Image by Nick Wesson
Yellow Creatures first exploded onto the north east circuit in a blaze of activity: in a period of eighteen months, they produced two ferocious and ambitious EPs (Nature of the Beast and The Year of Everything & Nothing) alongside a series of singles and one-off tracks, played alongside acts such as The Monochrome Set, The Lovely Eggs, Brix and The Extricated and Wolf Alice and gained a reputation as an astoundingly tight and dramatic live act. Mixing noisy garage rock with Roxy Music-esque retro-futurism and a taste for post-punk tension, they became one of this writer’s favourite bands in the area.
Since then however, there’s been a lengthy period of radio silence from the band. This could have been mistaken for an abrupt end to yet another promising outfit. However, after over a year hidden from sight, Yellow Creatures finally return this month with new single Spectrum, released ahead of a new mini-album of the same name in March. Now stripped down to a three-piece, the seven tracks of the mini-album represent a surprising overhaul for the band – luscious synths now overwhelm the coiled guitar attack of old, with the band’s forays into synth-pop and ambient textures interspersed with surrealist flamenco ballads and pounding doom rock. It’s a stunning, surprising return for the band, and as such I tracked down Yellow Creatures frontman Marc Bird to retrace the steps that brought Yellow Creatures into their new terrain.
I think for this project we’ve definitely scrapped the idea that we all stick to our own instruments. It’s been a bit of a free for all, which has made the whole process as challenging as it was exciting
Explaining the long gap between releases, Bird tells me, “We’ve been working for a while on new songs, but because the style of the songwriting has changed quite a bit, it’s taken some time to develop and record our new ideas as we wanted them to sound. It’s also become very collaborative, probably more so than ever. We’ve all contributed different melodies, sounds, percussion ideas and structural suggestions. I think for this project we’ve definitely scrapped the idea that we all stick to our own instruments. It’s been a bit of a free for all, which has made the whole process as challenging as it was exciting.”
The band’s desire not to repeat themselves and the effect of new influences such as Frank Ocean, Solange and Radiohead resulted in a writing and recording process that took the band far outside their comfort zone. “The themes of the songs seemed to suit spacious and atmospheric arrangements, rather than the busy guitar driven songs we were used to writing. When I began putting together demos, all of the songs began as soundscapes made from found sounds, accompanied by vocals. This stemmed from my fascination with Musique Concrète artists such as Delia Derbyshire and Pierre Schaeffer.”
“As we weren’t gigging at the time, we all took these demos away and worked on the songs individually. Some of us added guitar lines and keyboard melodies but we also naturally started taking the songs in a more electronic direction because of the nature of the demos. We then went through the process of playing the songs in our rehearsal space, adding acoustic drums and bass, and gradually picking the best elements of the electronic direction we’d taken the songs in. By tweaking the arrangements, they began to sound more like they’d been created by a band.”
A lot of the songs on the EP mention or deal with the way modern technology is affecting our lives
The result of this lengthy process of re-assessment and adjustment has resulted in a collection of songs that finds the band opening up on a musical and emotional level. From the sweeping Anne of Cleves and the unusual romance of Capricorn to the ominous Last Census, there’s a level of care both in the startling detailed arrangements and production of the material and in the lyrical treatment that sets the band even further apart from any contemporaries. Discussing his altered, more hushed vocal approach this time around, Bird comments: “like the arrangements, the songs seemed to suit a softer delivery than previous performances because of the introspective nature of the lyrics. We wanted them to sound melancholy and pensive, letting the music take control of where the vocal is going, rather than the vocal forcefully pulling the song through a narrative.”
Bird also touched on the themes of the Spectrum single, a song that embodies the band’s embrace of technology but also their understanding of its dystopian potential. “The song is based on an article I read a while ago about a pattern emerging, where a large amount of the children of people working in Silicon Valley had varying degrees of autism. A lot of the songs on the EP mention or deal with the way modern technology is affecting our lives and how the use of technology and its side effects can affect our relationships and the way we behave towards each other.”
Their new sound has also found itself reflected in an aesthetic overhaul for the band, the collage artwork of old replaced by clean, vibrant pictures of rainbow roses. “I bought one of these roses about a year or so ago and thought they were so striking. It was only when we were thinking of artwork ideas that I remembered the rose and linked the multi-colored petals to the title of the EP. It was a video idea for the song Spectrum that came first, then the cover itself followed.”
Bird is tight lipped about future plans – “as far as live performances are concerned, we never really envisaged this to be a live project, but you never know” – but what is clear is that Yellow Creatures have emerged from hibernation as an even more vivid and remarkable creative force.