yllwshrk (‘yellow shark’) is a unique collective of extremely talented musicians, tied together by frontman and composer Ian Anderson. To my surprise he happened to be in Poland when he answered my call, so even further away than my previous interview– but, I digress. yllwshrk’s debut album I AM ALADDIN, releasing on the 16th of October, is the culmination of hundreds of micro-influences, culminating in a kind of mix of alternative rock, chamber rock and jazz– it’d take hours to list out the genres they fit into. Instead, read my interview with Ian Anderson and get a glimpse into how the project came to be.
How long have you been involved in music for? Since you were very young?
So I started viola lessons when I was eight, but I’d played the piano from a bit before that, maybe since I was five. My parents weren’t pushy about it or anything, they’re not musicians. They just wanted me, my brother and my sister to have the opportunity to learn an instrument because they never had the chance when they were younger. They got us involved, we were all good, we loved it. And all three of us are professional musicians now!
I AM ALADDIN is really hard to pin down in terms of genre, would you say your own music taste is similarly hard to pin down?
That was something that we did try to bring into the album. All four of us in the band are classical musicians by training. The majority of the work that we do, we play classical music, but we’re also all just really interested in alternative rock and jazz and everything. And we wanted to explore that in the album. And one way of doing that is because of course, even though we we love lots of music genres, we’re not experienced in them at all. So in order to do convincing them stuff, we collaborated with a lot of musicians from the genres like we with the jazz pianist Fergus McCreadie, jazz sax player Nick Ross, and then some electronic musicians as well. Yeah, so that was really a conscious decision to kind of just try and reflect our own wide musical tastes.
The album really is very richly layered!
Yeah, one of the members of yllwshrk is David Donaldson who works a lot in film, as well. So that kind of approach to music and film, it’s very multi layered, it has a very kind of descriptive role in films and everything. So we wanted them to kind of take that approach into the album, think of it as more of a film score than rather than like, rock songs or something.
This sort of moves away from the album a bit: what are some of your favourite releases from this year?
I can’t say much for this year, but last year at least I did a challenge of listening to an album every single day of the year. Like a new album for me. I listened to like, three hundred and eighty different albums because I doubled up on some of the days when it was still fresh. One of the artists that really stuck out was Jarlath Henderson, he’s actually a doctor– well, an amazing musician as well! He’s part of the folk scene in Glasgow, although he’s Irish. His album Hearts Broken, Heads Turned, that was released just a few years ago. I just love the way that he is kind of what we’re trying to do, combining different genres– electronic and folk– in interesting ways.
What was it like working with Radiohead as part of the London Contemporary Orchestra on A Moon Shaped Pool?
It was just amazing to see how they worked in the studio. of course, like, I’ve read stuff about their recording process, but it was very different experience to live.
The amount of stuff that just didn’t work the first time was really quite unexpected, like, woah. Which is great in a way, because it shows that they’re not just sticking to what they know works, they’re really trying to experiment and really trying to push the boats out.
There were quite a few moments in the recording session that they’d hear us play through the first performance or trial track, and Jonny and Thom would kind of look at each other, almost in desperation, like “how are going to salvage this?” With “Burn The Witch” it was particularly noticeable afterwards.
Outside of that it was just really amazing to watch them, kind of pick the ideas that they thought had something in them, and then just develop them and train them in different ways. And it was just really inspiring. Just to see, okay, this is how they constantly managed to produce these amazing albums that constantly kind of take everyone by surprise. So yeah, and then we just tried to take that approach. Really, just try something. If it doesn’t work, then that’s fine. But at least you try it. And even if it sounds absolutely terrible, there’s usually at least one idea there.
How do you feel about live performances currently?
It’s fairly quiet in Poland at the moment– I played a show a couple nights ago. Shows aren’t really happening in the UK, and that’s mainly down to government support I think. Because in the UK you’re allowed to put on concerts, but you’re only allowed to have up to I think 20% capacity? And that’s just not viable, for the groups to survive and cover their costs. Poland is up to 50% capacity I think.
So organisations here are able to put on shows, but they get more government support– more funding. For the UK it’s just down to the amount of support organisations are given, which is pretty much nothing.
I have a question about yllwshrk’s vocalist, Sam West– you found him through a Gumtree ad?
A previous band of mine, Idle Kings sort of fell apart in 2014– after a gig, must have been a bad gig! After that the slow rebuilding process began, and finding a vocalist is very difficult, particularly for the kind of music we wanted to do– very vocally demanding. The range alone is like, two, three octaves. It took years, and we were kind of getting a bit desperate. The final resort was an ad on Gumtree, and we got fifty or so replies– Sam was one of them. He stood out immediately. His musicality is absolutely stunning.
Are there any anecdotes about the album you can tell me?
During the middle of a recording session, we were working on the track “PUKI,” which is the second to last on the album and it just wasn’t coming together. Nothing was really working.
And then one day I was taking the train from Birmingham to London to go to one of the recording sessions and it ended up being after an Aston Villa and Millwall football game. So I ended up in a carriage like that was half full of Millwall fans. And they were the most stereotypical football fans that you can imagine. For the entire two hours of the journey, they were just singing the most, like offensive like racist, xenophobic songs, really loudly and just kind of taking over the carriage and intimidating everyone. And it was the most, you know, it was really the most unpleasant environment I’ve ever been in. About halfway through I was just so sick. I just decided to record some of the noise, like not really with an intention of doing anything. I then shared those recordings with everyone just to show them and they ended up being used as a sample in “PUKI,” they fit perfectly. It was really great to use those words– I mean, we shouldn’t even care what they think– against them to illustrate the point of the song.
yllwshrk’s debut album I AM ALADDIN is being released on the 16th of October. You can check out all the singles released for the album here. There are also music videos for the album’s singles, all available to watch through yllwshrk’s YouTube channel here.
(Featured image credited to Iona Wolff.)