London-based four-piece Great Ytene released one of 2014's finest EPs earlier this year. Their self-titled six track debut came out on highly revered independent Bella Union in March, and since then Drowned In Sound has been at pains trying to find out more about them.
So when we discovered they were playing at Eindhoven Psych Lab the other week we managed to track them down (which wasn't so difficult as they were staying in the same hotel as us!).
Originally from the New Forest area and with a history of playing in other bands beforehand such as Colours and Help She Can't Swim, the foursome - Leon Diaper (vocals/guitars), Tom Baker (guitars), Jorge Stride (bass), Lewis Baker (drums) - make elegantly crafted pop songs fusing post-rock structures with a psychedelic twist. DiS caught up with them after their impressive set. Here's how the conversation went...
DiS: How did Great Ytene emerge from the ashes of Colours? Was it a natural progression of sorts?
Leon Diaper: It was basically me, Lewis (Baker) and Jorge (Stride) from this band plus another guy (John) who left. Lewis' brother Tom was living in New York and then when he came back he joined the band. I guess the main reason we changed the name was because most of the songs we'd played with Colours were John's. After Tom became part of the band we wrote a whole new bunch of songs so in essence became a new band from that point onwards. So it made sense to start afresh.
Lewis Baker: Also, being called Colours and trying to Google us. You couldn't find us for shit.
Leon Diaper: By starting from scratch it gave us a new impetus. We probably needed that kick to get things going. We'd been doing Colours for a little while and exhausted it. We'd fallen out with friends being in the band so it gave us a chance to go back to the beginning. We got asked to play End of The Road festival as Colours and that was our first show with Tom in the band. After that we made the decision to give it another go and started writing stuff. We never played any more gigs as Colours from then onwards.
DiS: I remember featuring Colours' 'Drip Haze' single in my Some Velvet Mixtape column around the middle of 2012.
Leon Diaper: We're still proud of that single. We put it out on my label, Marshall Teller Records.
Lewis Baker: I'd like to think 'Drip Haze' was actually the birth of the new direction the band were heading towards.
Leon Diaper: Back then we were never really sure about what we wanted to do. Even now we're still finding our feet, but I think we have a much better idea about what we're good at and how we want our music to sound.
DiS: One characteristic that comes across on the Great Ytene EP is the diverse nature of all six songs. It seems like a much broader scope than just "shoegaze" or "psych rock", and far more difficult to categorize as a result.
Leon Diaper: Jorge was saying earlier that we're probably the least stereotypical psych band here. We're completely aware of it. Between us, we share a wide range of influences.
Lewis Baker: As individuals, there's a lot of stuff we all agree on. There's similar bands we all like but then there's also stuff only one member's into and the other three can take or leave. From that perspective we are quite diverse which allows each of us to bring their own influences to the table.
Leon Diaper: We never plan our music to fit any specific genre. Most of the time the songs develop themselves an just turn out a certain way. I'll write stuff at home and bring it to the rest of the band then between us everything kind of unfolds. It takes a little while but we all add in our extra bits which makes it turn into something I never envisaged in the first place. It's a very democratic process. There's no one person dictating to the rest of the group how the songs should sound.
Lewis Baker: Which is brilliant but then really bad as well. Sometimes we'll spend an entire week working on a piece that ends up going nowhere, other times we might write three songs in a row.
Leon Diaper: I think it helps that we've all been friends for a long time and the bond between us is really tight. If one person ever tried to take control it just wouldn't work.
Lewis Baker: It's nice that we can be accepted into a place like this, but I don't think we really fit into any scene. We can cross boundaries very easily.
Leon Diaper: Some of the early reviews of our EP labelled us "psych" but I think that's more to with it being very in vogue at the minute. We do have tendencies in that area but I don't think we're exclusive to any one genre.
DiS: Does having two brothers in the band affect the dynamic in any way?
