By: Rachel Milani
San Francisco’s Yassou just finished releasing a series of music videos that carry much of the weight of their new Video EP. This creative approach to sharing their new music allows the full aesthetic of Yassou to speak immediately to their audience. You fall in love with their sound, their image, and their message all at the same time, which is a powerful combination considering how talented they are at developing all three. They have been together for several years after forming in New York and eventually moving out to California where they have settled in the Bay Area. Their music video releases, in addition to their work with new Oakland record label OIM, have started a buzz about this fascinating electro-indie band. We sat down to talk with Lilie Bytheway Hoy (lead vocals, bass) and James Jackson (guitar, drums, vocals) to learn more Yassou.
Apes on Tape: How long have you been in the Bay Area?
James Jackson: Oh about 4 years now. It’s been a while. We’ve added one member since being here, who already lived out in the Bay Area.
AoT: Which member?
JJ: That’s the drummer, Patrick.
AoT: Do you feel like you’ve grown to identify with this region since your move? And has it changed your approach to making music since leaving New York?
Lilie Bytheway Hoy: Wherever we live definitely influences the music we make. Even just in the lifestyle that you have to lead to live here. But I personally have grown to love California a lot since moving here. Your heart always stays with your home but…
JJ: I don’t whether it’s so much the area that influenced us but when we moved out here we were so young that this is just kind of where we’ve become. It’s where the whole project really came into focus. So in that sense, there really is no separation anymore. We look back to when we were in New York…
LBH: We were kids
JJ: Yea, we were total kids. So this is definitely where the project found a home which is wonderful.
AoT: Nature is a big part of your aesthetic. Is that related to your new home of California and what does it draw out of you?
JJ: I think that it’s actually a lot of nostalgia for us. Where we grew up it was a lot of woods, a lot of space and a lot of freedom. Meaning, like, all of our time was really spent outside because that’s where nobody was watching you. You could do whatever you wanted to, and just a lot of walking. Where we grew up you could walk for thirty minutes on the road and maybe not see a car and that’s a pretty awesome experience. So, a lot of our music is just us thinking of those times and a lot of it is nostalgia. The nature aspect is more based on that childhood aspect than us being out here because moving here made us realize how our younger years were and how amazing that was to us. We try to capture that feeling. It’s [also] like driving, we feel like. A lot of something we did back there in nature was driving. That freedom.
AoT: It’s funny, my next question was whether that sense of nature in your work was intentional? Since it does use natural imagery in such a way that hints at a feeling of nostalgia.
LBH: It’s the inspiration
AoT: What’s drawn you together and kept you together?
JJ: I don’t know. It’s something we [talk about] amongst ourselves, like, it’s something that we’re really grateful for and I think that, to the people who started the band, it was always very important that it was a band. That is wasn’t just one person with a cast of musicians, or something. When we were growing up, the people that we really idolized were bands. People brought unique things whether it was good or bad. But that was what really defined both the music and the image and the style and all of that. It was a group thing. I think that everyone kind of feels that in their own way in this group. And also everyone is okay with what they bring to it and that’s taken some time. But, it is something we talk about, in terms of… I don’t really know, it’s crazy to us too.
AoT: You’ve mentioned not listening to much music so what type of art do you consume?
LBH: We like to read. I listen to music but when I do it’s kind of… obsessive. Like I’ll get into one album and listen to that for three months and just sink into the music that I’m interested in at the time. Then there will be other points in my life, like right now, I’m sort of going through a period where I’m not really listening to music and just listening to the radio in the car and doing a lot more thinking and writing and internalizing. And creating, hopefully.
AoT: Must an artist keep up with what their peers are creating in order to be good at their art? I’m curious because of your described approach to listening to music that others have made.
JJ: When you talk to other artists there are no two things that are the same. I mean I don’t know chords on the guitar or Lillie doesn’t know the notes on the bass she’s playing. When we started obviously it was because you just don’t know those things. But four or five years into it, we definitely could have learned that and made it a point. It’s always been something that… is not a point of pride, at all, but it’s actually what makes creating for us. Because when we sit down, it’s completely open. It’s like inspiration. You kinda just play, and you don’t have any fucking idea what you’re playing but if it sounds good then it sounds good. It’s purely what is vibing with your emotion at that moment. The same thing with music, sometimes it’s exactly what you need. Sometimes you need to just remove yourself and put some nice headphones on and be carried away. But at other times it can be very claustrophobic and it can feel like you lose your own voice if you listen to too much music.
AoT: Any classical musician contributing or are you all self-taught?
JJ: A.J. is definitely a phenomenal guitarist. I don’t know if he’s studied guitar but I know definitely he knows exactly what he’s doing. Patrick has studied professionally. And if anything, it’s we try to push them in that other direction to just play and open up a little bit. Lillie and I also went to a Waldorf School. It was basically all arts-based. So that was a huge part, like you had to take a classical instrument.
LBH: The entire school would sing together every morning.
JJ: Yea, that’s where we came from so it was a little bit inevitable. We were all classically trained but not studying music.
AoT: You used electronic and sample-based elements in your recorded music but not so much in the live act right now. Is incorporating more of that into the show a planned trajectory for Yassou?
LBH: We’re definitely moving in that direction. We’re working on different ways right now of how to get the fullness of our recorded tracks into our live show
AoT: Are you still close with the OIM crowd since being featured on their debut compilation album earlier this year?
JJ: That’s really the only crew we roll with at this point. The only shows we’ve played in the last year have been with them. Sarah is amazing and what they’re doing is awesome. I feel incredibly, strongly like we wouldn’t be nearly the band that we are in the Bay Area without Oaktown Indie Mayhem.