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While the name may be new to some, Olden Yolk have been brewing an incredibly rich and interesting musical concoction for some time. Having recently released their debut album, they’re now entering the second phase of their journey, one that aims to share their unique and thought-provoking sound with the world. Catching up with them before they begin their tour, we sat down with Shane Butler and Caity Shaffer to discuss songwriting, closure and the inevitable fluidity of life.
Photos by Richard Perez, shot in Brooklyn, New York
Interview by Sasha Ermakov
Congrats on your debut album. Have you had time to reflect on it yet – what you could’ve done differently or things you want to bring to your next album?
Caity: I think, listening back, certain strengths pop out a little bit more, especially our vocal interplay. That’s something that we definitely want to expand upon for the next record. Even some of the more experimental songs that you hear on this record, we want to add some of those elements again into the next record, and take everything a step further than we’re comfortable doing.
Shane: It’s always crazy making a record, you document where you are at that moment. I’m really pleased with a lot of what took place and also there’s a lot you could expand on. You see a lot of room for growth which I see as a very exciting thing. It means there’s a lot more to be done.
Do you ever feel a sense of closure with a song? Does it ever feel complete?
S: I feel like when you start to play it live, one thing that happens for me a lot is, ‘Oh, I wish we got more of this energy in the recording.’ There’s a song on the album called ‘After Us’, which is a song that Caity wrote. On the record it’s very mellow and it doesn’t have drums on it but we started arranging it for the live sets and we now have a different version of the song, which we could record. Songs do take on a life of their own, whether you’re in the studio or performing it live. There’s so many iterations you can make. But no, I never feel complete closure.
C: Yeah, they feel like living organisms, especially with ‘After Us’. The closest sense of closure that I personally get is when playing a song live. As we’re playing many more shows and playing those songs I feel like they’re coming towards completion.
That’s the most rewarding part of songwriting; not just tuning into yourself but tuning into the issues of people around you
When you set out to record music, how do you find a balance between your inspirations and creating something that’s true to you?
C: When I’m writing a song it’s inspired, usually, by something that I can’t put into words, something that I want to understand – whether it’s an emotion, an event, or something going on in the world. For me that’s the most rewarding part of songwriting; not just tuning into yourself but tuning into the issues of people around you or the issues of the community of the world. Trying to put a finger on how that struggle is taking shape.
You can’t really say goodbye to the thing or end it; it’s fluid
Is there a goodbye that you wish had gone differently?
S: My mother passed away a couple of years ago. And it was very sudden, and unexpected. Maybe I wish I could’ve said goodbye to her, but I also want to say that I had a great, profound experience of being able to part with this person, and say goodbye without having to do it physically, within myself. Being able to peacefully let somebody go. I think that was a really big experience for me, knowing that even when somebody leaves abruptly and in a way that you don’t wish for, you can still contact them, even if it’s within yourself, it doesn’t have to be a spiritual thing. Being able to make peace with somebody leaving and let them go.
C: Sometimes I didn’t know how to leave a place, and I feel that no matter how many goodbyes I gave or last conversations I had with people, it simply wasn’t enough for the transition, and that way I think I should have been looking inward a little bit more. Just in terms of not thinking about the relocation and changing lives in such concrete terms, but more in that it’s the inevitable fluidity of life. I don’t mean to get too out there, but I don’t know if I want to believe if there’s such a thing as a goodbye.
S: It’s more like the relationship changes. I think that’s kind of what happened with my mother. Even though I never saw her again, it’s not like the relationship ended; it’s just that the relationship drastically changed. It’s kind of funny ’cause the question you asked earlier about songwriting – do songs conclude – and it’s like, no, not really, the relationship just changes. Like, now there’s a recording of it. And our relationship to the recording changes and how it’s performed changes. You can’t really say goodbye to the thing or end it; it’s fluid.
C: I think that’s comforting too, ’cause there’s less of a sense of loss and I think that’s a beautiful thing.
Olden Yolk is playing Trefpunt, Ghent, 5 April.
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