The powers of capitalism that be forced my hand when Yelderbert’s neon shine burst onto my Facebook feed. I seldom click on advertising campaigns, but I’m pretty happy I did because this Melbourne producer has been working away at some rather unique flavours of experimental pop in a way that’s both invigorating and wonderfully homely. And just as well; while getting lost in Canada recently, I reached out to Yelderbert to breathe some Aussie air and learn about the man behind the button pushing. —ramon.
Kicking things off, Yelderbert. Dope name. Give me the what, why, who, when, and how when it comes to your origin story.
Well, to be honest it means absolutely nothing, and that’s more or less the point. I don’t want to attempt to be trendy. I’m also aware that, as a white Australian, I’m fairly devoid of rich cultural context, so I wanted something that didn’t mean anything. Yelderbert was just a word I came up with one time and it means nothing. It doesn’t really sound close to anything else; there wasn’t even anything on Google when I searched it. And while it’s pretty clunky, I just thought, “That’s my word, it came organically out of me, and it’s not trying to be anything except itself,” which is fairly analogous to the way I make music.
Very interesting. That brings up a few different pathways, but let’s start from the top. You brought up your own cultural context — or lack thereof — and you’ve noted on your Bandcamp page beneath your releases that the music is “made on Wurundjeri land.” For the non-Aussies reading, what’s the implication here, and how does this mindset link to your approach to creating?
Well, I’m sure some non-Australians know, but lots really haven’t even been given that much information about the history of the continent since it was invaded in 1788. The genocide against the enormous number of nations in Australia is an atrocity, still occurring in a post-colonial phase. It wouldn’t be right for me to live and work in Naarm, which is the Wurundjeri name for the area we call Melbourne, without at the very least acknowledging them, in the hope that we can preserve and uphold their incredible culture.
And so I went to an elite music uni where I learned about jazz and improvised music, which was amazing, but [I was] really existing in a bubble. Australia still exists in so many ways without its own cultural identity. It is young as a white person’s country, although very old as a black person’s country.
I love lots of “genre music”. Lots and lots of it. But, I’ve come to a realisation that I can’t organically align myself with a particular idiom because of my culture, because of my musical upbringing, because of the diversity of my tastes. That being said, it’s not like I’m fighting myself. It’s not like I wake up wanting to make hip hop and then say, “Hang on, don’t do that — you’re not African-American!” I think, if anything, I was fighting myself in the past, thinking that culture and music could be separate — and now I wake up feeling like I’ve found my own voice, that it doesn’t really fit into a category — and that feels wonderful.
It must. I was going to ask the dreaded genre question but relegating artistry to boxes is often a cautious and maybe even ill-advised practice.
Thank you for saying that.
I was a little surprised to see your acknowledgement of this land’s heritage, and I think that might be an issue both on my part and on the part of many artists who are creating out of this country. I’m not a native here, but I do hold a decent deal of nation pride due to how well the country has treated me irrespective of my ignorance to its history. It’s something for me to now improve upon by doing my own research.
Well, I mean, I think it’s good to lead by example. I am not in the upper echelons of those fighting to make a change for Indigenous Australians, but I think that by making small things like acknowledging the country as the baseline of normality we can see an overall lift in awareness around the subject.
With your previous point, I’d definitely have to agree as my consideration of the genre question was more to do with how difficult your sound is to categorize. You’ve got two singles available and both sound incredibly singular relative to both the Australian and international landscapes. Was finding this style the result of a great deal of experimentation, or did it all come quite naturally?
Both experimentation and natural progression through a lot of projects, large and small. Starting things, thinking, “Yes, this is what I want to do;” thinking, “This is exactly the kind of music I want to be making,” and then making it and realising that, while I still liked it and felt good about it, it was only representing part of me, and not all of it at once.
I wouldn’t say that the two singles I have out represent all of me at once just yet, but I can sense that over time as my body of work develops and the context I create for it grows, it will represent me in the closest to entirety that one project could. But while I’d thought a bunch of times about going off on my own to make music over the last few years, it took me a while to get to the stage where I knew that I was actually ready to do that.
It’s certainly a more taxing process than most would likely give it credit for. You seem to have, at least on paper, taken a fairly considered and introspective approach to your craft and it certainly shows. I do want to jump onto one of the singles for a moment.
