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"Half of our songs are about getting fucked up, and the other half are about existential crises that make you question the nature of reality," declares Yawpers frontman Nate Cook. "So, those two themes run pretty prevalently through the music, or at least I would hope so."
Cook, a self-described literature fanatic, says he enjoys lifting from the literary greats and kind of throwing some "highbrow uber-literate shit in the band's simple-ass country rock-and-roll songs." It's a contradiction Cook says he finds pretty amusing. And indeed, scattered throughout Capon Crusade, the band's brand-new full-length, are references to existentialist writers Albert Camus and Jean-Paul Sartre. While Cook says he says he doesn't necessarily gravitate toward them in his general philosophy, they do inspire the songs.
"They're depressing as fuck," he admits of the philosophers, "but for me, reading their depressing work while I'm writing material is a must. I write best out of being at the end of my rope or at least devastated about the iniquities of having to be alive.
"Sartre and Camus are really poignant in pointing out just how flawed existence is in general," he goes on. "And sometimes that can be comforting when you're trying to write some shitty song about getting fucked up because a girl left you. It kind of adds some cachet to it, so to speak. You don't just feel like you're some whiny little bitch; you have some heavy minds weighing in on it behind you."
Another literary giant, meanwhile, inspired the name of the band, which comes from a line in Walt Whitman's poem "Song of Myself": "I sound my barbaric yawp over the roofs of the world."
Cook's yawp might not necessarily be barbaric, but the guy sounds vigorous as hell when he's screaming like a madman during the band's raucous live shows or on Capon Crusade. He can also roll it back with his nasally voice, which he says automatically draws comparisons to Dylan, even if, at times, there are also hints of Wilco's Jeff Tweedy and Jack White in his delivery.
With Capon Crusade, Cook says the band went for a really raw, primitive approach, recording it almost entirely live, including vocals, in hopes of capturing some of the act's live energy, as opposed to last year's EP, Savage Blue, which he says wasn't really indicative of the Yawpers' on-stage sound. "There's where we've had most of our success," he notes, referring to the band's live show. "So we figured that's what our record should sound like. We tried to get as close to our live sound as possible. That's kind of what it became."
The trio has grown into a quartet that includes Cook and Jesse Parmet on acoustic guitars, as well as drummer James Hale, who replaced Adam Perry last May, and harmonicat Dave Romano, who joined the band in June. There's no bassist, but the Yawpers have no trouble making things beefy. Hale plays with two floor toms and a big-ass kick drum, while Cook, who primarily plays rhythm guitar, says his focus is just to never stop playing the bottom note. Using alternate tunings (close to half of their songs are in open D), with Parmet running his acoustic through a distortion pedal, also fattens the band's sound.
"We intentionally limit ourselves," Cook says of the instrumentation. "We don't play electric guitars. We only play acoustic guitar, and we have no bass player. We just stripped it down to what we felt like were the bare necessities and just keeping it there and working within those constraints to try and say what we wanted to say. Stripping it down to that has just allowed us to be simple and direct. It hasn't limited us in the loudness factor or the heaviness factor, surprisingly. But it has allowed us to really keep it simple, and that's really what it boils down to.
"People can connect to music on a lot of different levels," he observes, "but I think the real primitive — just like, straight ahead, there's a guy fucking yelling on stage, there's a fucking groove, you know, it's not too heavy — I think people really respond to that."
It also forces Cook to be more focused as a songwriter. The thought of bringing in a bass player has never crossed his mind, says Cook. "I feel we've kind of defined ourselves by not having a bass player, and at this point, it would be kind of weird if we did."
In addition to borrowing from authors, Cook takes a lot of narrative cues from Nick Cave, adding that the guys are also into Tom Waits and Johnny Paycheck, and that they're all huge fans of Led Zeppelin and contemporary acts like Deer Tick. "We're really informed somewhere between the dark kind of songwriters and the hard rockers," he explains, "with a little country in there, as well."
Before the Yawpers formed just over a year ago, Cook and Parmet were part of Ego vs. Id. With that band, Cook says, it was fun to go a little batshit in the studio, as musicians who are just starting out sometimes get tempted to do, "but it's really unfocused, and it takes away from what you're really trying to say." So when the two started the Yawpers, the idea was really to make it about what they like and what they do in our living rooms rather than what they'd do if they had a million-dollar budget.
"I have no illusions of trying to be the most fucking innovative band of all time," Cook says. "But what we're really shooting for is trying to connect with people, most of the people — people like us, which are people who go out and drink hard and like to fucking listen to rock and roll. That's what we wanted to do."
For the most part, the Yawpers, who have five tours under their belt so far, have found those folks in the Southeast and the Midwest. The West Coast? Not so much. The tour there this past summer was a disaster, apparently.
"The way I like to look at it," Cook sums up, "is the more likely the populace is to be overweight, the more likely we are to go over well. I just think that people who give such a fuck about how they look and whether or not their gluten intake is affecting their sleep cycles just tend to breathe a level of a kind of narcissism that I don't think we really relate to."