“A long time ago there were dinosaurs, and dinosaurs loved making music.” —Yusef Quotah, on how his band, You, You’re Awesome, got started
I don’t think I’ve ever been more excited about the great music originating from my hometown: incredible bands like Heartless Bastards, Wussy, the Seedy Seeds, Bad Veins, and, last but not least, You, You’re Awesome are making me very proud to be a music lover living in Cincinnati. With many national acts choosing to skip the ‘Nati the past few years, it’s comforting to know that on almost any weekend I can go to a local club and hear some incredibly talented local musicians do their thing.
I have to admit that of all the amazing music coming out of here, the electronic/live drum sound of You, You’re Awesome is among my favorites. Named after a song by the band Do Make Say Think, YYA is Kevin Bayer (drums) and Yusef Quotah (keys/synths/Atari/anything he can get his hands on that’ll produce the sounds he wants to make). The pair met several years ago on the message boards of the independent, now Internet-only radio station WOXY (fun fact: that’s where I met them as well before meeting Yusef in person, followed by Kevin a few years later).
The two formed a friendship out of their mutual love of music, and regularly attended the same shows. Already having played in other bands that were no longer together — Yusef with Cincinnati rock group Kamikaze Saucers, Kevin with Dayton jam band Lawn Dart — they discussed the possibility of forming their own during a road trip to see Do Make Say Think and Holy Fuck perform in Columbus in the spring of ’07. Yusef says he brought up the idea of starting a surf band and told Kevin he would need a drummer. But after seeing Holy Fuck, they both decided they wanted their band to have an electronic-based sound. Thus, the seed for YYA was planted.
Of the original concept for the group, Yusef says he “wanted to be in a band where I didn’t have to lug around amps. I wanted to put everything in a suitcase and get on a plane and just go somewhere and be ready.” But with the addition of live drums and video, “Obviously we can’t do that. We completely fucked that up.”
Yusef and Kevin say that when they first talked about what they wanted to do as a unit, they discussed things they liked and disliked about most electronic bands, and one of their dislikes was the fact that many of them lacked live drums: on an album programmed beats sound great, but when the music is performed, something’s missing without the instrument onstage.
They also decided that they wanted to incorporate some kind of visual element into their performances, such as video segments, an idea Yusef was initially hesitant about because he didn’t want them to become more involved with creating visuals than creating music. He says originally YYA were just going to “throw up some loops while the songs played,” but they really wanted to figure out how to have visuals that synched up with their music, which they did. When creating the videos, which they produce themselves, they cite visual artists like Bill Viola, who’s created videos for Nine Inch Nails’ live shows, and Michel Gondry (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind; music videos for Björk, Beck, and the White Stripes) as inspirations. However, they’re adamant that the music always comes first — the visuals just happen naturally after the songs are finished.
As for their writing and recording process, YYA don’t really stick to any one approach. Yusef says he’ll sometimes write on the keyboard and “just start hitting keys,” and if he hears something he likes, he hits the record button. Likewise, Kevin will occasionally record himself on drums and send the results to Yusef, who then finishes the song, as was the case with “There I Was in a Well,” from the band’s latest EP, You’re Getting Old.
Songs are also created through noodling around at band practice. For example, Yusef says that when they recorded “I’m Deaf and You’re Boring,” from their second EP, You’re My Superhero, “We had a practice … and we turned on the recorder, and [Kevin] just started playing a drum beat and I added something on top of it. We recorded it on a video camera, and then I took it and built it out.”
The pair say that they like to try different things and look for inspiration wherever they can, whether it’s a song they love — for example, the Duke Ellington and Aretha Franklin samples that are the basis of a couple of songs on their first two EPs — or just strange sounds they hear while going about their day, like Kevin’s shoes being tossed around inside a clothes dryer (the band is trying to work it into a new composition).
Because their music is mostly instrumental, with very few discernible vocals, YYA rely on the titles of their songs to tell a story. Some are inspired by funny things friends say to them (“Don’t Jump, I Brought Pancakes”), and some are drawn from the most random sources: “Yippee Ki Yay, Mr. Falcon,” from You’re Getting Old, stems from a bad edited-for-TV broadcast of Die Hard 2, “Mr. Falcon” being the network substitute for “motherfucker.” Yusef says Kevin hates many of the titles he comes up with, but for one reason or another they’ve stuck.
With the release of their third EP, You, You’re Awesome say they have a pretty strong concept of how they want to sound, so they’d love to spend more time developing their live show — which, if you ask me, is pretty fantastic already, even without the baked goods that are often served at the gigs. Yusef says they’d love to make the shows more elaborate with lighting effects and better equipment, but for that “we need money.” And they’d love to do a show with orchestral backing or even a choir at some point.
Now that they’ve reached their goal of releasing three EPs in a little over a year, YYA are in the “R&D phase” of working on their first full-length album. They say that with the EPs they didn’t want to include too many samples because they didn’t want to have to pay a lot of money for licensing rights. But with the full-length they want to go all out and make the record really good, regardless of what it might cost in the end.
I’ve posted three of my favorite You, You’re Awesome songs below, one from each of their three EPs (You’re a Fun Drunk was the first). If you like what you hear — and I know you will — you can download the EPs at a variety of locations, which are listed on the band’s website. And if you find out they’re coming to a city near you, make sure you go see them. I promise you won’t regret it.