That's something we're trying to shake," says Yerkish frontman Tim Kaminski. "We don't want people to think, 'Oh, the monkey band,' because you either think that it's a band of monkeys, which has been done before, or you think it's just some band that plays silly music. We try to play thought-provoking, intelligent music."
This is a sort of an odd sentiment coming from a guy whose outfit is named after the sign language that primates use to communicate and whose early logo and artwork prominently featured various simian-related imagery. After all, the monkey branding seems to be something the group willfully constructed and helped perpetuate. Before there ever was a band, though, "Yerkish" was just a term that Kaminski had carried around with him since his senior year in high school, when he randomly flipped open a dictionary and his finger landed on the word.
"I focused on the back of the dictionary, and I hit 'Yerkish,'" Kaminski explains. "I looked it up, and in the dictionary, it's such a small thing. It just tells you it's communication for monkeys. Monkeys are awesome. I love monkeys. I was like, 'I want that to be a band name some day.'"
And so it was. When Kaminski, drummer Ryan Eschenbach, guitarist Nate Huisgen and Ian Pinder, the act's original bassist, were tossing around names for the band, including Camels of Kansas, Kaminski halfheartedly offered, "How about Yerkish?"
"We were like, 'Bless you!'" Huisgen jokes.
"Everyone was like, 'What the fuck is that?'" Kaminski recalls. "I had to explain it."
After he defined the word for the rest of the guys, they agreed that the name fit perfectly, "because it kind of makes sense," says Huisgen. "It's communication, and we're communicating through our music." Indeed. Beyond just playing music, the members of Yerkish have developed their own experimental language of sorts with the videos projected behind them during their performances, which Kaminiski says is culled from video footage found on the Internet. "I'll watch a two-hour-long 1927 movie," he notes, "for something I might use seven seconds of."
It's a painstaking process, to be sure. Once the footage is gathered, the band assigns a specific video to a specific song and burns a new DVD for each show. Eschenbach, who designed broadcast graphics and animation for 9News for four years, said it was even more cumbersome before, when they tried to match the videos up to the beats during performances.
The act puts the same amount of energy into crafting its music, as evidenced by its full-length debut, Fear Conquers America. Some of the disc's eight songs are fairly complex, odd-metered excursions that ride the line between progressive rock and metal. Occasionally, jazz elements will emerge, or they'll inject some blues into cuts like "Bitten," which also has electronic drums in the middle and a classic rock solo at the end. And then there's Kaminski's vocals, which instantly recall Maynard James Keenan from Tool.
A lot of the songs on Fear evolved during the ten sessions the bandmembers completed in Module Overload Studio recording and mixing the album with engineer Jamie Hillyer, whom they also worked with on their first EP, Vignettes. Some of the tracks turned out a lot different than they had originally planned. Huisgen says that Hillyer's assortment of guitar effect pedals, guitars and amps opened up a lot more options, which resulted in tracks like "Papa's Amore," Fear's opening cut, ending up darker, fuzzier and more Black Sabbath-like in the studio than the band thought it would be.
"I think most of the songs improved in the studio over what I thought they would sound like at first," says Brent Moran, who has played bass with Yerkish since February.
"Overall," Eschenbach adds, "I think the music is much more robust than our usual music that we've been putting out. It seems more mature. It seems like it's a little bit more well done, like a turkey dinner as opposed to a turkey sandwich. It's a thicker album, and there are more songs. The first song on the album is the first song we ever wrote ever as Yerkish; we just never recorded it. The last two songs are our newest songs. So it kind of spans our whole music-writing history."
That history dates back to October 2005, when Eschenbach, Huisgen and Pinder first started playing experimental, instrumental rock together. A year and a half later, they decided they needed a singer to add an extra dimension to the band. Finding one, however, wasn't an easy task. A few of the guys who auditioned early on left immediately after hearing one song.
"I had a feeling that the exact reason these people were leaving was the exact reason I loved the idea of singing for these guys," Kaminski declares. "It's not typical, man. I love throwing those changes in there. And suddenly, it's, 'How do I do that as a vocalist? How do I make that shift?' So I love the challenge that I'm presented every time they write something. Not only do I have to create something that's lyrical, but I have to go along with that. And there are times where I'm like, 'I don't know.' And somehow we always end up with something, and I'm always in there. But I just keep waiting for that day when they're going to throw something out there and I'll be like, 'That's an instrumental, because I can't do anything with that.' But so far, I haven't failed, and I love that challenge."
Kaminski's words are as captivating as his vocals, and they often touch on political or media-based topics. The title of the album, Fear Conquers America — taken from a line in the song "A.P.," which features a mock newscast from 9News anchor Thanh Truong — is about how the media instills fear in the public.
"I just think of the teasers in the news where they freak you out, like, 'Ninety percent of American households have it and it could kill you,'" Kaminksi asserts. "I just hate how it seems that everybody is gripped now. Everyone is puppets, with fear as this thing that's keeping us all from doing what we're supposed to. It's one of those things where I sit there and I realize that everybody in America, everybody in the world, really, has some sort of fear, and it just seems like we keep layering them on.
"When 9/11 happened," he goes on, "suddenly people were afraid of things they weren't afraid of before. Some people get so affected by it that it sticks with them. I just thought of that idea that fear will ultimately conquer America, because ultimately, enough things will eventually happen that everybody's going to develop some sort of fear. Who maybe wears gloves when they check their mail because they're still afraid of getting something in the mail? You just sit there and think about the psychological effect that things have and the lasting effects it has on people."