Analogue Music | The Yawpers

The Yawpers

By Matt Conner

"First, let's establish a few rules."

Nate Cook's creative process begins there, with a set of defined parameters that will guide the creative flow. Creativity with rigidity. Art with boundaries. Specificity that informs ingenuity.

The front man and principal songwriter for The Yawpers first wrapped his arms around the idea of a musical assignment with the release of the band's concept record, Boy in the Well. That WWI-themed album told the story of a French woman who largely abandons her son in a well due to embarrassment. There's much, much more than that, but that was two albums ago and the plot line itself is only important enough here to note that The Yawpers used such an ambitious vehicle to release an incredibly captivating record.

The Yawpers are a roots trio making raucous music yet there's such unexpected substance and thoughtfulness behind it all that you're easily taken back. After all, The Yawpers, first and foremost, know how to have a good time. Cook never mentioned that as a particular rule, but we trust it's been in place from the beginning.

On the eve of a new album release, Human Question, we sat down with Cook to discuss the rules in place this time around and why these songs were intended to be therapeutic.

Analogue: On this record, you said "I wanted to take a crack at using these songs as therapy." Is this a descriptive statement after you surveyed the songs you'd written or a guiding principle?

Nate Cook: No, it was a guiding principle before I started writing.

Analogue: What informed that?

Nate: I don't know. I guess I felt like with Boy in a Well, I'd tried to describe my world through an extended metaphor. I guess I wanted something more direct. I also wanted to do something that wasn't my normal being in pain sort of thing. I wanted to take a more proactive approach to it. That's how I arrived at it. I've done the describing and maybe now I want to give myself a way out.

Human Question cover art
Human Question cover art

Analogue: Tangibly what does that look like at first? Was there a song that served as a template?

Nate: Almost every time I make a record, I set up a list of rules for myself. I sat down and wrote some guidelines for myself before I ever started writing anything. I didn't write one song all at once; I was always bouncing between songs. So there wasn't one song at the masthead of it. Instead I wrote the rules and then tried to work my way through those rules lyrically.

Analogue: I just wrapped another interview with a band that discussed the muse in such a mysterious way and it was a completely feelings-based thing. You're talking about being able to set up rules and...

Nate: Well, I'm at the whims of the muse as much as anybody else, but I'm always wanting to write and I never do. It's kind of intentional to a degree. Maybe it's backwards and I'll change when I get older, but I intentionally try not to write until I have to write a whole album basically at once. I think what it does for me is that it keeps whatever I'd been wanting to write and haven't—it all internalizes. When I'm ready, I can draw on those thoughts and emotions and do it all at once. If I do it that way, it allows me to have more control over what comes out.

Analogue: You said the songs were intended to provide a way forward. Did they?

Nate: Oh god, no. [Laughs] It's a tool and it's probably helped a bit, but life isn't something you can write your way out of, unfortunately. We all hold onto whatever vestige of control we have, and my little control over my life is partially songwriting and some of it is my day to day. But really I'm just another dinghy in the ocean. As much as I tried to describe my way forward and some things have gotten better, it's not a prescription of Zoloft or something. [Laughs] I'm still dealing with a lot of the same issues. I'm dealing with the same pains and even some new ones. Some things are better and others are worse.

I never really had the intention of fixing my life. If I did, I'd be an abject failure, but it did make the process more therapeutic and it was also nice to be reflective of my responsibility for my state in life rather than feel my responsibility was to describe it. It felt healthy to write about things I could do to fix it.

Analogue: When you change the approach to the songwriting like that, from describing it to doing something about it, does that change the way the audience interacts with it?

Nate: It's a little early for me to tell since the record just came out. I don't think people are there with the new stuff live to really dig into what it means. They're listening for whether it impacts them viscerally or whether there's an emotion they can really relate to. So it's hard to answer that question yet.

Analogue: That's fair. I likely asked that question six months too early. In terms of the music, what does that do to flip that switch? We've been talking about the lyrics--

Nate: The music on this one was a lot more collaborative. All of our records have been collaborative, but we only had a short window of time to write this record. A lot of the didactic, slow decision-making that has been our hallmark on previous records wasn't there. We had to go in and just write these songs really fucking fast. Because of that, I think there's some immediacy in the music. We also have some new blood behind the kit which gives things a freshness.

Analogue: You mentioned the shift in drummers. You've had a few in the life span of the band? Is that frustrating for you to not settle into a chemistry or is that exciting with each new chapter?

Nate: It's both. It's always a nightmare to lose a drummer and it's always difficult. That said, every time it's done something new for the music.

Analogue: What's new that's emerged in this latest mix?

Nate: With Alex, he's a much more groove-oriented, subtle drummer. Noah was a hard-hitting guy. Interpersonally, it's a little easier maybe. He's a very esay going guy. But again it doesn't make for a better or worse. It's just different.

Analogue: Going back to the last record, we discussed the concept. That sounds like such a heady exercise. Did you want to get away from that this time? Were you able to?

Nate: I think the last album was somewhat easier to write because I got to be removed from it to a degree. Also when you're following a narrative arc, it's much easier to make something that plays straight through. The challenges on this one were just different. It's hard to write about your flaws in a way that makes sure that you're responsible for them. On previous efforts, it's easier to describe your situation. It's very straightforward. You don't have to be too vulnerable. You're just describing a situation.

But if you happen to write something with the intent of describing your flaws and shortcomings and being able to address them, that's more difficult on an emotional level. Practically, I don't think it's any easier or more difficult. As I get older, it's all part of the routine. Not everything works and some days are harder than others, but it didn't change the practicality of anything.

VISIT: The Yawpers