Haslemere local Yellow Days has had a pretty incredible last twelve months - after his song ‘Gap In The Clouds’ was selected to soundtrack the Season 2 trailer of Donald Glover's show ‘Atlanta’, he dropped a series of excellent singles (the latest being the existential and thoughtful ‘What’s It All For?’), before heading out on the Laneway Festival circuit in January of this year.
When Yellow Days (real name George Van Den Broek) was in New Zealand for Laneway, we caught up with him to discuss his upcoming new album, opening for Florence + The Machine, and much more…
...how do you want to live your life? Do you want to be thinking too hard and feel troubled for the rest of your life? Or do you want to start doing something? Do you want to let go of those things that hold you back and make you feel stuck? Or do you want to take a chance, go out and just live your life? Take what you want...
COUP DE MAIN: How has Laneway in Brisbane and Sydney been treating you?
YELLOW DAYS: It’s been crazy, it’s been really, really good. Great shows and people having a lot of fun. I’ve never met the kids out here, and we’re having fun. It’s clear that we have some love out here that we’re receiving, and that’s tight!
CDM: How did you enjoy your first arena performance, opening for Florence + The Machine?
YELLOW DAYS: It was great, the arena was amazing. We’ve never done anything like that. It was quite incredible, the feeling you get when you look at that stuff, it’s undeniable. I mean, it’s the feeling you get after any show after about five minutes. It’s a big experience and as a musician you just live for those moments.
CDM: How did you opening for the Florence show come about?
YELLOW DAYS: I’m not exactly sure, I don’t know if it was a personal choice… who knows! <laughs> But from where I’m standing, you got the gig and then you turned up and played it, and that’s incredible, you know? It’s always cool to go out and take an opportunity like that. So yeah it was fun but I don’t know if it was a close, personal hook-up. <laughs> But nonetheless, very much fun, still had a good time.
CDM: So going back, what’s your earliest musical memory ever?
YELLOW DAYS: I remember when I grew up with my first ever guitar, that would have either been a Christmas or birthday when I was about ten-years-old. I remember my brother teaching me ‘Smoke On The Water’ and then, <imitates guitar riff>, so I learned that. I also remember sitting in my kitchen and thinking like, 'I wanna write my own songs,' and I was using all the same notes and just rearranging them, trying to make something that was my own. That is my earliest memory, sitting in the kitchen trying to write my own ‘Smoke On The Water’, rearranging the notes and stuff.
CDM: Do you think it was about that same age that you started writing your first proper songs?
YELLOW DAYS: Yeah, literally! It didn’t take long at all, I just learnt a few chords and I was straight away singing from the heart. <laughs> My eleven-year-old soul weeping! Ripping major chords that take five minutes to learn, I was having a great time. I was on some Ed Sheeran vibes when I was eleven, man. <laughs>
CDM: That’s a classic to start off with!
YELLOW DAYS: Yeah, everyone’s gotta start off there! Everyone’s gotta be Ed Sheeran for a bit, you can’t skip that stage.
CDM: How does your songwriting process work now? Has it changed since you were eleven-years-old?
YELLOW DAYS: In reality it’s not that different, apart from the fact that I’m better now, <laughs> and I play many different instruments! I play a little bit of everything now, because for me I want a range of everything, whereas back in the day it was just straight-up acoustic ballads.
CDM: In your song ‘That Easy’ you say, “Momma said, 'What are you afraid of? Momma said, "Show them what you're made of.” Has your mum given you any other good advice that you can recall?
YELLOW DAYS: <laughs> “Show them what you’re made of” is one of her best, that stuck with me the most. She’s given me loads, man, she works in Yorkshire and I don’t know if you know much about Yorkshire but she was a Yorkshire Mum most of the time. She was always coming out with these lovely sweet little things that I would take away and put in my songs. I don’t know if she’s got any other great catch phrases… In ‘People’ I spoke about how I talked to her about how the world was unfair and why do some people prosper and others fail, you know? That’s what that conversation is about in that song. Yeah, I love my Mum, she’s great.
CDM: It must be cool for her to hear her words quoted in your music now. Does she like listening your music?
