Desolate, dystopian folk powered by motorik rhythms radiate from the brutalist architecture of Olden Yolk's colossal self-titled debut out today on Trouble in Mind.
The first Olden Yolk material surfaced back in 2014 on a split release with Weyes Blood. How has the project changed from those earliest recordings to this point?
Shane: Well, the most significant change since the earliest stages of the project is that it has become a collaborative songwriting entity with Caity Shaffer. This kind of coincided with taking the project more ‘seriously.’ In the past it was just a name I used to make some videos and music in a pretty nonchalant way. Over the past year, the group I had been playing with for years (Quilt) decided we wanted to go on hiatus, and the opportunity to pursue this project more ‘full-on’ became available. During this time, I met Caity and we started sharing songs together. That songwriting collaboration is Olden Yolk as you hear it today.
The first full length is self-titled and released February 23 on Trouble in Mind. Many bands use the "self-titled" album designation to label a signature work or defining set of songs. How does this record embody the Olden Yolk project?
Shane: It’s a place to begin from; it’s the first stage of many. This album really helped us discover where we’d like to go next and helped us to make a platform to build from. Along the way, we made some songs we’re proud of and were able to experiment a lot.
When we spoke last with Shane, he'd been listening to a lot of rap and different poets read to study the different forms of phrasing to refine your own writing. What type of influences were being absorbed during the making of Olden Yolk?
Shane: We are listening to so much different stuff all the time — it’s hard to put a defining finger on anything. This year I picked up some records I really love — discs from the Belgian composer Dominique Lawalree, the poetry of Judy Grahn & Pat Parker, Philip John Lewyn, the new King Krule record The OOZ, Laraaji, Ariel Kalma… There’s been a lot this year that has flowed in - as well as a lot of old influences. We were listening to a lot of CAN for the drum sounds — visiting AIR records, Brigitte Fontaine, The Great Society, Caethua, Sonic Youth, Television Personalities, Tucker Zimmerman… just a lot of stuff — hard to know where to begin.
Caity: Definitely a hodge-podge. For myself, much less singer-songwriters than ever before since I'm trying to catch up on music before this century. Chopin every day. Carlo Gesualdo. Joanna Brouk. When we're driving... we listen to a lot of Bread. Fiction-wise, I was going deep with Grace Paley and Robert Walser, who both have a sharp sense of humor. In general, we both like music/literature that can wink at itself. For example, for a while we were covering "Nothing" by the Fugs, and I think that suited us well.
Now that Olden Yolk is a band and not considered Shane's solo work, how has the creative process for the project been improved by adding full-time instrumentalists and songwriters?
Shane: Well, Caity and I do all of the actual songwriting and most of the arranging. It’s been an incredible process working together. I’m a huge fan of Caity’s songwriting and a huge fan of what she’s brought to songs I’ve written — so working with her has been such a blessing. It feels really natural.
We also have been playing with our friends Jesse DeFrancesco (guitar & keys), Dan Drohan (drums), and recently Pete Wagner (Bass) who have been helping us round stuff out for the live set. Jesse & Dan helped arrange some parts for the record — and Pete has recently joined for the live band — we’ll see what happens down the line. It’s always fun to try songs out in a studio with a group and see how things change in that process. Adds a little bit of that Cage-ian chance into the equation, you know?
The visual element of the project is rather dystopian and abstract. What's the source of this shadowy reflection?
Shane: A lot of it is just imagery we are personally attracted to; images that represent the current moment we’re in. Plays between architecture, nature, and the human gestures which occupy those spaces. In terms of dystopia, I personally feel that dystopia & utopia are constantly taking place in their own ways — as well as abstraction and realism — they all kind of fold in on each other like a mobius strip to create the current of the moment. At times, our current state of affairs can feel very confusing and groundless, and to find images which represent this, and to place them in both abstract and real contexts is fascinating to me. It’s interesting to see what is taking place around us and how we are relating to it…and also we need to sometimes shift that focus to look at what is currently taking place through an entirely different (and sometimes abstracted) lens. I personally just really like to play around with these forms to create some sort of charged energy.
