Since their inception, Yowie have ruled a boundless field of quantum irreverence for all things conventional. They kicked things off with 2004’s harsh, shamelessly deviant Crytpooology, and returned just under a decade later with 2012’s Damning with Faint Praise. At that point, the band’s anti-whimsical disdain for any and all musical boundaries had been well established.
But then came Synchromysticism in 2017. This one seemed to win over a new generation of appreciators, with its absurdist angles perhaps capturing something more profound than anticipated in its wild, unthinkable flailing. It also seemed to have the most production put into it, giving the album a more detailed sense of vision – but it turns out, that wasn’t necessarily the intention.
Synchromysticism is re-released on SKiN Graft Records today, and to celebrate the occasion, we spoke to The Defenstrator himself, the drummer and founding member of Yowie. The all-around ringleader was candid enough to shed some light on the band’s guiding principles, disdain for convention, and the tried-and-true-but-tragic nature of the project itself.
It’s also worth mentioning that Yowie technically just put out their first new tune since then just last month – you know, that track with The Jesus Lizard‘s David Yow? The one on the compilation? Ugh, fine, check it out here. No go ahead, we’ll wait – it’s worth it. You can also refresh your memory with “Ineffable Dolphin Communication” below. Either way, we’re excited to present the QnA below:
FB: There’s very few, if any, bands that can make the kind of noise that Yowie does – was there a guiding concept or principle when Yowie was first started, or was it just straight chaos?
Defenstrator: Our guiding principle was clear: Pure disdain for the dominant songwriting tropes. It was the late 90’s, and music was really feeling oppressively homogenous and generic. We were not students of music theory, but we did think and talk a great deal about the types of cliches that we kept hearing, and so we tried to classify them to see if we could write music that liberated itself from them. Tuning, chord choices, meter, song structure, repetition; we had notes about things we hated about all of these topics, and we set out to make music that was counterintuitive and unnatural. We vowed to stay out of 4/4 time, which felt more revolutionary at the time than today (oh, how times have changed), and we worked really hard to make oblong bits of music work into a coherent whole. So, no, there was no chaos involved; it was quite the opposite. It was meticulously structured and planned. I would say we in some ways were more performance art than a band, at first.
FB: For the most part, rhythm far outweighs any sense of melody in the Yowie discography. Is there a philosophy for the band when it comes to choosing/obscuring guitar tones?
Defenstrator: Yes, but the philosophy is vague in some ways. There is a vehement aversion to overused chords and progressions, and a tremendous affinity for glissandos and bends. The guitars should often sound alien (many people have used the term “insectoid” to me) and non-melodic. Bonus points are awarded for riffs that have a perplexing rhythm, either by themselves or in juxtaposition to the other players’ parts. Honestly, guitars are optional; it’s just a common instrument for music dorks to play, and one that involves some freedom from tonal prisons. When we first started, it was me on drums and Jeremiah on keyboard. It took us a while to conclude that the keyboard was too limited sonically to produce what this music needed. He learned to play the guitar specifically to play a role in this band.
FB: Though it’s hard to choose a genre that sounds correct, do you see Yowie as a project that fits into a genre?
Defenstrator: Oh sure; we fit pretty squarely in the center of “Obsessive Polyrhythmic Rhapsodic Dance Anti-Rock.” Some argue it’s more accurately classified as “Obsessive Polyrhythmic Rhapsodic Dance Anti-Rock Core,” but I really couldn’t disagree more.
FB: For me, and I imagine many others, Yowie is like one of those optical illusions you have to lose focus on to get a grip on what’s actually being depicted – like that painting of a sailboat in Mallrats. Is there an underlying puzzle for listeners to analyze, or is Yowie closer to the destruction/antithesis of critical analysis?
Defenstrator: You are not the first person to use this metaphor. Christopher Dee from The Conformists said the same thing after he’d seen us perform “The 4th Wall Will Not Protect You” a few times, and he called it a “Magic Eye painting.” I don’t think it will help people to analyze it, unless they are trying to learn to play it (which I would generally not recommend).
They are not puzzles to unlock, and then yell out, “I cracked it! The answer is 37!” I think that there are challenges in hearing these pieces as coherent wholes because the relationships between the interlocking parts are often obscured. And that is not because they are incoherent, but instead because, like a book that uses a lot of dashes, parentheses, and footnotes, there are many directions occurring; the final product is not a straightforward paragraph, the contents of which you could have surmised by reading the title. There is reason and intentionality in this, but it usually takes many listens to apprehend it.
Once you get a few listens in, the figure and ground can- and should- change. I’d say if you want to try to “get it,” leave the analysis alone and just listen intently, and I bet you will start to hear relationships you didn’t hear before. I think an album is too much for many people in a sitting. Pick one song and listen to it without distraction, several times.
FB: From your perspective, what is the ideal context or scenario to listen to Yowie?
Defenstrator: In a party with people who try to dance along with it. Maybe you are wearing a beer hat that has a 4 Loco on each side, but that part is optional. Either way, no strobe lights.
FB: Is your cover of AC/DC‘s “Thunderstruck” more a labor of love, or hate? Because we could see it being either.
