The first time I came across The Yawpers was in an article on an online music site and the first adjective I read describing The Yawpers’ music was “folky.” I’ll admit I almost skipped the rest of the article and passed over the band. I’m glad I didn’t. It’s not that The Yawpers don’t play folk music. They do. (They also play psychedelic rock, hard rock, country, blues and punk) But, these days so much of modern folk music is just watered-down adult-contemporary music. The word “folk” doesn’t mean what it used to mean – it’s almost become kind of a throwaway term. Most modern folk isn’t alive. The Yawpers play real folk and roots music. Music for the common man. Music to drink to, to rock out to, to be inspired by. Sometimes angry, sometimes aggressive, always fun, always alive.
The Yawpers’ album American Man is nearly 50 minutes of raw roots rock and has put the Colorado band in the national spotlight. Like good old ‘Merica itself, the record is big, it’s bombastic, it’s fun, it’s anxious and nervous, it’s a parade of self-parody, and it has an underlying tone of aggression and violence verging on upheaval. American Man has received rave reviews and the band is playing to bigger and bigger crowds. The trio of chief lyricist Nate Cook on guitar and vocals, Jesse Parmet on guitar and Noah Shomberg on drums is seemingly poised to make the jump to the next level in their careers.
When I reached Cook, he was packing up his gear and begrudgingly leaving a posh hotel room; hurrying to load up the van ahead of an oncoming snowstorm so the guys could drive themselves to the next stop on the tour. That’s pretty much where the band is at these days – occasionally getting to stay in hip, upscale hotel rooms, but still driving themselves around.
MA: What’s the mood been like out there?
NC: It’s been really good. The turnouts have been solid.
MA: Are you guys feeling pressure since this is such a huge record for you?
NC: Pressure is not the right word. I would say we’re feeling validation. We’ve been doing it long enough that playing a good show is just par for the course, or at least it should be. So, it’s not like we feel like we have to do better or more, it was more like we wanted to do more and now we get to.
MA: Do you guys feel like you’re on the verge of the next step in your career?
NC: Yeah. I’m glad you used the term “next step.” I don’t think we’re on the verge of some blow-out success. We are the snail in the race, but we’re finally somewhere where there’s a least a view.
MA: What’s your idea of the archetypal American man?
NC: You know, I don’t know if there is one. I think that the beauty of the American Man is there isn’t an archetype. And, of course, I’m using use “man” in the genderless sense. But, the idea of the individual that’s the archetype of America. Doing whatever you want – as long as you’re not hurting anybody else.
MA: In the song “American Man,” you sing about “living with your head in the sand,” “not living at all,” and “they’ve already won.” Do you feel like people have a sense of defeat these days?
NC: Yes, there is a sense of defeatism, really around the world, but in this country in particular. That song isn’t autobiographical. It’s not written from my own personal narrative. But I would say, in particular, the angrier, more traditional individualists have gotten really marginalized and I think they are really pissed off. But, guys like me from the other side, the more progressive camp, we’re pissed off too. I think everybody’s pissed off. I hope everybody’s pissed off, because they should be.
MA: Another lyric I wanted you to talk about is “The modern blues are self-inflicted” from the song “Tied.”
NC: I think I was trying to write about masochism as an allegory for living in the modern world. It’s a culture that encourages people to fuck themselves up, in more ways than one. Like, everybody has to pander to some rhetoric or fit into the zeitgeist. It causes people to shave off pieces of themselves to fit in. That’s what I was trying to go for there. Don’t know if I achieved it.
MA: Did you guys grow up in Colorado?
NC: No, I grew up in a little, tiny town in Texas and Jesse and Noah are from the East Coast.
MA: How did growing up in a small Texas town affect your outlook on life?
NC: I learned not to really care what other people think. Because what other people thought there was so backwards and asinine. It also set the stage for my disposition, which is to be angry and displeased with my circumstances at any given time. It’s kind of started there and has never lifted itself from me.
