In Conversation with Yumi Zouma

It’s felt like a long time coming for a Yumi Zouma debut. In the couple-odd years that we (and, seemingly, half the internet) have had them on our radar, the foursome have churned out two stellar EPs, toured with pop-goddess/fellow Kiwi Lorde and landed a top ten position on Hype Machine’s ‘Most Blogged About’ artist list. The latter being only a small indication of the wrath of interest and sheer intrigued that their airy, chilled-out synth-pop has built up…

2016 finally brings their anticipated long-player Yoncalla, dropping just one month back and taking ‘chilled-out’ to an entire new level. Amid a lengthy world tour, Christie, Sam, Josh and Charlie sit down with us ahead of their sell-out slot at Hackney’s prestiguous (and only slightly glittery) Moth Club for a debrief of their recent record.

We know you haven’t been in London very long… but is it treating you well?

All: Yeah!

Josh: Even though today we had a very angry cab driver across the road that was going ballistic at me. It was rooting on comical, to the point everyone else laughed around him. Cabbies screaming “FUCKING WANKERS!!” at us.

Do you take time to visit the cities you’re in when you’re touring?

Christie: Occasionally…

Sam: When we have two or three days then we definitely do but most of the time it’s going to a new city every day. By the time you get to the venue and sound check you’re left with not a lot of time to explore.

J: Although it is kind of unique that, through the band, we know New York and Paris really well now.

Chr: Yeah, we get to spend a lot of time in those places. Today we accidentally drove over London Bridge, I was really excited cause I’ve never seen it before! It was just all of a sudden.

Charlie: Josh lives in New York so we hang out there a lot.

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You’ve got quite a back catalogue now, how do you pick what makes a live set? Is it simply a choice of favourites?

S: Sometimes it’s what we know how to play…

J: That’s true! It’s only been a recent development though. Before we just played everything from the two EPs which we’ve been doing for two years! I don’t feel like there are many songs we don’t play.

S: We play old songs, but we also play new songs…

Chr: We play all the songs! Well, we play most…

The album is only ten tracks, was there a lot of material left over? Was it easy to narrow it down?

J: Well the limited edition of Yoncalla, which is sold out now, has a song on each side of the 7” that were two outtakes from the album. We gave our label 16 songs, so there are two nobody will ever hear.

Chr: The Japanese version also has two outtakes, so we managed to sneak in the songs that didn’t make it to the album. We just had that many; we wanted to have as many as possible so we could pick the best.

J: You’ve got to be careful, I guess, when a label is involved; we didn’t want to give over 20 songs and have 10 not end up on the record you know?

Cha: That’s why we keep the picking process between ourselves.

When you were recording the album, did you feel any pressure to live up to the EPs? I mean, ‘well received’ would be an understatement…

J: I think so, yeah. It was the first time we really wrote with an audience. With the second EP, a lot of that was being finished just as the first was being released. I guess what we say every time is that people like what we did just because it was something inherently about us, we didn’t overthink it when we first did it so we try really hard to be like, “let’s just do it!” and see what happens. We did feel pressure but I don’t think it affected us in an overthinking/negative way.

Cha: We didn’t really change our way; we didn’t get a producer or a studio to record it or anything. The pressure I felt was that for some reason people always take albums way more seriously than EPs, they’re like, “it’s an album you know… it better be a BIG step up!”

Did it take long to record the whole album?

J: About a year, I think, there were other things that everyone had sketched out. There’s actually a song on Yoncalla called Drachma that I wrote in 2012 where we first met Christie. We worked on a session of it so that’s probably the oldest.

Chr: We started recording in April in Paris and finished in October.

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You had a bit of a line-up change a year-or-so back with a change of lead vocalists, was that something easy to adjust to? Did it affect the recording process?

Cha: It was pretty easy cause Christie sang on EP2 as well, so when Kim [Pflaum] left after the EP1 tour, Christie just came in to sing live for us.

Chr: I knew most of the songs already cause I was a real big fan and they were my friends. I loved the songs a lot cause they sent them to me before they were released. I was like, “this is amazing, I’m so proud of you guys you make great music,” they asked me to sing on the new record that they were recording and then eventually the full transition happened.

J: How long have you been in the band now..?

Chr: Since December 2014 so for a while now, a year and a half.

J: It’s not something we’ve talked about a huge amount, but you know, a lead singer changing is a difference to adjust to. I think, going back to the whole idea where Yumi Zouma happened so haphazardly, we just kept making things in the way we’d always done them. With our friends.

Cha: The recording stayed the same basically. With Kim, we all wrote everything and with Christie we still all write everything.

A lot of your song titles don’t appear in the lyrics, even the album title doesn’t crop up in any of the tracks. Where do you think up these titles?

J: Yoncalla was almost a song title! But still not in the lyrics…

S: We nearly called the album Ghosting but then someone on our label told us that means when you ‘drop off’ with someone, particularly in a romantic sense.

