October 5, 2006

Daze Talks With the Yellow Swans

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Sun: What’s the story behind arriving at the music you play today?
Pete Swanson: Gabe and I both started in all these experimental punk bands. It was at the time of groups like Black Dice and Total Shutdown, basically, these were people that were dealing with punk line-ups and instrumentations but experimenting with form and approach. I actually met Gabe while he was still in Oakland and I was in Portland, but we really hit it off and decided to persue our own group together. Before, I got a bunch of buddies to help me choose all the gear I needed. These guys were mostly into laptop rock, or straight electronic, but what we wanted to do was take that electronic vocabulary and apply it to the punk mentality. I think the result is the really cathartic musical experience that’s performed live but uses electronic sounds.
Sun: Where did that sound emerge from musically?
Pete: Well, although at the beginning it was more about reconciling influences, it’s turned into something much more self-referential. We started off not couched in any specific genre, and instead, played on our own and then distilled the successful parts from the unsuccessful parts. In fact, only in the last year have we really been able to mark significant shifts in our music that’s our own.
Sun: What parts of your performances are live and what parts are improvised?
Pete: That’s a tough question to answer, because really our composition include improvisations. Even our equipment includes some amount of improvisation, because something different happens every time I change a knob or push a pedal. I guess what this means is that there are never specific, determined results. There’s always an element of chaos but there is definitely some element of conceptual form.
What this allows us to do is produce a really broad musical breadth of sound. As we learn to incorporate more and more forms, approaches, and styles, we expand our own music and find that we fit with other bands too. We’ll do well with metal bands, or electronic music – it’s very exciting since it changes every night. We break our own mold given the situation.
Sun: One word that was repeated again and again after the show was cathartis. How does catharthis play a part in your and the audience’s experience?
Pete: Well, I hope it would be something shared, but for us it’s probably much more physical, while for the crowd it’s mental and emotional. Yet at the end, we hope that we’ve all reached a similar point, that it’s been some sort of release for everyone.
Sun: In that way, does your music respond to some visceral need?
Pete: I’m really not sure about that, whether it taps into something essential. It could be a true experience, but then again, it might just be something really alien. Either way, we really enjoy how expressive we can be when we play, especially on tour. The performance every night is very physical for us because it’s the release of all the energy we have during the day pent up in the car, driving from city to city.
Sun: When did your imprint [record label] JYRK come into play?
Pete: Really, it was out of necessity, since there was no one in our hometown who was really prepared to represent us, and at the same time, there wasn’t really and audience for us yet. We only put out 30 copies of our first LP. But it’s grown really slowly and organically. Busting our ass has its pay-off. We’re doing bigger shows, and expanding our own artistic approach. What’s cool with the label is that we’ve been able to give some exposure to basically our buddies who are unknown, and it’s so great to see that they’re having success. What’s probably most exciting is when we meet bands that tell us they’ve been inspired by a show they saw or a record they bought. That’s just so great.