Yumi Zouma: A Period Of Transition (Interview)

The 13th Floor’s Marty Duda tracked down Josh Burgess of Yumi Zouma. The band was putting the finishing touches on their, as yet, unnamed second album.

Before that record sees the light of day however, the band is playing a few final shows in support of their acclaimed debut album, Yoncalla. You can catch them tonight in Auckland at REC and in Christchurch on Saturday (15th) at Space Academy.

Click here to listen to the interview with Josh Burgess to find out what the band is up to:

Or, read a transcription of the interview here:

MD: Where abouts are you calling me from?

JB: Christchurch. We are in a studio, recording the strings, its  the final touch of our second record.

MD: And how is that going?

JB: Good. It’s the first time that we’ve actually got someone else mixing it; so, a little bit of the pressure is off to have the totally, finalized polished thing… the stressful part is mixing it, in many ways, because you’re finishing it as you go – the things you hear as you mix. It’s almost nice to give it to someone, and they’re going to give you back the finished part of it; so, I think, this time, we’ve been able to concentrate a lot more on just song writing.

MD: What can you tell me about the sound of the record? What can we expect?

Josh Burgess

JB: I think it’s a little bit more of the philosophy that “less is more”. I think, probably, because of the fact that we’ve been mixing it ourselves for so long, we reacted with – when something didn’t sound the way we wanted it to – we added more layers; where, this time, we’re having a little bit more faith that, if you get one or two sounds that sit quite nicely that they will be sufficient enough to carry that part, as opposed to just adding layers upon layers. I feel like we were listening through to the first record a couple of days ago, and the sheer amount of stuff – probably just to our ears, anyway – there’s just so much going on; where I think, this time, it’s a little bit sparser and less vocal layers, I suppose. I guess that’s the easiest way to describe it: less is a little bit more, on this one.

MD: It sounds like you might have more confidence in what you’re doing, which is allowing you to not cover it up with all sorts of layers.

JB: Yeah. I think having someone else mixing it, you trust them to find clarity where you might not. It’s a little bit odd, because we’ve been sharing it with our label in the US for the past few days, and you feel a little bit odd sending them something that you haven’t mixed. Normally, when we send things through, it’s so finalised. I think, as well, with this one, we feel a lot more relaxed than last time. I think a debut album is such a statement. People always say that the second record is the hardest, but I’ve found this one so much more enjoyable to make than the first one, because you just remember to enjoy yourself. Last year, we played sixty shows in the space of six months, and touring is one of those things that’s not the most creative process, because you’ve already done all the creativity, and you’re playing things  you’ve already written; so, you really have that itch to go back and write. We wrote this record quite quickly – which is a little bit different for us – but it’s been a really nice process, which is not how I would describe every other time that I’ve recorded – it’s been a very anxiety inducing thing – this one’s just been a lot of fun.

MD: Do you think you find yourself being more comfortable in a studio than on stage?

JB: Yeah, I think so. I think, by virtue of how we have played live – and this record, when we play it live, is going to change: we’re adding a drummer, and we’re doing less of the bad word that no one wants to talk about: less backing tracks; which was purely for a pragmatic reason, when we first started, because we went from not being a band at all, to having all these shows booked, and having to figure it all out so quickly – I think that there is a tendency, when you’re playing pop music – like we do – things are quite rigid and structured, and you lose all of that when you’re in the studio; which can almost be crippling, in a way, because when options are limitless…I was reading a thing about the paradox of choice: a study where you give people three options, and one of those options being not to make a choice, they normally make a choice on something; but when you give people twenty options, and one of the options is to not make a choice, people get overwhelmed with choice and don’t end up doing anything.

MD: That sounds about right, and that can definitely be the case in the studio; especially these days, when – like you say – there are just unlimited numbers of tracks, and unlimited numbers of things that you can do with them. It can be a daunting experience.

JB: This is the first record that we recorded in New Zealand. We did a lot of the of the beds of the stuff over January, and then I went back to the States and Charlie went back to London – where he lives – and we tinkered around in our own home studios; but it was definitely the first time that we really sat down and wrote in New Zealand…. Being here: it’s hard to explain, but it really is, there’s something about the isolation away from – for me anyway – my world in New York, which is so all encompassing and so distracting, in many ways.

