalie is now on the back burner, though the decision to self-release under the KissMyMintCondition label, as well as on the hip new London-based digital label, Viva Last, will hopefully mean that a crammed release schedule is in the offing. With these new means at his disposal, Harding is quietly confident that music label bureaucracy and the inevitable 'waiting game' are being increasingly consigned to the past. 'I think releasing something yourself is a lot more feasible these days. I'm quite into this idea of DIY anyway, just because of the whole lo-fi thing that I was into when I was growing up, and you know, people like Fugazi and the Minutemen who were into doing it themselves. I mean, I've kind of realised that because I've got two or three albums that are all ready now, I need to get to the point where I'm putting stuff out or it's all gonna build up to become a ridiculous backlog. With your own label you can just do something and put it straight out.'

Out There

Harding has always been drawn to the traditional live format of guitar bands, seeing what can be done anew with a tried-and-tested formula, and has striven to deliver a more interesting spectacle than that generally associated with electronic music, the one-man-and-his-laptop scenario. Of course, Yellotone will always whip out the harmonica, but, in addition, regular punters have come to anticipate a certain anarchy to the live proceedings, from appearances by guest vocalist Johnny NooNoo and dancing troupes in fancy dress, to Yellotone's sporting an array of fine headwear. It was only a matter of time, then, before the Yellotone live experience became a full band set-up, tambourines n' all. And, with the group dynamic in full swing live, future Yellotone compositions may well come to take on a more collective aspect. 'I've been wanting to play with a live band for a while now, and it's taken a while to sort it out even though the way it ended up coming about has really been quite simple. For a while I was hanging out with this guy Nick, who plays the drums, and we started jamming together. And it got to the stage where I started feeling comfortable, and he decided that he could learn the tunes. But I never really had a big cast of people in mind. I was just lucky that I work with this guy, Matt, who kind of likes what I do and has quite similar tastes in music. And I just asked if he wanted to jam and if he was interested in doing that, and it's all come together quite quickly really. I taught him half a dozen songs on the Thursday one week, and then on the Saturday he played with me and Nick and then on the Sunday we did our first gig and it all came together.' Punk rock.

Harding has always been drawn to the traditional live format of guitar bands, seeing what can be done anew with a tried-and-tested formula, and has striven to deliver a more interesting spectacle than that generally associated with electronic music, the one-man-and-his-laptop scenario. Of course, Yellotone will always whip out the harmonica, but, in addition, regular punters have come to anticipate a certain anarchy to the live proceedings, from appearances by guest vocalist Johnny NooNoo and dancing troupes in fancy dress, to Yellotone's sporting an array of fine headwear. It was only a matter of time, then, before the Yellotone live experience became a full band set-up, tambourines n' all. And, with the group dynamic in full swing live, future Yellotone compositions may well come to take on a more collective aspect. 'I've been wanting to play with a live band for a while now, and it's taken a while to sort it out even though the way it ended up coming about has really been quite simple. For a while I was hanging out with this guy Nick, who plays the drums, and we started jamming together. And it got to the stage where I started feeling comfortable, and he decided that he could learn the tunes. But I never really had a big cast of people in mind. I was just lucky that I work with this guy, Matt, who kind of likes what I do and has quite similar tastes in music. And I just asked if he wanted to jam and if he was interested in doing that, and it's all come together quite quickly really. I taught him half a dozen songs on the Thursday one week, and then on the Saturday he played with me and Nick and then on the Sunday we did our first gig and it all came together.' Punk rock.

Bill Roberts