YELLOW DAYS: Yeah she loves it man, she’s a massive fan, but for some reason and I have no idea why, but she assumes that I’m like dissing her? When she hears “Mum” or “Mama” she’s like, “What are you saying? What are you trying to say with that?” Like, "Why would I say something bad, Mum? I love you, why would I do that, it’s crazy!" <laughs> She just always assumes that I’m dissing her for some reason and I have to explain that, “No, no, no, I’m actually saying you’re a massive genius,” and she’s like, “Oh, okay that’s cool.”
CDM: Why did you decide to sample the philosopher Alan Watts on 'I've Been Thinking Too Hard'?
YELLOW DAYS: I know a lot of people sample that guy, but I actually listen to his talks a lot. I’ll just listen to them when I’m in a car or some shit, I’ll just plug my headphones in and get lost in what he’s saying because that man is an incredible speaker. I was writing a song about, 'I’ve been thinking too hard,' and for me, the sample really gave that insight on the tune, like that’s what I’m saying, how do you want to live your life? Do you want to be thinking too hard and feel troubled for the rest of your life? Or do you want to start doing something? Do you want to let go of those things that hold you back and make you feel stuck? Or do you want to take a chance, go out and just live your life? Take what you want, that’s all I’m saying. And so for the sample they both had the same kind of meaning in terms of it about being held back by sort of your own mind.
CDM: I really like the samples from 'Snap Out of It! (Emotional Balance)', they work really well in the song 'Tired'. Do you have a passion for films and cinema that kind of blends into your music?
YELLOW DAYS: If I’m honest, I’m very much just a music guy, my film knowledge and stuff is actually pretty poor. <laughs> I’ve always sampled poets and speakers and people like that. I don’t think I’ve ever sampled something from a film, I guess because I just don’t watch that many films. I watch David Attenborough and I guess I could make that work. I’ve always sampled poets and speakers and stuff and I watch a lot of documentaries and that's where you come across people you want to sample. I’m a bit of a nerdy guy, I like my documentaries and I like my philosophical speakers, I’m not that into Hollywood films.
CDM: So you and Rex Orange County both grew up around Haslemere, is there much of a local music scene there?
YELLOW DAYS: There’s basically one train station, one high street, and that’s about it. There’s no music scene whatsoever. The closest venue is called The Boileroom and it’s in Guildford, which is super confusing because people would always associate it with THE Boiler Room - the one that’s in London. I remember when we played our first show over in Guildford and people were like, ‘Man, you played your first show at the Boiler Room?’ Like, no no no! It was CALLED The Boileroom, it wasn’t THE Boiler Room. <laughs> But yeah there’s no scene. In terms of kids coming out of here… Literally me and Rex Orange County are the only two dudes who have come from that area. And Alex is from a few towns over from me. He’s a great guy. Apart from that, maybe there’s like a few other small bands, but there’s no culture for it. It’s more coincidence that Alex and I both came out pretty much at the same time, but I think the reason that we both did that is because we were kids in quite a normal place trying to do something different.
CDM: You guys are like the pioneers of Haslemere!
YELLOW DAYS: <laughs> I feel like the people of Haslemere don’t even know that we’ve happened. Everyone else knows about it, but the people that live there are like, 'What?'
CDM: You said the next Yellow Days record will be due this year - what’s the status of that album? Are you still working on it?
YELLOW DAYS: I’m working on an album right now and I’m getting there and it’s sounding great. I can’t wait for this shit to come out, but it’s gonna be a while and I wanna get it just right - take people on a real journey, write some really good music for everybody and for myself. I’ve been listening to a lot of R&B soul and that stuff is really definitely swaying me. Genre-wise, I’m feeling that stuff and the smooth chords. I think the stuff I’ve been releasing recently is a good indicator of what the album is gonna be. It’s gonna be that fun, funky shit, and I’m enjoying it. The writing process is great and I’m having a great time. The album is gonna be everything I want it to be.
CDM: With this new album, will this be the second of the four albums you’re planning to do? I read that you had four albums planned that kind of came to you in a vision.