DreamZ is quite the ditty. I was immediately caught off guard by just how well the overlapping time signatures and rhythmic tomfoolery come together to form something that sounds surprisingly straightforward on the surface. How did you piece the track together?
Oh, thanks a bunch. That’s exactly what I was trying to do. I hate it when artists talk about writing a song and they say, “It just came together,” but that’s basically what happened. I wrote the chorus in one of those lovely 5 minute bursts where something basically comes out in the time it takes to record it, and then I used my SP-303 sampler to record separate voicings of this flute sample so that, when played together, they spelled out a certain chord, but one in the left ear and one in the right. Then I just played that like an instrument.
I guess I really like polyrhythms and have spent quite a lot of time playing them, and when you are physically playing them on drums or a drum machine or an instrument or something, they become quite meditative. I just sat there with this sampler tapping out polyrhythms for a little bit.
The only thing that was a slog was the verse melody. I scanned through a few pop songs that I thought had really nice, clear vocal phrasing that was unlike what I would write. I ended up using “Redbone” by Childish Gambino. Even though the notes are different, if you listen to the first few lines of each verse repeat and compare it to “Redbone”, you’ll see there are a lot of rhythmic similarities. I don’t think I’m verging on plagiarism.
Yeah, I’m running through it in my head and I understand the link… not at all [laughs]. Inspiration strikes from the most unlikely of places.
Of course. Sometimes the most uninspired places too. Let go of the immensity of options and you can focus on creativity rather than decision making. It’s more that I have tropes and I found myself writing the same ideas, wanting to get away from them.
I can certainly imagine dropping a vocal melody onto something with a leading motif in 7/8, what seems to be a few 10/8 bass lines, and an underlying 6/8 swing being a hard time.
You can examine time signatures on the quaver basis and get thrown by them, but if you just let the crotchet roll through, they glue together pretty easily. And people just wanna sing the words; they don’t wanna count them.
Ho-hum. You’ve come to the wrong interviewer then, kiddo.
Real talk, the single is fantastic. The choice of instruments and overall texture is alarmingly warm.
Oh, thank you, you’re a darl. I tried to keep it simple. I failed on that brief a little bit as it went on. I was hoping to keep it mostly to a 4-track kinda energy even though it was made on a computer/sampler. I do think it sticks to that energy for the most part, with the simplicity of the main four elements, and then the other things are just the glue. But warmth, yeah, you’re right. Warmth is life. Warmth is really hard, too. Something I want in everything I do.
Well, another point that I’d quickly like to address that I really think pulls it all together is your vocals. A fairly standard Aussie accent crooning a tad crudely over such eclectic instrumentation must be one of the most refreshing things I’ve experienced this year.
Oh, great. You’re really tapping into all the things that are important to me which is good. Either you’re a good listener or I succeeded. Or both, hopefully! It comes with the identity thing again. I really can’t stand Australians singing in American accents, to be quite blunt. It’s literally lying as far as I’m concerned. Same with when certain vocal sounds or accents become trendy.
I don’t want to name names or point fingers, but it happens where, for a 5-10 year stint, all these people develop this specific sound that before the prevalence of ‘insert successful artist here’ didn’t exist. And I’m not a huge Aus hip-hop fan but I do have heaps of respect for them sounding like themselves. So hopefully I’m a bit more dialed-back than Hilltop Hoods or something in terms of the accent — no diss on them; full respect. There are heaps of wonderful Aus artists who sound like themselves, though, and heaps which I get to make music with, which I feel very lucky to do.
I’d say you succeeded because my ears seldom wander out of the realm of gross, distorted riffs and burly men screaming down goat-shaped microphones but I think you did bring up an interesting parallel that, at least in my mind, is part of the reason some artists do lie about their vocal palettes.
Oh, man, metal. I used to be a pretty big metal dog. Now only listening to a few from time to time. Meshuggah, Mastodon, and Nile basically. And a few others, but big love to the world of metal. I’ve learned to love my voice. Or at least like it enough.
I feel, I feel. Good picks. It is a pretty volatile soundscape and I’m yet to fully graduate to jazz fusion or Gregorian chant music but for the time being, the likes of you should be enough to keep things spicy. Following on with vocals, I’ve been discussing with a few friends the appeal of Aus hip hop, and while I do certainly see it, I’ve personally been turned off slightly by those who really put it on thick above production that’s fairly akin to the norm.
