Melbourne producer Yeo creates electronic indie pop that catches you and drifts along, “smoother than velvet” (Dave Ruby Howe, triple j Unearthed). With the skills to play a reportoire of instruments at his fingertips – keyboard, guitar, electronic drums – he has been releasing tunes to critical aclaim, captivating audiences with his live shows, and supporting the likes of Glass Animals, Peking Duk, and Kimbra. Amidst working on his latest album, we caught up with Yeo to chat about his craft.
While music media is calling you one of, if not the finest unsigned Australian electronic artist, your success hasn’t come overnight. Do you feel you’re under pressure to continue the momentum you’ve been building, especially given the success you’ve had with your EP Come Find Me?
There’s definitely pressure there, but most of it comes from within. While I do want to reward my small but budding fan-base promptly after Come Find Me, I am being a lot more careful these days. While I’m confident my newest material is my best even in early infancy, I’m starting to behave like a classic perfectionist. Lately, I’ve been feeling like my songs are never finished and always need more work.
It’s not just your music that has evolved since you started almost a decade ago, the scene around indie electronic music has shifted too. In your experience, how has it changed and what has that meant for you and your music over the years?
Technology is even easier to access and the focus on youth is stronger. What’s considered cool now is very different to 5-10 years ago. For me, it means there’s a bit more noise to filter out when trying to find good music. I gave a similar answer to a similar question asked back in the day – the innovative chord progressions, melodies and beats are still there, they’re just often masked in a myriad of smoke and mirrors so it’s digestible for an increasingly young market. Some of these tricks are genius, and I’ll copy them or be inspired by them. Some are dead boring, a fad to be forgotten like those jiggling fat belt machines.
Listening to your music evokes a range of emotions in the listener. Do you aim to create a certain mood when you’re crafting a song?
I do. It’s always about the vibe, and it changes from song to song. It’s like hitting Ctrl+C on real life and Ctrl+V in music-land.
Though it can sometimes be tricky for electronic artists to create an engaging stage show, your performances are captivating and engrossing. What do you set out to achieve with your live performances and how do you feel when you’re performing on stage with a live audience?
Playing your instruments well and being a nice guy on stage doesn’t often cut it anymore. That mentality went out the door when laptops and backing tracks became the norm. We want people to relax and not feel self-conscious when at our shows, so we often kill the lights and put on our own visual projections. This puts us at ease too and we forget the pointless details, like how big the crowd is or how it sounds out front.
While it’s been said that you have no discernable allegiance to any sort of genre, do you find yourself influenced by particular artists or styles of music? Who or what has been an influence for you over the last year?
I am pretty open. You have to be if you’re a pop music fan. It’s no secret that I like country music, hip-hop/R&B and chip-tunes. Just recently, Sisyphus (Serengeti, Son Lux and Sufjan Stevens) was brought to my attention. It’s such a surprisingly coherent collaboration between people from different musical worlds. Future Islands hit me pretty hard when they exploded. Also BC Camplight’s How To Die In The North has grabbed me from the first spin. Then there are producers like Disclosure and Blake Mills who just know what’s up.
When you’re creating your music, do you try to you pay homage to any of your influences or do you try to completely blaze your own trail?
I don’t just try to pay homage. I simulate my influences as closely as possible. It ends up with my flavour because my voice is so inflexible and I’m trying to imitate the production with my makeshift skills, but songs often start with a strong inspiration from another artist. The Thicke/Williams’ Blurred Lines verdict set a scary precedent for me. If my music ever becomes a money tree, I’m doomed.
You play and use quite an ensemble of instruments, where did you learn to play the variety of things you do?
I began classical piano lessons when I was 7 years old. I stopped them when I finished high school, after which I casually taught myself guitar and electric bass. I was never really interested in singing, which is why my voice is pretty rough. Also, working for three years at a music store, you end up spending a lot of time on electronic drum-kits.
Who have been your favourite artists to share the stage with? Is there any artist you’d love to collaborate with if you had the chance?
I really have a ball when I sing with Peking Duk. Sure their audience is a little different to mine, but they know how to bring the party. I also used to roll as the keyboardist for Big Smoke. That was a great time, as all I had to do was play keyboard and rock out. It’s hard to choose one artist I’d love to collaborate with, but to narrow it down, I’d love to produce for MNEK, write a top-line for Kaytranada and/or Kiesza, or get Mr. Carmack to remix one of my tracks.
What has been your favourite song to create and work on so far, and why?
Some songs come together really easily, and some are a real challenge. The easy ones are the most fun, because you’re not actively pursuing anything. You’re just playing around, acting as a channel for whatever’s in the air. My favourite song so far is probably VCR Play, which is yet to be released. It’s a lo-fi 90s inspired jam with a sampled drum-break and a classic hip-hop synth line. It was born out of a simple idea – I heard the break on a jazz record, sampled it, and used it to create the rest of the song.
Lastly, what will you be working on this year?
There is an album that is almost complete. It’s at the stage where I’m putting together artwork, some videos and shaping the thing into a congruous collection of songs. I’m also taking a 2-month trip to Iceland to write. Who knows what will come from those stark alien landscapes.
Stay up to date with the latest news from Yeo at www.facebook.com/yeoyeoyeoyeo