Lewis Baker: Me and Tom used to play in a band back in the early 2000s called Help She Can't Swim, and off the back of that we've always played in bands together ever since. He quit Help She Can't Swim and moved away to New York for five years. I've known Leon and Jorge for years so when I heard they'd formed Colours and were moving to London, I became involved with them as I wasn't doing anything musically at the time. I bullied them to let me in the band. John was playing drums but he's a guitarist at heart, so I joined Colours on drums.
Leon Diaper: Since we moved to London it has been a process of evolution. It's only in the past year that it became more of a set project where we started to do stuff properly. It's been a long road of ups and downs.
Lewis Baker: As far as being in a band with my brother is concerned, we get on really well. There's never any kind of conflict. I only saw him four times in five years while he was living in New York, so with him coming back even though we're tight as brothers, I still see him more as a mate.
Leon Diaper: We're just four dudes in a band. It just so happens that two of them are brothers.
DiS: Your first EP came out in March of this year on Bella Union. How did you get involved with the label?
Leon Diaper: We're not signed to Bella Union as such. It's more of a gentleman's handshake with Simon (Raymonde). A friend of ours by the name of Iggy is Bella Union's in-house producer. When they do their live stuff they go to his studio, and we'd been doing loads of recordings there with him. We don't really know how Simon came across our music. Maybe Iggy played it to him? But we got an email from him completely out of the blue saying, "What are you guys doing? Maybe we should do something?" The songs which made the EP we had for about a year. We recorded them with no aspirations whatsoever. We didn't know what we were going to do with them. So I met Simon for a coffee and he said he was interested in putting something out. Fortunately we had these songs recorded and that's pretty much how the EP came about. It happened pretty organically. I guess we were in the right place at the right time.
Lewis Baker: I'm sure if we were living in somewhere like Cornwall it probably would never have happened.
DiS: Do you think it's still important for bands to relocate to London?
Lewis Baker: It depends really. With London, there is more happening so it's likely you will get offered more shows, given more opportunities.
Leon Diaper: I just think that where we're from, there's not really a deep sensation of anything. Even when we were younger there was never an essence of being in bands or playing shows.
DiS: Having played in other bands before Great Ytene, has it made you more aware of the pitfalls associated with the music industry?
Lewis Baker: Doing Help She Can't Swim, we were all a lot younger when that happened so we were all growing as individuals which is pretty much why the band fell apart. We all grew in different directions and started to grate against one another, so it made sense to put things to bed on a high rather than running it into the ground. It's taught me to take a step back and think about things rather than make rash decisions.
Leon Diaper: We'd got to the point with Colours where we were over-thinking things trying to get signed. Then we just decided to put the band on hold for a year. Maybe we'll write songs again, maybe we'll record again? There was this mentality of not trying and we just gradually started hanging out again only this time with the idea of making it fun again. Try less and maybe something might happen? We're old and ugly enough now to know how the music world works. I run a small label and know how hard it is. If we keep chugging away and producing stuff that's half-decent eventually things might bloom in some shape or form.
DiS: How does running a label compare with being in a band?
Leon Diaper: It gives us a sense of perspective. It also gave us an outlet to put out our first seven-inch. If we want to release something we'll do it if the finances are there. It's really good to know how to shape what you can and can't do. The music industry can be really frustrating. So by running a label I think I've learned a lot about how the industry works, and also how to get more out of it without worrying too much.
DiS: Are there any releases planned for the near future?
Lewis Baker: We'd like to think so. The plan is to have an album's worth of songs written by the end of this summer and we're already two-thirds of the way there.
Leon Diaper: We actually played two new songs here for the first time last night. The second song isn't even finished yet. I've still got to add the vocals, but it seemed a good one to lash out because it could end up being very instrumental anyway. It's good for us to spice things up a bit so from now onwards we'll be playing lots of new stuff. We need to push ourselves that little bit more because we've just been playing songs off the EP more or less for so long now.
Lewis Baker: We want to go back in the studio to demo some new songs over the summer and then maybe show them to people. See if anyone's interested in putting something out.