MA: Do you still feel that way now? Like, even though you get to travel around playing music and you’re staying at a nice hotel now. Are you ever afraid of losing that feeling if you get to another level?
NC: I’m always reminded of that Jon Stewart moment on Bill O’Reilly, when Bill O’Reilly asked “Are you going to be sad when George Bush leaves the office, because you won’t have anyone to make fun of anymore?” You know, I’m not worried not having stuff to write about. It would be great to not have to talk myself out of putting a bullet in my head every morning. So yeah, I’m waiting for that to pass.
MA: Maybe we could talk about the lyric writing process. Do you just kind of dump thoughts into a journal and then go back to them or do you set out to write a song?
NC: My process in the past, which has had to change vastly now that people are actually paying attention, was when we would do the songs live I would just make up lyrics on the spot. And if I liked something I would hold onto it. When it came to doing the record, I had to bang it out in like five days. We were sitting around and I was like “Oh yeah, I don’t have any lyrics.” So, I kind of sat down and crafted them with what I had been working on.
MA: That’s insane though. It’s kind of incredible actually.
NC: It was a fun period for me. But, nowadays, I don’t think I could get away with it. For the next record, I’m taking a different approach. It’s a research heavy record. I’ve been doing a lot of research and then writing in the journal before I even consider the music. Just trying a different process to keep it fresh.
MA: So is that a concept record?
NC: It is a concept record. We’ll see if it comes to fruition, but my current idea is an Oedipal story set in post-World War I France. We’ll see how it comes together.
MA: You guys have also been described as the ultimate bar band.
NC: Yeah, people have latched onto our live shows because of that. We really do try to go balls out every night. By the way, I just learned this the other day, did you know that “balls out” does not mean testicles out, it actually refers to ball bearings? When a rotor is in full swing, the ball bearings fly out.
MA: That makes sense. The other way that you might think of never really made sense to me. I never really understood that phrase.
NC: Yeah right. That’s vulnerable. Like when you get into a fight, it’s not like the first thing you do is pull out your balls.
MA: Probably not the smoothest segue, but maybe we can talk about the influence of Walt Whitman on your music. He was kind of a poet for the people and, of course, the band is named after a line from Whitman’s “Song of Myself.”
NC: Well, Whitman is like the first real “American voice.” He predates Twain. Emerson never really spoke to me. Whitman was the first one who didn’t seem to care what people thought of him. He was a punk rocker of his era.
MA: Yeah, it’s funny to think how transgressive some of his stuff was back then.
NC: Yeah, really transgressive and subversive.
MA: Whitman’s message was all about love and equality and the celebration of the individual. What would you say your message is?
NC: A celebration of the individual. That would be the beginning and the end for this record. I think that’s what rock n’ roll is about period.
MA: You guys have this great playlist on Spotify called “Shit We Steal From” that ranges from Neutral Milk Hotel to The Doors. The Doors influence really comes across for me.
NC: I’m a big Jim Morrison fan. Although, if you wanna talk about self-indulgence, his spoken word poetry is some of the most inane drivel I’ve ever heard. But, as a performer and an icon, he does stand strong in my influence book.
MA: I love this video for “Doing it Right.” It might be the greatest video I’ve ever seen.
NC: I wrote and directed that. I had a lot of fun. I’m in this position now where people give me money to do things that I really should have no business getting paid to do. I just wanted to make something so outrageous. Even the record in a lot of ways is about being so ostentatious, that is becomes self-parody.
MA: If you had an unlimited amount of money what would be the one project you’d want to do?
NC: I’ve always wanted to write a musical about the night that Mick Jagger and David Bowie supposedly had sex. If somebody handed me the keys to the kingdom that would be what I would do.
MA: I would love to see that.
NC: I’m really glad you didn’t ask where our name came from. As soon as that happens I want to hang up the phone.
The Yawpers play the Chameleon Club (223 N. Water St.) in Lancaster on December 11. Get tickets here.