Two and half years may seem like a long time for a teenager, especially if you’re getting as little sleep as Yellow Days’ brainchild George van den Broek. Though to a casual observer, it’s an undeniably fast come up. Starting with an entirely home-made EP, then a full-length album, multiple sold-out US tours and a genuinely scene-stealing moment on FX’s “Atlanta” soundtrack, the recording project is quickly outgrowing cult status.
A Surrey, UK, native, George found a fast fanbase filling the gap between the psyche reverb of Pink Floyd, chorus drenched guitars of Mac DeMarco and guttural vocals of 60s soul. Aside from the obvious skill as a multi-instrumentalist (he played everything on his first two releases), the real draw of Yellow Days is George’s emotional honesty; a frontman that wears his heart and his influences on his sleeve, in equal parts. Often his music plays the balance between the optimism of young adulthood, and the longing and heartbreak of adolescence.
Over the phone he’s at odds with the heavy-hearted figure in his music. Instead, he’s relaxed, open, and speaks with a genuine desire to take us into his world. He’s in Australia for the Laneway Festival, and has booked a slew of sideshows around the country. Last year he recorded new songs, this time with co-writers in upscale studios, resulting in some of his best work yet (“What’s it All For?” “How Can I Love You” and the Bootsie Collins funk “The Way Things Change” were released in October.) He repeatedly tells me he’s having a lot of fun, and it’s not hard to see why.
How long have you been in Australia?
I literally got in last night, about 7PM, so I mean, very brief introduction. But we’re seeing it now and it’s a beautiful place man, seems like a lot of fun–beautiful wildlife, trees and such.
This is your first tour here,
That’s right, this is our very, very first time here.
What was your impression of Australia prior to coming? I’m sure you ran into heaps of Aussies in the UK.
(Laughs) I was saying to someone actually how, I’m 19 years old, and a lot of English people when they’re 19 come to Australia. It seems to be this tradition, so a lot of people I know came very recently, and said that it’s a lot of fun. They obviously went on the classic, international traveller circuit and just ended up going to a bunch of pretty dodgy parties, but they said it was a lot of fun.
As a musician, you don’t get that gap year a lot of Brits have, this is kind of it.
Definitely. This is what I get. Hell yeah.
When was your first tour, maybe three years ago?
Shit, first tour… I guess our first tour was in England. I’m trying to think man, that’s a hard question. We probably started playing shows like two, three years ago, something like that. Not a very firm estimate there, but yeah. I think it was November 2016 was our first. I think, maybe.
Is it getting easier? The travel, the jetlag, saying goodbye to loved ones back home?
I mean I think it’s peaks and troughs. It’s one of those things. I love it, no matter how painful it is, as soon as you get to the show and you’re about to go on, it’s like, that stuff all goes out the window and you’re just enjoying yourself. I can’t complain, it’s great. I’d be a bit of a fool if I was to complain in this situation.
Have you sorted out your sleep schedule?
Not at all, not at all. I think I got jet-lagged once, two or three trips ago, and ever since then it’s been pretty bad. But it’s cool man, you grab the sleep you can and make it work.
A perpetual state of jetlag for the last two years.
The chronic type, yeah.
“The Way Things Change” seems to be a farewell, like you’re packing up and saying goodbye. Was that the headspace you were in, or am I miles off?
Definitely man, 100%. In my life, a lot was changing while I wrote that tune. But for me, it was my friends packing up, they were all going in different directions. 19 is a bit of a weird age, everyone sort of goes to University or gets a job, and like, I’m doing this. For me that point in my life was quite confusing and everything was just changing very quickly. So I was very much caught in the lag, of the turbulence of change, and it was hard. I’m not gonna lie, it’s a bit weird. But that’s what music’s good for y’know, a cathartic experience.
That’s one of three songs you released last year, in early October. Are they still feeling fresh and exciting to perform?
Oh hell yeah. These new tracks, to me, are exactly where I wanted to go and it’s great fun to play that stuff. “What’s It All For?” was with my bassist Hector Clark, and “How Can I Love You?” I wrote with my keyboard player Ollie Cadman. I’m getting much more into like, opening the door up to a player, and inviting them in and sort of, like, writing a song with a person.
I wrote the first album and my EP purely off my own back, and chose to write every single melody and every single chord. I still get down with that, and I still do that all the time, but it’s cool to like … I’m a singer and it’s cool to work with people and see what’s the best sound we can make together. Plus, they’re my guys, and we’ve been playing together for the past like, two years. There’s a really strong bond and musical understanding there. When we play the tracks live it’s like they were involved with the writing, which is super, super fun.
Because in the past you had to sit four guys down and teach everyone their parts?
That’s about right yeah, something like that. It always works out man, it’s a great process, I love bringing it to the guys. If you’re coming to our show tonight you’ll see that the live show is definitely an artistic, musical interpretation of my album and my songs, some of them more religious than others, and in a lot of them we’re happy to go to quite a different place. I love taking my tunes to the band because I like letting them do their thing. Obviously we love how the song sounds on the record, [but] I let them do their thing, because music isn’t about telling people what to do, it’s about people expressing themselves. If they want to play a different bassline on a couple of tracks, or mix up the groove, and it doesn’t dramatically mix up the song, I’m down with that, because it’s them putting their feeling into what they’re doing.