Leon Diaper: It's good to have someone in our corner like Bella Union showing interest in what we're doing but until they or another label give us some money to record a bunch of songs we'll just carry on doing things by ourselves. It's just a case of getting on with it, seeing if anyone's interested and taking it from there really. I'd like to think we could have an album ready to go in the early part of next year.
DiS: What are the long term plans for Great Ytene?
Leon Diaper: Difficult to say at this stage. We're making music because we enjoy what we're doing, but at the same time everyone's got lives to lead, jobs to do.
DiS: Have you all got day jobs at the minute?
Leon Diaper: Yeah we're all working. We've never written an album as this band so that's big on the agenda for us.
Lewis Baker: It's difficult for us because we're not one of those bands that writes a song and keeps it, then writes another song and keeps it then further down the line looks at what we've got to pick and choose from. With us, we'll try and write a song and instantly throw it away if we're not into it. We'll only pursue a song until the end if we're getting something from it. That's probably why we don't have a full album's worth of material yet.
Leon Diaper: We tend to pick our way through it. I find it hard trying to keep rearranging stuff. Rather than change something if we don't like it we're more inclined to just start again from scratch.
DiS: You've already worked with Rory Attwell and the aforementioned Iggy from Bella Union. Do you have a wishlist of producers you'd like to work with in the future?
Leon Diaper: I haven't really thought about it to be honest. At the moment I guess Iggy is someone we'd like to record with again. It's nice to work with someone familiar to us. He's someone we all trust. If money was no object then who knows?
Lewis Baker: It's nice to already have that relationship in place rather than treading on eggshells around someone who has a completely different mindset to you. That way, there's never likely to be a conflict of ideas.
Leon Diaper: We learned so much from how we recorded the EP. We all have ideas in our heads but it's easier said than done. We know it could take a little bit longer to get things right, but with it being our first album it's important to make sure we do get it right.
Lewis Baker: We're in a good place at the minute. All of the songs we have completed we believe are a step beyond anything we've released previously. If we're thinking that then that's what really matters.
DiS: What made you put those six songs on the first EP. Songs like 'Unknowing', 'Birds' and 'Happy Scenes' could all have been lead tracks in their own right.
Leon Diaper: That was pretty much everything we had ready at that time. We thought about putting out a four track EP and also releasing them as two or three seven-inch singles but then decided to release them all as one EP instead. We're really aren't ones for sitting on stuff for the sake of it. They all work as a complete piece say it made sebnse to just go with it.
Lewis Baker: When Simon came to us and said he wanted to work on an EP we initially toyed with the idea of working on something brand new. But then we also thought if we don't showcase these songs now then we probably never will. We all liked them. We'd worked hard on them for a long time. We want to do things differently and better next time but it would have been a shame if these songs had just fallen by the wayside. Also, we went from playing shows as Colours where our friends felt obliged to come along and support us to when we played the new songs, people reacted as if they genuinely liked them.
DiS: The name "Great Ytene" is a reference to the New Forest from where you originate. Was it a conscious decision for the band to be immediately identified with that part of the world?
Leon Diaper: It's a weird one because we were all looking to try and figure out a name for the band.
Lewis Baker: We decided all four of us should go away and then come back with five names apiece at the next band practice. The idea was to then whittle it down to the best three, but only Leon came back with any names. The rest of us didn't bother to look! I did some research about the New Forest after and when I typed it into Google, Great Ytene was the only interesting thing that came up.
Leon Diaper: It was either that or Forest Nouveau, which is what the area was called in the Domesday Book. But it had Forest in the title so seemed a little too obvious. From our point of view it has a nice essence to it. We're all from that part of the world, and it looks nice written down too.
Lewis Baker: I don't think it's that important anyway. I've never listened to a band just because of what they're called or consciously thought "great band name, terrible music!" or vice versa.
Leon Diaper: I'd like to say we really thought about it but if I'm being honest it was down to luck and it fitted well.
For more information Great Ytene visit their official website.