Oh, it was fully love/hate; it became a highly dysfunctional relationship almost immediately. You see, we have a very niche thing we do, and there is an incredibly specific process for it, so deciding we would deviate from it (not just break away from our process, not just do a cover, but do a cover of a blues rock band) challenged us on many levels. One problem: one of us actually loved AC/DC (should it be necessary to clarify that this love lasts up until, but not one moment after Bon Scott’s death?), and so doing one of those “other” non-canonical songs was emotionally difficult.
But “Thunderstruck” had at least some guitar tomfoolery NOT IN A SOLO that gave us something to work with, although that sort of weird chorusy backup vocal thing, and the lyrics- holy baby jesus those lyrics- could not be left unperverted. We thought we would just mess around with a few structural things and be done with it, but it turned into months of meticulously- yes- deconstructing that song, and re-assembling each part after it went through the Yowie Mutation Device (see Cronenberg’s “The Fly” for reference).
No kidding- every single part of our version is a modification of something from the original, and really nothing was left out. In the end, we had sunk an obscene amount of time into that big challenge- Yowiefying AC/DC- we felt like it was a reasonably good Yowie song, even though it was entirely composed of AC/DC parts.
FB: You recently put out your fist bit of new music since 2017, and it featured none other than David Yow of Jesus Lizard on vocals. What was that process like? Did you send him an instrumental version first, and were you at any point shocked by the results?
Defenstrator: Oh geez, no. We received the vocal track- recorded and finished- and had to hustle to try to make music for it, on a timeline far more aggressive than we had ever experienced before (not only was there a deadline, but one on the Gregorian calendar- and in the same month and year!). The idea, originally, was that we would provide the incidental music for spooky introductory vocals, and when I heard it, I said “This needs rattling chains and creaking doors and moaning, not meticulously composed angular anti-rock.” We don’t do “incidental” very well, which we knew right out of the gate, which is what made it an interesting experiment, not unlike the spirit of the AC/DC project.
This was the first time we ever wrote an original piece in reference to anything else. There is a lot going on there, with chopping off measures or riffs into fractions and timing things with the breath, the pauses, changing the mood with each sentence….it turned out to be the opposite of incidental music. I honestly was unsure what the hell was going to happen until I turned it in. I am not sure we will ever do anything like that again. If David Yow wants to do future songs with us, we will do them the old-fashioned way, including far too many years writing the songs, to release the long-awaited David Yowie album.
FB: Every once in a while your song titles transcend the comical and seem to imply something utterly mysterious – can you tell us where the title “The Reason Your House is Haunted Can Be Found on This Microfiche” came from?
Defenstrator: Ah, I see you are no student of classic horror films, and there is not all that much shame in that. In keeping with the theme earlier- “Can you understand this music by analyzing it?”- there is a moment in many, many horror films, especially from the 70s and 80s, wherein something supernatural and terrifying is happening (e.g., poltergeist activity in the house you just bought), but the characters are still uncertain of how to explain the events because they cannot possibly happen. Their entire view of the world would be destroyed if they concluded that what the audience clearly sees is real, is real. And then, still grasping, they go to the library, and they look up the history of their house on microfiche, and discover to their horror that their house was, in the olden times, the site of (a mass murder, an ancient burial ground, slave quarters, etc).
AND THEN, ALL OF A SUDDEN, IT ALL MAKES SENSE. All of the things that defy the laws of physics and logic that have been happening- well, this microfiche article ties it all together. NOW I GET IT! It’s like when the Magic Eye poster’s secret reveals itself. Or when you figure out the chord and meter changes in a Yowie song. Now you see. OF COURSE all of this supernatural activity makes sense now; it is the obvious consequence of the events I just read about on this microfiche.
FB: Yowie seems to put out music once or twice every decade or so – considering we just heard the new tune with David Yow, what would you say is the likelihood of hearing more new Yowie within the next few years?
Defenstrator: How many are “few” in this question? I think I learned in grade school that “4” would work. But seriously, I would say the likelihood is nearing 100%. In fact, it is even plausible that the rate of new Yowie production will dramatically increase, and maybe surprise those of you who have become accustomed to our traditional pace.
There is a tremendous amount of Yowie as of yet unheard, waiting for the right seismic conditions to cause it to erupt into the world. In the past 5ish years, we have gotten so close, many times, to getting it out, but as anyone acquainted with this band knows, being in this band is difficult for a number of reasons. The music cannot be easily tossed off, and it somehow resists even the most gargantuan efforts to hurry it along, which pisses off no one more than this guy righcheere.
It must, apparently, be the product of an incredible amount of frustration, and accepting that when starting on a new chapter of Yowie is, unfortunately, the only way forward. I really wish this weren’t true, but it is an undeniable pattern that has persisted for 23 years now, with zero deviation. When it finally gets out again, I will be interested to see if listeners think we have retained our character, our defining features as a band, despite having new players with new instruments.
We’re pretty sure they will – each Yowie record has its own quirks, but also sounds distinctly like no one else could possibly do it. Check out the re-release (which comes with a seven-panel J card) on the SKiN Graft Records Bandcamp here, and buy us a cup of coffee so we can become students of classic horror here. Coming up we’ve got New York production legend Martin Bisi, Cheval de Frise, Covet, and more. Thanks for reading!