Interview: Ramen w/ Yellow Days
George is no doubt a talented musician, but what is equally impressive is the wisdom he possesses beyond his years. An incredibly humble old-soul, George understands the bigger picture associated with writing music. We take George to the renowned Shinjuku Ramen, because what better way to be introduced to Melbourne than a big bowl of ramen on Russell Street. As he prepares for his first ever show here (and more importantly first Australian ramen), Figaro sits down in an attempt to better understand the dreamy melodies and emotive lyricist that is: Yellow Days.
Welcome to Australia! How are you feeling about your first show here tonight?
Yeah man, it’s gonna be great. It’s always incredibly fun going to a place for the first time and playing a headline show - you can’t underrate that feeling. I can’t wait to see what the kids are like out here; I’m sure they’re fucking crazy. Yeah, it’s gonna be really fun man. I can’t wait for this shit.
So, you’ve been touring a lot in Europe and the US, selling out shows along the way - how do you tend to fill in your time in between shows?
In between shows, I write music man. That’s what I do every day if I can. I’ll just spend the whole day making a song - that’s my shit. Getting stoned and writing music - that’s my vibe.
Is it a sort of thing where you need to write?
Yeah, I get pretty exasperated and confused. I think, especially if I’m struggling through a dry patch or something like that, then things start to get very: “who am I?”, “what am I doing?”, “what is this whole thing?”. But yeah man, I live for that shit. I love making music. It’s like the most fun thing that anyone could do in my opinion. I just live for it, it’s my thing.
Obviously, it changes from song to song, but overall, what’s your goal when you’re making music?
I guess just trying to do my best to attribute lyrics and melodies to the feeling I’m trying to convey; just trying to make it accurate. If the song’s sad I want it to sound sad. Trying to achieve a genuine feeling, a genuine sound, it’s kind of like a soul thing. When I write, I always try and make sure that when someone listens to it, they’re like: “man, fuck this guy is hurting a little bit.” That’s the vibe. I want it to be like blues. I love blues and I grew up listening to blues. I love Ray Charles - he’s like my favourite artist of all time. And with him it’s like you hear his weeping soul, and for me that’s kind of what it’s all about – just trying to convey a feeling.
What is it specifically about Ray Charles as a musician that you strive to emulate?
His incredible talent on the keys, his ability to write songs combining gospel and blues. For me, as a musician, he’s prolific with chords and with song structures, and then his voice is just absolutely incredible, and his creative outlet is true and authentic and real. For me, he’s the full package because he’s got the voice, the instrument and the soul - that’s why I love him so much. He’s an absolute bad-man on the keys and that’s just the icing on the cake. He’s an absolutely incredible jazz pianist, but he also sings like fucking James Brown. It’s just some crazy shit. He’s an absolute don.
Of your own work, are there particular lyrics that you’d say you’re most proud of?
Most proud of? Shit, I don’t know man. I tend not to reflect on myself too much. I just don’t really give myself that much credit. I try not to think about my own shit in that way. If anything, I’m always trying to better what I’m doing, instead of like rewarding myself, I guess.
Have you ever had formal lessons with any instruments you play?
I haven’t, no. I sort of taught myself everything I know. I’ve had a vocal coach lesson, but that doesn’t involve any musical theory and that came after I started releasing music under Yellow Days. But yeah man, I taught myself everything I know. I play a tiny bit of everything; I like to think I’m a jack of all trades but a master of none. I just write songs with what I know about every instrument and that’s all that matters to me. But yeah, my main instrument is my voice.
Would you say you put most work into that?
I’d say so. When I was younger, I used to spend every day when I got home from school just sitting there – playing and practicing, to try and make myself better. You know, I think anyone can sing; I really believe that, but it takes years of practice to get to a point where your voice is like, as good as any other instrument. It’s practice man – the voice is the one that needs the most practice I feel. You can learn with other instruments, but you can’t really learn with your voice. You just have to work - there’s no theory really.
What do you normally start a song writing process with in terms of instruments?
I mean, nowadays it would probably be keys. I’d normally start with guitar or keys because they are the producers of chords generally. Then I tend to build an instrumental section and then, as I was saying, I’ll build on the feeling of the chords and I’ll understand like “okay, these chords are minor and they’re sad, but what kind of sad feeling is this?” And then I’ll try and write melodies that reflect the sad feeling, whether it’s like completely hopeless or like sentimental or hopeful - like different types of sadness. You can contrast that shit with different types of harmonies because every chord has many options of what type of harmony you can play on it. For me, if you start getting spiritual about it, each harmony or each option is like a feeling within a feeling - for me it’s all about that. I try and make my shit sound real by taking time making it sound sad or making it sound happy. That’s my vibe man.
Is there one artist right now that you’re pushing to work with?
Shit…in terms of like, wishful thinking and just like, a dream collaboration, it’s got to be André 3000. That’s my shit. I’m embarrassed to say it because I know it’s just silly, but if it happens one day that’ll be it for me. I’ll go and get a real job; I’ll just be like “I’ve played this game, gotten a t-shirt, see you later.” That guy is so crazy.
Well, you worked with Rejjie Snow on a song, right?
Yeah that’s right. Rejjie is an absolute dude, man. I’ve been a fan of his since I was a kid, so it was crazy doing that. He’s a wild dude, man, a very wild dude. He doesn’t normally get stoned and when we made that tune, we got like super stoned together and it was quite amazing. He’s a great dude man. The thing about that was when we were working on that shit, he came in and we were getting the levels on his voice when he was in the booth, like recording vocals and he just spoke into the mic: “yo man, how you doing man.” It wasn’t mixed at all and we were all like whoa, he’s got such great variety and incredible tone in his voice. I love that guy. I love how obscene and fucked up his raps are; they’re so twisted and he just says whatever the fuck he wants. It’s so millennial. It’s great.
When it’s all done and you wrap up with that André 3000 collab, what sort of musician would you like to be remembered as?
I guess one that tried to pioneer instrumentally. You know, someone who tried to work on a sound and an instrumental pocket in a genre… a selection of albums that are all quite different but like, essentially trying to find the pocket in a genre, because that’s what a lot of great artists do. They combine two or something like that and they’ve just found themselves in their own little world they can live in. People like Steely Dan and that sort of shit you know, they just find their own very special pocket and for me, if I can, that’s what I want to do.
If you’ve got 3 artists to headline a festival, dead or alive, who do you book?
Okay so obviously Ray, Herbie Hancock and Quincy Jones.
What’s on the horizon for 2019?
Secrets that I can’t expose. But they will be exposed. There’s definitely gonna be a lot of music at some point. So, there you go – music is coming.