“This is a song about sucking the corporate dick!” The Yawpers frontman Nate Cook shouts from behind his acoustic guitar, its untrimmed strings only adding to the raw and unruly atmosphere the band has created at the Chicago venue The Subterranean. Jesse Parmet, guitarist, starts in with aggressive strumming, his metallic finger slide working the guitar neck. Noah Shomberg joins in with percussive elements, a tambourine in one hand, and a drumstick in the other- working the kick drum, snare and hi-hat. By the time the hook of 9 to 5 hits, the show goers are stomping their feet, clapping their hands, and singing along with Cook as he howls from a condemning perspective about the complacency of a corporate daily grind: “You’ve been so many places, but you haven’t done a thing… Take the freedom of a 9 to 5.”
This is The Yawpers: Loud. Raw. Uncensored. American.
The Denver band composed of Cook, Parmet, and Shomberg wield acoustic guitars and drums as they take you on a trip filled with influences from folk, country, rock, and blues layered with high-brow literary references in satirical lyrics. The band’s name, in fact, is derived from a line in a Walt Whitman poem: “I sound my barbaric yawp over the roofs of the world.” After self-releasing their 2012 LP Capon Crusade along with an EP (Savage Blue) and a cover album (Good Songs, Shitty Versions), The Yawpers signed with Chicago-based indie label Bloodshot Records. On October 30th, the band graced their label with their new LP, American Man.
The first time I saw The Yawpers play was at a Minnesota venue, Station 4 in St. Paul. At the time, I was studying Music Industry at Minnesota State University Moorhead and my Entertainment Contracts professor, Dain Estes, was the band’s manager. Estes introduced our class to The Yawpers’ music by saying, “They’re really rough around the edges, but extremely literate, but… Well, just watch for yourself.” And a few seconds into watching the music video for Silicone Love, the entire class was captivated by the self-proclaimed “American as fuck” band. Fast-forward a few months from the initial YouTube screening and a classmate and I saw Cook, Parmet, and Shomberg in the flesh at Station 4. The dive venue and its heavily postered walls and bathrooms stalls with broken locks seemed to match the vibe of the “brazen rock” band that sang about huffing gasoline and being “drunk for three days straight.” I nearly got splinters from the bar tables as the gritty music splintered into every corner of the venue. One thing is for sure though, no matter what the venue, The Yawpers can make any audience delight in (or at least appreciate) their dirty rhythms and edgy lyrics.
On November 28th, The Yawpers performed at The Subterranean in Chicago’s Wicker Park. Labelmates Ha Ha Tonka also joined them on the show’s bill. After waiting outside in the Upper Midwestern cold with a line that stretched to the end of the block, myself and photographer Emily Nava were relieved by the warmth in the multi-level venue. The crowd, mostly composed of the middle-aged demographic, poured into the concert hall filling the floor and the balcony above. When The Yawpers started playing, a group of women pushed their way to the front and started dancing, singing along with every song. And with a band like The Yawpers cutting it up on stage, it is hard to stand still. “They sound so much louder and fuller than just three people,” said a man who later identified himself as “Noah’s dad,” and show goers around him agreed. Later when the band gathered around the merch table, ‘Noah’s dad’ also expressed his pride by remarking, “I can’t believe my son is signing autographs.”
The band has had quite the run since forming in 2011. When I finally met up with Cook amidst all the after-show chaos, he was in the middle of handwriting song lyrics for a couple of die-hard fans. Nevertheless, we were able to find a quiet corner outside the venue and Nate Cook graciously gave me his undivided attention as I asked him a few questions about the band.
TB: The last time I saw you was a year ago, before Bloodshot Records. Can you catch me up on how things have been since being to a record label?
NC: Things have started to pick up substantially; we’re on the road pretty much full-time now. None of us have jobs anymore. We’re playing in front of people, the record seems to be doing well and we’re getting radio play all over the world.
TB: Awesome! Did Bloodshot take part in any of the creative process for American Man?
NC: No. They bought it as it was, we had already recorded it and then we shopped it to them as is.
TB: I have to ask, your new music video for “Doing It Right,” was it influenced by Shaun of the Dead?
NC: There’s a lot of influences. I’ve drawn from a lot of stuff for violence to the point of self-parody. I just wanted to make something shocking…”
TB: [laughs] It’s pretty shocking.
NC: [laughing] Yeah, sometimes you gotta blow a guy’s dick off to get anything across in this world.
TB: [laughing] And what exactly are you trying to get across?
NC: It’s a classic revenge piece. The death of the individual in sort of faceless corporations. It’s taking revenge in the most visceral and supernatural way possible so he’s beyond reproach… It’s the fantasy of enacting revenge at-will.
TB: I’ve heard you talk in interviews how you wish that bands would challenge themselves to get better. One of the quotes I really like of yours is “Competition breeds progression,” so what are the artists that you feel like you’re in competition with or have encouraged you to get better?
NC: The Denver scene has great people, we’ve got bands like In The Whale and Eldren who are doing really cool shit. And it’s all really friendly competition. We still hang out and get fucked up together. I think it has more to do with, well, the bar always has to be moving up if you’re going to be relevant and important and to be an artist that’s continually thriving.
TB: Right, to be continually challenging yourself.
NC: Yeah, and to have people around you who are continually doing things that are interesting or cool so that it isn’t stagnant or just a bunch of patting on the back- that’s really important for the process.
TB: In American Man, one line that really stuck out to me was “This is my home, but I’m a stranger here.” Do you ever feel like you don’t fit into the music scene specifically?
NC: No, that’s more about how I feel as an individual. A lot of what the record is about is the death of the individual and the kind of uber PC culture that we have where people are censored and offense is taken as strongly as if it was physical violence. People consider something offensive enough that it’s worth taking away someone’s individual voice for. That does breed a lot of alienation and I do feel that strongly. So it does come out in my writing. As far as musically, you know I’ve got a great community around me and a great band and a great record label so I don’t feel [like an outsider] in that way but just as a human-being… Yeah, definitely.
TB: When you and Jesse were a duo, did you guys ever mess around with different genres before you found your groove with this sort of brazen rock ‘n roll folk style?
NC: We were folkier in the beginning and before this band we were in a more straight-forward rock band, so we’ve fucked around with some different shit over the years. But I think that this has always been in my blood to make really violent, aesthetically simple music.
TB: Last question, what is your alcohol of choice?
NC: It used to be that back in the day if you were at a bar in Boulder [Colorado] you could order a Nate, which is a double shot of Jamison neat and a Budweiser bottle. So that’s what I do.
TB: Sweet! Well, thanks again for taking the time to speak with me!
NC: Fuck yeah!
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