Cha: And the song Keep It Close To Me was going to be called Yoncalla.

S: I thought Ghosting was also kind of stupid because, I don’t know if you’ve heard of Hamish and Andy, but they’re Australian comedians and they had a TV show where they just followed behind people really closely until they realised there were two people behind them and it was called Ghosting. So instead of thinking about a serious Yumi Zouma pop album, all I could think of was this show.

Yoncalla… it’s a tiny town in America, right?

Cha: Yeah, in Oregon! We drove down the west coast of America last year and had a few days off.

J: It was just one of those beautiful periods we had, we were in isolation and the words stuck out. I remember it being a really beautiful time. And I finally made peace with this guy that stole my girlfriend, we stayed with him in Oregon.

Cha: It also came after a really horrible few days as well. We played a show in Vancouver and we got stuck at the Canadian border for about five or six hours! Then we almost missed our show in Seattle and we missed dropping off our car and then we missed getting the hotel room…

Chr: We had no accommodation and no car.

Cha: But then we had those days off and it was super fun.

J: Touring can get pretty intense in all periods and you kind of need a little oasis every few months where you can just be friends for a few days and hang out.

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In today’s age, since everyone has their own distinct ‘aesthetic’, do you think having an aesthetic is important within this industry?

J: If I’m looking for new music and something resonates with me and that something is part of an aesthetic, I feel it’s easier for me to connect with it.

S: I think it’s an important thing. There are some bands or artists that have no aesthetic or an arguably shit aesthetic yet they still make amazing music. I do like marrying the idea of knowing what you want to present yourself as. Sometimes it’s an art form in itself; it contributes to the music and makes it more visual.

You met Justin Bieber the other week… tell us all…

Chr: We just happened to pick some breakfast restaurant in Toronto quite close to the hotel we were staying at, we were only there for that morning. We played a show the night before and it was pure coincidence that Justin Bieber just walked in.

Cha: We were joking a lot like, “we’re in Toronto and we’re gonna see him!”

Chr: “Will we see Drake? Will we see Justin?” and of course in walks Justin Bieber…

Cha: He didn’t have any bodyguards, he was wearing a big yellow hoodie and with one girl. They just sat down for a bit at the back before walking back out. It was super weird, I don’t even know if they ordered any food… Maybe they were just trying to hide or something?

J: You see, I was driving a car back to New York so I wasn’t involved in the ‘Bieber-gate’

Chr: It was amazing; I couldn’t believe it at first.

If Bieber was going to cover one of your songs, would you have a preference on what track it would be..?

Chr: Text from Sweden?

Cha: Maybe something weird like Drachma or Hemisphere

Chr: You’ve got to think about what his voice would do the most justice; he has a really good voice.

J: Sålka maybe?

Chr: Sålka, yeah! Sålka Gets Her Hopes Up, please cover it Justin…

We’d like to know how you get your Snapchats to be longer than 10 seconds?

Cha: It’s an extension on the Cydia store, called Snapchat+. You can go up to like a minute I think!

J: You’ve gotta jailbreak your phone! You can do a whole feature length film, it’s almost obnoxious.

Chr: Yeah, Charlie’s a real Snapchat hacker.

At the moment, there seems to be quite a focus on New Zealand’s music scene. We wondered if you might know what the reason for this could be?

Chr: Really?! That’s so cool! I feel like Lorde paved the way and no one else followed, maybe Broods but that’s it.

We’ve got Broods, yourselves, Thomston…

J: Do you know Lontalius?

Chr: He’s amazing, we love him.

Cha: I feel like it’s good but almost too late. The best music from New Zealand, personally, came out ten years ago.

S: I think there’s always been an interest in New Zealand music, going back to the early 80s.

Cha: Either way, New Zealand has always had way more artistic stuff than it should for a country its size.

J: I think as well people are generally curious about things that have no external influence. How do we feel about it? I think it’s cool, we definitely feel like a New Zealand band.

S: We all come very deeply from the New Zealand music scene; we’ve been a big part of that community for our whole adolescence so it’s very important to us.

Do you have any NZ recommendations?

S: Girls Pissing on Girls Pissing; controversial name but an amazing band if you’re into Medieval inspired post-punk stuff.

J: A band called Zen Mantra…

Cha: That’s Sam’s solo project. There’s this artist called John Lemon who’s pretty fruity, pretty crazy and out there.

Chr: Soccer Practice! We toured with them in New Zealand they’re easily the most impressive band I’ve ever seen live.

J: Kim’s project, Madeira, she’s doing well.

And to round it up, if you could describe Yumi Zouma in one word each, what would it be?

J: Friendship

S: Family

Cha: Autumnal

Chr: I can’t think of only one word… a good time!

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Yoncalla is out now.