“I don’t make any compromises with the music, but I do make compromises with the rest of my existence”, Oli Burslem tells Clash, “when you get to this point, and you know what you are supposed to do, then it just means there is a bit more intensity to give to the people.”
The word compromise often carries a lot of weight, and it means as much, if not even more, to Oli. It is an integral and closely embedded part of his psyche, and a driving factor in the Yak frontman’s life and career in music. He does not go along with the idea of having to compromise easily, and his reasons for this are genuine. Whether it relates to the band’s raw and intense live shows, or their recordings, his uncompromising outlook is fully detectable and omnipresent.
“I don’t want to leave anything on stage. I want to give it absolutely everything until we are completely knackered, every night. I don’t think about my voice, my guitar or myself, I just go for it, and I feel the same way about this record. We went for it, we used up every single bit of ourselves we had that was open and honest, and maybe we upset some people along the way, but not intentionally, we were just trying to be honest and give it our best.”
The frontman delivers some of the most energetic and immersive live shows with Yak but what’s perhaps less known is what goes into reaching a point where it feels entirely natural, comfortable, or necessary, to deliver live sets of such high intensity, commitment and passion.
“I just get into it”, he explains, “in the early days, it was a matter of being embarrassed or nervous, not really thinking we deserved to be there. But we have played loads of gigs, we have done some big rock shows and some smaller ones, we are fine, and I know when I’m not feeling it. It is not an act. I just enjoy it and get really into it.”
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Yak enjoyed the release and the reception of their second album, Pursuit of Momentary Happiness. It may be close to three years since the release of their debut Alas Salvation, but to the band, it probably doesn’t feel as long. Having to overcome some hurdles to reach this point represented a challenge, but the finished result; a glorious album release, makes it all seem entirely worthwhile.
A chilled, casual meeting in a pub at the point when Yak were trying to figure out what to do for their second album sparked off the creative collaboration with Jason Pierce. But to work with the Spiritualized legend added a different dimension. It was a collaboration based on mutual respect for one another, as people, and as musicians.
“At that time I wasn’t sure if it was going to carry on”, Oli reveals, “we went into a studio to do some demos, and Jason said ‘oh well I’ll come down’. Not thinking he would, and at first he didn’t but the second day he sort of came out of the blue, he went into the studio and said ‘just go in there and play what you have got’.”
“We played what we have got and he said, ‘I think you have got something really special man, and you should pursue it’, and to have that coming from him is cool. I am a big fan, he is a good friend and that gave us more confidence to just go for it. It worked as a catalyst to keep it all going.”
Oli took a lot from working with Jason Pierce and John Coxon, particularly when it comes to the subject of influences. “One of the things I learnt from Spiritualized, and from Jason and John, is that you have to get loads of influences, like what you are into, that definitely goes into it”, Oli reflects, “they have got good influences, the gospel, the rock and roll and they have a religious element. Our band have our own elements too. It is about trying to make something unique, something that is true to you.”
Lyrically, the band’s second album is more transparent and personal, it has more character and depth, and whilst a song like 'Blinded By the Lies' can be described as classic Yak with its big, slightly aggressive sound, the vibe alternates on a song like Pay off vs. Struggle.
“Musically it was put together by the three of us, just playing ridiculous riffs at different times and doing lots of keyboards in my bedroom. The lyrics relate to a conversation I had with someone, I just said ‘is the pay off gonna be worth it, is it gonna be worth the struggle?’”
Yak’s music is true. In fact, its appeal seems to resonate beyond what is deemed true or untrue. There is a strong instinctive feel to it and a sense of urgency that works its way directly to the heart and the brain. It is honest music. As a child, Oli felt more than naturally inclined to play music and be with like-minded kids, and maybe that explains why his music has such strong passion, ambition and drive.
“When I was very young, I desperately wanted to do it”, he says, “then it didn’t happen and then you get thrown into it. It is kind of a treat to be doing it, but I think the first time around, all I had was music, because I couldn’t read or write particularly well. I was living a bit was in the middle of nowhere, out in the countryside. I think people could probably see music coming out of every pore.”
He looks so natural with his guitar on stage, but it has taken time to get things to this stage. His first guitar cost him fifteen pounds, he got it from an old antique shop. “I really wasn’t confident at school, I felt like running away, so the guitar was good to make me want to leave to get my confidence as a kid. I am only saying that because I have seen my nieces and nephews, and it is quite important to have something to be into. I chose to play the guitar.”
As much as Yak put everything they have into their music, Oli is not one for deluding himself about the future. He is a realist. “If our music can sustain itself that would be amazing, because at the moment we can just about do a tour, just about do recordings. If we can get to a point where we can make music easier and quicker that would be great, but that is a long way off. Being able to get to a studio, think of ideas and write songs when we can, until I am fed up with living out of two suitcases. But I am not complaining.”
“All my ambitions are musical”, he concludes, “being able to surprise ourselves, if we can do that people can connect with us. I would like to keep doing it, the little bit of glimmers you get of people enjoying it, that is really nice.”
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'Pursuit Of Momentary Happiness' is out now.
Words: Susan Hansen
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