I’ve always thought about that, because so many of my favourite artists are multi-instrumentalist recording projects, and I wonder how controlling they are when they introduce a song to the live band.
For me, I have to let them do their thing otherwise it’s not real. I hate going to a show and it’s like, they hit play on iTunes. I think it has to be more of a musical experience than that. And we always try to make it as musical as possible–the guys are super keen to prove themselves as musicians, because they’re young like me and they are living their life well. So we’re always going for the most ambitious shit, and to challenge ourselves. It’s sick man. It’s a lot of fun.
Are the band friends of yours from Surrey?
The bassist and the drummer I’ve been playing with since I was 16. We met at college, pretty much. We started playing together when we were studying, and every break we got we’d be in the music block, practicing, we’d be working on a set. We played a show for all the kids at the college. I’ve known those guys since then and we’ve come a long way. We’ve been playing shows all over the place now, but there was time where like, no one gave a fuck, and it’s pretty sweet to remember those days, because we sounded like trash.
Then we met my producer, who I worked with on the first two records, he used to fill in on keys for us. He passed the gig on to a musician we work with now, called Ollie Cadman, he’s a beautiful young chap, and we have a great time together. So the band is all love man, and I think people who come to the shows get a feeling for all that. It’s like a real band, you know, we’re all really close. We practice a lot and scheme how we can do better. It’s a lot of fun.
There’s been a lot of press about you working in big studios now, while the first records were made at home. Do you write in the studio, or do these songs start in your old bedroom setup?
For first couple of records I wrote the songs, especially the first EP, in my bedroom. Literally that bedroom pop stuff, they get so crazy over that shit, like I wrote that in my bedroom. The second one I wrote still at home, but dipping in and around studios. But this one, it isn’t necessarily “book out two weeks, we’re gonna do the whole album”, but we are doing it in nice studios. I’m still writing at home, you can never undervalue the ability to crawl out of bed and write a tune, that’s like, I think that’s where the best stuff happens
So I’m mixing it up. But this next album I’m working on is very much a studio album, like undeniably that line of quality.
Your music has this great emotional side that I think attracts a lot of people. Do you find it’s easier or more difficult to reach that emotion while you’re recording with your friends, compared to when you’re alone?
For me, I always just let it all hang out, you know, I’m that sort of guy. I’m quite an emotional dude and I always try and give it my all, despite the circumstances. But definitely my drummer is a guy who like, if I’m looking at his face too much, he’ll ruin the song for me. I’ll just be cracking up. He used to try to produce for me when we were like 15, ‘cause I was still working on all the stuff that eventually came out on the EP, and we were producing a track called “People”. That dude just cracked me up so bad we spent the whole day giggling, and I didn’t even record any vocals in the end. He really knows how to get it out of me, he’s a cheeky, cheeky chap.
That was when I was 15, but nowadays I’m pretty like, let’s get down to fucking business, you know what I mean? I’m not gonna spend the day giggling and like, hitting bongs.
You get asked about weed a lot, but you don’t really make ‘stoner’ music. It’s laid-back at times, but its emotional, dramatic.
I think stoners are a pretty dramatic, cinematic character, at least they think they are, I like to think stoners are like, overly dramatic and emotional. But I feel you, because like, Cypress Hill and other stoner music is classically chilled, but I think the 21st Century Stoner is a lot more troubled and insecure. I think that feeds in–I think maybe the concept of stoner music is changing. Along with the way the attitude of the world is changing.
Your videos are great, and obviously something you take seriously. Who are the touchstones, or artists you look up to, in terms of visuals?
I think for music videos, when I was younger I used to love Tyler [the Creator]’s shit. All that stuff happened when I was like 12, when they first popped with “Yonkers” I was 12, 13, so that was like, raw for me. I was like, “whoa, what is this?” All the Tame Impala, Tyler shit, I grew up watching those videos. Those guys kill it, no doubt. Mac [DeMarco] has always got his own thing going on too, the homemade video stuff.
Did you see the ASAP Rocky videos last year?
I need to keep up to date, man.
You mentioned Tame Impala, have you managed to meet Kevin Parker yet?
I’ve met a couple cats but not him, that’d be very, very cool.
You’re both playing Coachella, that could be it.
Yeah, if I’m lucky, if I’m lucky.
The Laneway Festival lineup is very Australian-heavy. Have you heard of any of these acts, or did you get a chance to see anyone at Laneway in Auckland?
We hit Auckland the other day, and then dipped because we had a few things to do. So I haven’t quite experienced that yet, I met a couple guys, who seem like nice fellas, but I’m not actually familiar with any of the bands per se. My head’s in the clouds. I’m not exactly up to date, if anything I’m going further and further backwards. I’m not the guy to ask about new music.
Do you think you look backwards to find your sound?
I’m just a chaser for the best shit – Herbie and stuff. I get caught in those chains and I can’t get out. I struggle to listen to just modern music, you know what I mean? I find it a bit underwhelming.
I really appreciate you talking to us – and I’m really looking forward to the show tonight, you got some great songs and big future!
Thank you so much man, come by and say hello!