Acquired Taste
by Stephen Slaybaugh

It’s been one of those years for the youngsters in Yuck. Since the beginning of 2011, the band has been touted as up-and-comers, and listening to their self-titled album, it is easy to hear the reasons for the hubbub. It’s also easy to hear vintage points of reference from the ’90s—Teenage Fanclub, Sonic Youth, The Pixies, My Bloody Valentine, Dinosaur Jr.—but that you can hear elements of each in each and every song should tell you that Yuck is not just rehashing the past. No, while they’ll readily admit to digging all of the above, what culminates on the record is decidedly of the now, even if in general the now is beginning to sound an awful lot like it did 20 years ago. Nonetheless, there’s no denying the appeal of the record’s constant ebb and flow between stormy guitars and sunny melodies.

Yuck’s debut was recently re-released by Fat Possum, this time with an added second disk of B-sides. Meanwhile, the London-based band, which includes two former members of the much-hyped but short-lived Cajun Dance Party, has been making good on their promise all year long. Yuck has been on the road for most of 2011 and were in Oslo when I caught up with singer and guitarist Daniel Blumberg, who had just returned from hocking his self-released book of drawings.

So you have a book?

Daniel Blumberg: I guess so, I made some books. I have a label, where I make books and records, so I made a few tapes and a book of my drawings.

Have you pursued art outside of the band or have the drawings always been connected to Yuck?

DB: Those drawings sort of became Yuck drawings. I realized that I started drawing the ones we used for the record covers when we were writing songs. The first few were done when we were writing “Georgia.” The book of 45 drawings stops when we finished the record, so I realized they are very connected. The book comes with the tape I released. This label, Boiled Egg, is so I can make stuff and sell it without putting Yuck or anything on it, but it’s all connected in a way.

Are those books and tapes done in limited supplies or are they widely distributed?

DB: Yeah, everything is going to be pretty limited. The last thing I made was 15 prints. Well, there were two different prints and I made 15 of each. The books I made a few because I wanted to put them in shops, and I’ve been distributing them while we’ve been on tour. I went to a really good shop here in Oslo that has independent publications so now people can buy it in Norway.

And the tapes, are those of Yuck or something else?

DB: No, I did a 40-minute LP that I put out a few months ago.

Is that the Oupa thing?

DB: Yeah.

Why did you feel it necessary to do something separate from the band?

DB: I didn’t feel it necessary. I mean, one thing is as necessary as another. “Necessary” is probably not the way I’d describe what I do for a living. I don’t think it was necessary that we made a Yuck album, but writing songs is what I do. I wrote songs with Max (Bloom, guitarist) and that’s how we formed Yuck. Then I released an EP. The name before Oupa was Yu(c)k, with the brackets to differentiate it, but that didn’t really work out so I changed it to Oupa. Those songs were ones I wrote and recorded just before we went on tour this year in January.

By “necessary” I just meant why did you feel like making it something separate rather than folding it into Yuck and making those songs Yuck songs?

DB: Max and I wrote the whole Yuck album together, and these were songs that I wrote on my own and didn’t really want to play with a band. It wouldn’t have been the right context for these songs. The record was very personal—everything about it.

Getting back to Yuck, the record has had quite a shelf life. Are you getting sick of it yet?

DB: It feels like Max and I just started. It was the first set of songs that we wrote and collated into an album. I would like to be making music now, because that album feels pretty old to me, but being on tour, it’s like you’re not really progressing with your life or anything. You’re just playing. It’s a bit like Groundhog Day in a way, so in a sense, it slows those feelings down a bit. I’m excited about making new songs, but this European tour, I’ve felt kind of re-energized for some odd reason. So there’s no shelves in our lives, just the live set at the moment.

When you finish up this European tour, with the album being re-released, are you going to have to again promote this record? I mean, are you going to come back to the States yet again?

DB: No, no way. We’ve done the maximum when it comes to taking the opportunities that have been given to us. We had no idea we’d go to America five times this year. It is exciting when people get into it, but at the same time, there’s only so much you can do. It’s important if you are going to make music that you make music.

It seems like the band was hotly tipped from the get-go. Was it unnerving to have so much attention paid to the band right from the start?

DB: It’s weird for me. When I started my old band, we had quite a bit of attention and we were 15 and at school and didn’t have loads of songs. It was odd. This time, it felt very new, but at the same time, I’ve seen lots of bands get attention. Personally, I like music and don’t get carried away with these things. I haven’t felt too much pressure. If we’re playing a show, I don’t want to put people off, but you can’t control that.

Rolling Stone called you a “20-year-old rock veteran.” Did you feel like you had a good amount of experience going into this band?

DB: Cajun Dance Party played about as many gigs as Yuck has played in the last three months. We had made our record when we were 15 and then released it three years later. That was a frustrating experience and has dictated my decisions on how we record and do things with Yuck. It’s boring to sit on a record for three years. I did a record between the two in Nashville that I didn’t release, but which had a big impact going into Yuck. Kurt Wagner of Lambchop and a few of the Silver Jews played on the record, and that was completely separate from what I had experienced in England as far as making music. I feel quite lucky to have had that experience before we started Yuck. In England, it’s not very healthy the way people deal with music and opportunities. I feel lucky to have met those people, and it had an impact on the way that we’ve done things.

Any plans to put that record you did with Kurt Wagner out?

DB: Oh no, definitely not now because I’ve done two debut albums since then. This is my fourth debut album.

Are you trying to avoid the so-called sophomore slump by just putting out debut albums?

DB: No, I’m really excited to make a second album with Max for Yuck. I’ve never done a second album, and with Yuck, that’s the record I’ve put the most time into. With my best friend and Jonny (Rogoff, drummer) and Mariko (Doi, bassist), I’m really excited about doing the next Yuck record.

Is your sister still involved with the band?

DB: I don’t know what constitutes being involved with the band. She doesn’t tour with us. She’s studying and she’s my younger sister so I didn’t want to drag her around on tour and disrupt her life.

Would she help out on the next record?

DB: With everything we do, it’s song to song. On “Georgia,” where she sang lead vocals, I thought I was never going to be able to sing it. Max wrote the instrumental before, and I was singing along, trying to write the lyrics and vocals, and I thought, “Maybe we should try Ilana singing.” It turned out we had the same voice, but hers is a girl version and mine is a boy version.

Why the decision to release the record again rather than putting out just a single CD of the B-sides?

DB: We were playing “Milkshake” live a lot and we had finished writing “Soothe Me” around the time of making the record, but we didn’t get around to recording it until we were back a few months ago for a day. When we chose the tracklisting for the record, it wasn’t as if we had written the songs to move in that order. They were written separately and then collated for the record. These other songs were recorded later while “Base of a Dream Is Empty” was left off for some reason. Still, it felt like they were part of the same thing. I like the idea of people hearing “Base of a Dream” and “Milkshake” with the record. It feels more representative of that time in the band’s life, which will be the past soon.

What are your future plans?

DB: I think we’ll get back from tour and start up from where we left off a year and a half ago. It’s still really new, the songwriting. Me and Max are really excited to write songs together again after doing a lot of live shows. It’s a really exciting idea.