Caity: Shane edited all of our video footage and made all of our show fliers, so I can't give him enough credit for putting our ideas into a visual format. New York City itself often feels like a dystopic place, given the changes that are (and have been) happening in the city, and the whole thing becoming like an amusement park of sorts. That "shadowy reflection" may come from a certain understanding that our country is not an ideal place to live for many people. We also watched a fair amount of zombie movies while making the album.
You've supported and raised awareness of mental health issues using the release of an early Olden Yolk track to benefit the organization Bring Change 2 Mind. How has mental health, inner understanding, and spiritual psychology impacted Olden Yolk and what ways was the record affected by these struggles and insight?
Shane: Well, the song you’re talking about had a pretty specific context and intention behind the way I released it. Yet, these kinds of ideas are always floating around for me personally. Music for thousands of years has consistently served as an outlet to discover and disseminate these kinds of insights. For myself, music has always been a spiritual exploration of some sort — and a way to share what has been found. Sometimes it’s a larger insight and sometimes it’s very mundane — yet both things have their place in the overall search. Musicians and writers have really helped me in my life. They have become my medicine in a lot of ways; and I am super grateful to all of those who have taken the time to create so that I can find new ways understand this insane world we’re given. If I can give back to that in any way possible it’s the least I can do.
Another project of Shane's, the group Quilt, had a release last year on Turntable Kitchen of a full cover of F.J. McMahon's Spirit of the Golden Juice, who Quilt performed with in LA for a return show of the lo-fi folk legend. Did working with F.J. impact the art and performance of Olden Yolk?
Shane: Working with FJ was an incredible experience. I love his songwriting, his voice, and his guitar playing a lot. Also, getting to know him and hang out with him was inspiring. It was a real honor to be involved with him. In terms of the direct influence on this record — it wasn’t anything we were thinking about directly. But, we are both are huge fans of his work.
The band has spent several years living in New York City as a working artist. How has the City changed in the perspective of working musicians and artists and how did those changes influence the new record?
Shane: I moved to New York City for the first time when I was 14 years old, and have lived here on and off since. In my experience, it’s one of the only cities I can say is ‘always changing and always staying exactly the same’. It’s still an incredibly stimulating city creatively, architecturally, and culturally. This hasn’t disappeared. Yet, one hard thing is that recently it’s just become too expensive to be central. So, a lot of artists are living really far out and not necessarily close to each other — which makes the sense of community feel a bit disparate at times. I love the neighborhood we currently live in, (Greenpoint) and have a handful of musician / artist friends who are here locally. Yet, I think a lot of the album (personally) did come out of a feeling of isolation — it’s weird to feel isolated when in a city of millions — yet it happens. When this happens it’s almost as if the architecture and the monuments of the city start to become your friends. I have known many of the buildings, monuments, and parks since I was pretty young — so a lot of the feelings for certain songs on the record were found when walking around these places reflecting. It’s an interesting moment in New York — who knows what direction it’s going in? This is one of the questions I thought about a lot over the year. Especially since it’s a city I love so much. This city will always have a huge place in my heart, it is my home… yet, I’m also personally interested in spending some time in other places upcoming.
Caity: I'm relatively new to New York. Growing up in Philadelphia, New York was always close in proximity but felt simultaneously untouchable, a place that might spit you out. I came here after living in Texas for several years. It feels surreal to be here now. We are constantly working on other projects--I ghostwrite/write professionally, while Shane has a dedicated visual art practice. Two of our bandmates live elsewhere. The New York influence on the record could be from the wistfulness of some of the lyrics, of walking around at night and listening to the barges, the trucks, the sound of Manhattan far away, the bridge near our house (The Kosciuszko) being demolished and rebuilt, the machines talking to each other, the whole thing. I hope it's all in there.
Purchase Olden Yolk's debut record out now on Trouble in Mind. Find the band's tour dates here.