Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Interview / Review: Matt Chrystal Gives His Take on The Yawpers' Latest and Chats with Nate Cook

The Yawpers by Demi Demitro

Boy In A Well

By Matt Chrystal

Nate Cook of the Yawpers is a real motherfucker… ...or at least, so he claims. More on that later, though.

The Yawpers, a punk rock--rockabilly trio from Denver, recently released Boy in a Well on Bloodshot Records.The record is a loose concept album which follows the story a boy left at birth by his mother, coincidentally enough, in a well in France during the era of WWI.

Legend has it that Cook, dreamed up the ideas for the album during an early morning flight where he had the perfect cocktail of a strong hangover and too much of the anti-nausea medicine, Dramamine. Maybe that's true or maybe it's a modern-day folktale akin to Neil Young's writing the standouts on Everybody Knows This is Nowhere while in bed with a high fever. As with anything with the Yawpers, it's hard to tell if they are serious or just having a bit of fun… ...or both.

Generally, when a review states that a band has matured on their latest album, it usually translates to mean that the band has become too serious or are not as much fun or have lost their edge. None of that is the case with the Yawpers on Boy in a Well.

The band has matured quite a bit since 2015's American Man; but, thankfully, they still possess a raw energy that comes across on the album just like it always has at their break-neck, big noise, warts-and-all, live shows.

Cook has grown stronger in terms of his songwriting abilities and has continued to develop his vast vocal range. The band have tightened up their overall sound and offer up a compelling, full speed ahead soundtrack that seamlessly shifts from heartfelt to heartbroken and from soothing to screaming, sometimes all in the course of just one verse.

Boy in a Well showcases a high concept of abandonment in WWI France, but it would seem there is also a lot more going on under the surface. It would also seem there was a lot going on with the Yawpers during the making of the album. In addition to (or perhaps facilitated by) Cook's divorce, the band uprooted themselves from their comfort zone in Denver and recorded Boy in a Well in "isolation" in Chicago. They also brought in help from The Replacements', Tommy Stinston, who acted as producer for some of the sessions. Cook also collaborated with JD Wilkes of the Legendary Shack Shakers to create a companion comic book to act as a visual aid to flesh out more of the story of Boy in a Well.

I caught up with Nate Cook via phone while he was making the trek through the "dead zones" of Kansas so that I could find out more about Boy in a Well, and things got weird real quick.

The interview took place over a series of no less than two hundred dropped calls, where Cook would tell part of a story or begin to answer a question and then his voice would break up or slip into silence. Luckily, I was able to piece together a conversation that I can only assume parallels life on the road for the Yawpers in 2017; and that is one of hidden Oedipus complexes, great nights, bad mornings, and no apologies.

Cool Matty C: It's not often that I hear about concept albums set in France during World War I. How did you come up with the idea for this album?

Nate Cook: At the end of the day, it's supposed to be allegorical about abandonment. My divorce was in the process of happening when I started working on the album. I had all these feelings of abandonment and how abandonment can make you into somebody you don't want to be and can even make you into a monster, even though it may be a monster that people can understand. So I had those ideas and themes running through my head, and I have always been a history fanatic and World War 1 fanatic, for whatever reason,  I don't know. And I thought it might be an interesting exercise to try and shoehorn my divorce in to the context of historical fiction.

CMC: You brought in Tommy Stinson of The Replacements / Bash & Pop as a guest producer for this album. How did that come about?

NC: It was literally just as simple as common cronyism. Our publisher shared an office with his manager and he handed Tommy our previous album and a few tracks from the new one. Tommy expressed interest in getting involved. So we flew him out to Chicago and did the damn thing.

CMC: What prompted the change of scenery to Chicago?

NC: I think most artists work better in isolation and work better when life is entirely about the art. So Chicago for us was a place where personal relationships didn't have to be considered and there weren't people to go out and get fucked up with all the time… Although, we did manage to find that. I think it it's easier for us to be isolated from our normal community and make the art our primary focus and primary outlet. 

CMC: Another interesting aspect and interesting collaboration for Boy in a Well, is that the album has a companion comic book that was illustrated by JD Wilkes of the Legendary Shack Shakers. Where did the idea for a comic book come from and how did JD come to be the man to create it?

NC: The narrative of the album is so convoluted that I thought it might make sense to have some kind of visual aid to go along with it. We had done a tour with the Legendary Shack Shakers, and we hit it off with JD. I feel like he is a very underrated visual artist, and I also feel that his art fit the time period that I was writing about. I guess you could say an almost Vaudevillian type of style. It just occurred to me that if we were going to do the comic that JD would be a perfect fit. I hit him up and he was down!

CMC: There is an Oedipus Complex playing out on Boy in a Well, correct? I did not initially pick up on it when listening to the album but it was very blatant when I was looking through the comic book…

NC: Yes. It is on the album too, but it is couched in much more careful language.