YELLOW DAYS: It will. I’m working through my own odd plan that’s based in my mind that I’ve had since I was like 14. I’ve had this plan in my mind of how things should happen and this will definitely be a piece of the puzzle, no doubt.
CDM: Will you continue to produce your own music or will you collaborate with other producers in the future?
YELLOW DAYS: That’s the plan, not so much producers, but I work with a bunch of people. I’ll go out and make a song with someone, that shit is fun, and there are some great people out there. A lot of the stuff that I released in the last few years is literally just me and one other dude and a few players. Nowadays I’m opening myself up, and I’m feeling a lot more collaborative about it. I’m happy that I can go into a room and play with people, whereas in the past I might have been like, 'You can have that and don’t have that,' whereas now I’m like, 'It’s music, man, and I wanna make a good sound and sing for my soul.' But yeah, this next record is going to be a lot more collaborative, no doubt. I’m definitely ready to be working with new people and have been feeling stuff out and people will be excited about that shit, no doubt.
CDM: ‘Weight Of The World’ encapsulates coming of age feelings really perfectly. How do you feel about that song’s sentiment looking back on it now?
YELLOW DAYS: That song for me is one of my favourite tunes. I originally wrote it as a soul tune and we gave it a completely different mix, like I recently wrote it with 3/4 beat and a different chord progression, and then we decided we were gonna mix it up and re-approach it. The tune for me is like one of those ones where the instrumentation, the lyrics and stuff, it was right in the soul for me.
CDM: You’ve been super open talking about mental health in your music, do you find it important to contribute by bringing awareness and supporting that conversation through your music?
YELLOW DAYS: Oh, a hundred percent. It’s so true that people should just talk about shit, you know? How would anybody feel better if they keep that stuff to themselves? For me, I’ve had struggles throughout my life really - and the way I’ve found a way through it is through music where I didn’t want to talk to people but I could put it in a song. You hear it in romantic context in a song, so nobody would notice you’ve just told them you’ve been really sad for a long time. They’re not really thinking about it like that, they’re like, 'Cool, the chords are nice man.' Secretly you’re telling them that you’re really flippin’ sad. But that’s music, and that’s the thing - I read this study once that said that even sad music makes you feel better. The science suggests that people, even if they hear the saddest song, even if it makes you cry. Personally, I’m not scared of what people think and I’m a stickler for being yourself and just not caring, you know? When it comes to music and all that stuff, I will say something, I wouldn’t even think twice about it.
CDM: I love all the stylised artwork for your music, are you gonna keep that up for the future releases you do?
YELLOW DAYS: Oh, yeah. Of course, that’s all me, I make all of that. I would never let someone else make my artwork. That was a big thing for me - when a song is mastered I sit down and listen to it and open my mind to a vision and every time I just see the artwork and I just make it straight after. It’s a really fun thing, I love that shit. It’s this crazy artistic moment. Like the ‘What’s It All For?’ track, I just knew I would be standing on a brick wall with my foot over the camera. That’s the artwork, so I just made it, I could literally do exactly what I thought, and that’s one of the most pleasing things with artistic and creative things. If you can do that or get to that process where you get to see something in your mind and then see it in real life… For me that’s what it’s all about.
CDM: The London pop-up last year that you had looked really cool, do you like having those events where you can come face-to-face with your fans and take the creativity to the next level?
YELLOW DAYS: Yeah, 100%. I think as well it’s cool just to make a day happen. People try to do that shit and it’s so inspiring because you realise you kind of just hide away and release an album and then play a few shows. You want to just put something on, get loads of people down, and make something happen. You open a shop and it all turns into a gig at 8 or 9pm, if you have a bunch of rappers, we’ll play with the rappers and we’ll make tracks up on the spot and we’ll just be jamming with a few different guys. We’ll get a trumpet-player or something and it’s like some music stuff, we don’t play a set like we do at our shows. At the pop-up, we play some fucked up shit, me and my band we played the stuff that we love doing, some funky stuff, that’s the vibe of the pop-up shop. We want to do it in other places and we are just planning some stuff and figuring some stuff out. We’ll do it no doubt, it’s coming.
Yellow Days’ new single ‘What’s It All For?’ is out now - listen below…