“You’re through to the Alas Salvation helpline, please leave your thoughts and memories after the toooone!” It’s my third attempt to reach Yak’s Oli Burslem and when I do finally get through, I ask him to explain the idea behind his random voicemail message… “Oh, I forgot about that. That number’s engraved in the vinyl. I was kind of hoping there would be loads of ideas…that people would leave some messages and then from that I’d be able to write some songs. Or people just going ‘I bought this record and it was bloody shit’.”
It’s this unconventional spirit that has earned Burslem and his band widespread attention over the last year. His face adorns the pages of NME, as if they’ve found God. It may also be because he bears an uncanny resemblance to a young Mick Jagger, but Burslem isn’t your average, loud-mouthed rock ‘n’ roll frontman; he cuts a down-to-earth and ever-so-slightly vulnerable figure, refreshingly lacking in bravado or self-confidence. “I forget how to play guitar sometimes. I don’t really think of myself as a musician.”
I probably haven’t changed much since the age of about three, just running around screaming
From his chilled telephone manner, you don’t get the impression that Yak have become synonymous with chaos in their two-year existence. But a quick Google image search reveals scenes of the band engulfed by crowds in packed venues and Burslem the catalyst for destruction. “I just like to get into it. Maybe I get into too much. It’s just nice to know that there are no barriers and there’s no kind of divides really and that kind of also annoys people. I probably haven’t changed much since the age of about three, just running around screaming. It’s warfare, you should just get out there and really attack it!”
The band’s anarchic live nature slips its way into Yak’s raucous debut Alas Salvation. Released back in May on Octopus Electrical, the LP has been well received by many for its unrelenting proto-punk ethos, channelling the likes of The Stooges, 60s psychedelia and Birthday Party-era Nick Cave throughout its 13 hectic tracks. It’s easily one of the strongest debuts by a guitar band in the last five years and it may in part be down to Burslem’s firm musical ideas. “I think rock ‘n’ roll bands should just be simple, repetitive and just implode after a certain amount of time. And then, that’s it. It’s over. I’m not much of a careerist. I’ve been in some jokey bands before, nothing too serious. This is the first time I’ve put myself on the line and tried to be as honest as possible and write some songs. A lot of the songs are just documents of that time and that’s it really, they all remind me of when I wrote them and it’s just a record of that time. That way you can just keep on releasing stuff and you don’t have to be so precious about it.”
Where Yak go from here is as unpredictable as Burslem’s stage antics. They could just as easily go on forever, as crash and burn in the blink of an eye. In a period of guitar music that is increasingly safe, we’re lucky to have them around.