CMC: Have you gotten much reaction to that particular theme or scene? I mean that is the point where we might start referring to it as graphic novel as opposed to just a comic book…

NC: There has not been much reaction to that aspect. I mean, c'mon, oedipal stories have been around since the beginning of time; and, really, what it's more about is familial abandonment. Abandonment is the other side of the coin from wanting something. So the fact that the character was abandoned by his mother would make him want her more in a metaphorical sense. So when we put that in a physical context, it makes it oedipal.

The theme has been around long enough where it is no longer super shocking to people. Maybe to the Right it may be shocking, but otherwise I think it's a pretty common thing.

CMC: Umm yeah sure. It's totally common these days. I guess you're just trying to normalize the everyday oedipal complex of the everyman, ammirite?

NC: Exactly!

CMC: As a side note, I'm a fan of Jack Kirby's Devil Dinosaur comics, and I always thought it was funny to see where he added the sound effect of "Bonk! Bonk! Bonk!" to show the dinosaur smashing around… So it made me laugh when I saw that JD used "Bong! Bong! Bong!" as the sound effect for the couple having sex in the alleyway. 

Ah, the young romantics of WWI France!

NC: Well here's another cool thing. If you count them, there should be eleven "bongs" to symbolize the ringing in of the Armistice Day. It's the ringing in of the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month. So there's eleven "bongs" which actually come from the clock tower, but it also has that sexual onomatopoeia.

CMC: Nice! So there is a hidden Oedipus complex on the album and hidden "easter eggs" about French holidays in the comic book too.

Hey, speaking of comics, are you guys comic book fans? And, if so, what comics are you into?

NC: I'm a fan of graphic novels in general. I've just flirted with comic books here and there a little bit. I would say yes and no to that question. I think Alan Moore is one of the greatest writers of any medium over the last twenty to thirty years. I have read all of his works; but, as far as any other artists or comic writers go, I am a little less versed.

CMC: How do you think the band has changed or, dare I say, matured since the recording of 2015’'s American Man album?

NC: We take what we do a bit more seriously, but we also take having fun seriously too. That's what happens when you get older, I think. Everything about this album was a lot more deliberate this time around. American Man was a collection of songs that were written over a period of three to four years. This album was very focused. We all wrote it as a piece and made it one big thing. And, like I said, we are all a bit older now; so being flippant about what we do for a living is no longer funny to us.

CMC: Continuing along the lines of the band still having fun, especially during live shows… I read one of your posts on social media where you apologized for your behavior at a show and I thought that seemed uncharacteristic, as the band does not seem to be very apologetic for having a good time…

NC: Was this the one about me sleeping with some dude's wife? That was a fake post. Occasionally, I will write fake letters; and, in this one, I addressed the entire city of Colorado Springs. So yeah, it was just a joke. Although, occasionally I will make a safe post," and I'm hoping I'm not forgetting something that I should be apologizing for.

The Yawpers by George Blosser

 CMC: Speaking of forgetting stuff, I have been enjoying your series of posts on social media of random pics that have no context from late nights on the road. I can only imagine the pics and stories you haven't shared…

NC: There are a myriad of them! All of the pics are pretty standard fare. Ya know, cocaine and bad mornings!

CMC: Breakfast of champions!

So, when I interviewed you after the release of American Man, I had asked if your porn-mustache gave you any super powers and you replied that it only gave you the power not to be allowed near a school zone. This time around, for Boy in a Well, it seems your mullet-mohawk hybrid has really taken on a life of its own; and I’'m wondering what super-powers or super-problems it has brought you…

NC: Yeah dude. It's given me power. Now I'm just banging my mom. It's been going really great.

CMC: Uh wow. So, Boy in a Well is a bit more autobiographical than I originally thought!

NC: Totally!

CMC: Ok, I guess that would be a good spot to wrap things up… but I wanted to follow up on something else we touched on last time as well. We had talked about how the title track to American Man could be considered polarizing and even more so in today's political climate. 
We sorta got your views on WWI era France, but I was wondering what your thoughts are in regards to today's America and what your hopes are for the future…

NC: I think American Man wound up being grimly prophetic in a lot of ways. At the time, I thought I was going overboard with trying to describe that character's point of view; but it seems I did not go far enough compared to what's going on today. I think that our country has taken an absolutely fucking insane turn, but I hope that it stands to bring to light some of the more insane and backwards political slants that have plagued our country for years so that we can finally exorcise ourselves of them, to the point that we will never fucking see something like this again.

CMC: Thanks for your time. I’m going on a booze cruise tonight so I packed plenty of Dramamine. Maybe I'll have a concept album written by the end of it!

NC: Do yourself a favor and delete your mom's number. Delete the number of every mom you know.

CMC: Words to live by!

The album, Boy in a Well, is out now on Bloodshot Records.

The Yawpers upcoming tour dates in our area include:

Oct. 4th at Knitting Factory in Brooklyn, NY (with A Shadow of a Jaguar and Ruby Bones)
Oct. 5th at The Saint in Asbury Park, NJ (with Little Vicious, Honah Lee, and Jolly Daggers)
Oct. 6th at Kung Fu Necktie in Philly, PA (with Emmett Drueding and Curtis Cooper)

For more info please visit www.TheYawpers.com.

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