Yeah, for sure. It’s kinda like a Tinder or Grindr profile. I downloaded them last night, did it for a night, and then deleted cos it wasn’t really my vibe.
I think that’s why I’m finding near-arse-kissing levels of intrigue with your performance on DreamZ because you are sticking with your own sound, and your own voice is a cherry on the cake.
I feel like the vibe is you can read a person’s energy by how they are trying to represent themselves — so you listen to someone who is just singing in their own voice, and you are attracted to that. Just like Tinder/Grindr, you make a profile that represents who you are. Maybe looks hotter, but is ultimately just who you are because you don’t actually want to attract people who wouldn’t like you.
Vocal post-processing is a hell of a drug.
I love post-processing, don’t get me wrong. I think that’s honest if that’s the kinda music you want to make. I will be on record as loving the use of pitch correction and vocoder where musical. I mean, I did both of those things on “DreamZ”, obviously, cos it’s part of my identity. It was in earnest. If I wanted to sound like someone who isn’t me, I’d be fighting an uphill battle. And then, even if I managed to trick people into thinking I was someone else for a while, I couldn’t sustain that for a whole career.
A natural. It does amaze me how many artists [finger quotations] are capable of sustaining a false image. Given how you’ve started off with the Yelderbert project, I’m inclined to think things are looking up.
You’re just making me feel $1,000,000 at the moment, so thanks, Ramon. It actually is so lovely to have people say nice, thoughtful things.
Hey man, I’ve jammed the shit outta these two songs more times than I care to admit. Praise due where it’s due.
Ooh, baby, getting my streaming monies going!
You’ve brought up cultural heritage and your two singles, DreamZ and Let Go feel quite romantic, at least tonally. You’ve also noted the work from this project acting as a sort of reflection of you. Is there anything you are trying to express in particular with these songs?
Well, speaking specifically, “Let Go” is quite simply about letting go — about trying to be free of self-judgement — which is what I had to do to write that song. 2017 was horrible in terms of my mental health. It took me nearly 6 months to write that song just because, any time I would do something, I would feel fucked.
That line — “It’s just part of the process” — that I say in the song a few times? That was my anti-panic attack mantra. I made the drums, then I would just sit there playing keys and singing that mantra: “It’s just part of the process.” And then my next little mantra was, “Little steps, but are they in the right direction?”, and then the lyrics really just fit around those two lines. Relative to getting on some funky medication, that really made life a lot easier.
And then “DreamZ” is a love song to the listener and a breakup song to me. I wrote most of it about a long-term relationship. It was one of my very rare love songs, but then we broke up and I changed the lyrics so that, for me, I can sing them as a brutal self-critique and bitter assessment of that relationship… but to the listener, they can just mean whatever. I guess it sounds happy.
Well, you clearly got me. Sorry to hear about the situations. Glad you could at the very least make something lovely out of these times.
Eh, yeah, I guess it’s been a bad few years, and I never actually believed music could heal my soul, but I guess it has a bit [laughs].
That’s good to hear. All proceeds from your music are going towards Safe Steps, a service providing first response care to women, young people, and children experiencing family violence in Victoria. Massive props for this to begin with. In brief, what caused you to make this decision?
Safe Steps do really important and amazing work, and family violence is an issue that is really important to me.
A noble cause. It has been wonderful interviewing you.
It’s been a pleasure.
Fuck humility for one second and plug away. Where can we find you?
Well, actually, I’m all for shamelessness, but other than working on new Yelderbert music, I don’t have any shows coming up. But, with other projects I work in — Tetrahedra, Eilish Gilligan, NO ZU — I have a few fun things coming up between June-September in cities around Aus and mostly will be advertised online. As for Yeldie, there will be music coming in a fairly regular stream, some of it more song-ish and some more eclectic. Check my Soundcloud for the things that don’t fit the box as much. Plus, I need more Soundcloud followers, so hit me up!
Lastly, I didn’t actually prepare a concluding question so… cats or dogs?
I used to say def dogs but I’ve grown to love cats too. But still defs dogs.
[laughs] Appreciate your time.
Hat-tip to the artist for his time and to Ramon. for the interview.