MD: Do you think that the countryside, or the fact of being in New Zealand, is actually going to be audible in the final product?

JB: It’s hard to tell. What I hope comes across, is just a general sense of being relaxed. I think, when everyone was away from home – which is when we recorded the last record: we did it all in little gaps between touring – there’s something nice about being able to go home to your family, or – for Sam and Christy – back to their own beds; It feels a little more immediate or urgent.

MD: You guys are doing some shows in the next week or so; is that right?

JB: Yeah. We’re going to play three shows, which is, I suppose, the last Yoncalla era stuff. We’re doing it as a four piece. Charlie is here – Charlie is one of the members who, due to university commitments, is always in and out. We haven’t actually played shows with Charlie in New Zealand in a while; so, it’s going to be nice to do that. It’s like the end of an era: I was looking at the poster that we were doing – which is all the Yoncalla stuff – and it’s like that period is coming to a close where it began.

MD: How do you feel about it, now that you’re able to look back on it? Did things go the way you wanted it to, and people react the way you wanted to?

JB: Yeah. I think… the positive things that come out of it are things that you didn’t really expect would happen. I suppose you have these ideas of what are important on an album cycle: like certain reviews and doing certain shows. I think we hit the touring so much harder than I expected we would; and I think, by virtue of that, it was more successful. I think the album, in general: I almost feel like it’s too early to tell, but completing another record, when you put them side by side, I definitely feel proud of Yoncalla, and I feel like it’s a very honest record, in many ways. We’ve always functioned on the idea of not having any expectations, and then everything’s a pleasant surprise.

MD: That’s a good way to avoid being let down, isn’t it?

JB: I feel like there are so many different places that you can land now, for an album to do well: like the whole idea that there are so many niches now, that it’s hard to even define what success is in an indie band in 2017.

MD: When do you think the album is going to be released?

JB: October 6th. It’s such a long lead time. Just to get vinyl made is three or four months, apparently; so, you’ve got to do a big, long lead time. But it’s nice; I don’t know what I’m going to do with myself: for the first time, I have six months of no Yumi Zouma. I might take up golf, or something.

MD: Careful! Don’t do anything rash…! Did you learn anything from the release of the previous record that you go, “I won’t do that anymore,” or, “We need to do more of this,” in order to connect with your audience?

JB: I think being more organised, in general, in terms of rolling things out: we’re releasing a video tomorrow for a song off Yoncalla, which seems so disconnected from that album cycle. I think that… having as much content is really important. I think one of the big things that we’re going to be doing later in the year is adding a drummer to our live shows; unfortunately, not for these shows, but we’re really rethinking our whole live show, which is fun and daunting; hopefully, that will connect with people.

MD: So this being the last gasp of the first album: are you strictly sticking to that material, in the shows, or are you going to be venturing outside and maybe giving a little preview of what’s coming up?

JB: Unfortunately, we have to stick to Yoncalla; so, I’m sure all those things I said about adding new elements to the live show are completely useless to journalists. It is really nice to finish it with the four of us; I will say that. The shows are the four of us, because over the last three years, there have been different times where it’s been three piece, four pieces with different members; obviously, Christy is always there as the singer, but it’s hard to pin people down these days; there’s a lot going on.

MD: That’s true. These days, being in a band and making records is not necessarily a full time, money making proposition for a lot of people either. It’s something you have to fit in, and then survive the rest of the time as well; I’m sure that has something to do with it.

JB: Yeah, totally. I think if you really try to approach it as a full time vocation, you’re going to set yourself up to get frustrated. Someone said something to me that: you’ve got to make music as you get to the point where you’re so bored doing all the other things in your life, that you come back to making music. I feel [that] if you make it a really rigid thing, that this is my vocation, this is what I do every waking moment, because it’s my job, you don’t do it for the fun….

MD: It sounds like interesting times for the band, and the fact that you’re in this state of transition, moving, literally, from one phase to the other, in front of folks; so, it’ll be a good opportunity for people to catch one last glimpse of the band in one state, and then anticipate the next thing that’s coming down the track.

JB: Yeah, for sure. That’s something that I’ve always liked with bands that I’ve followed: that you see them go through different phases and different eras. You can’t just keep doing the same show, or writing the same record; people eventually drop off.