“Sometimes I get really sick of me, and I’m me,” Josh Burgess mock-grudgingly admits on the subject of Yumi Zouma’s gruelling tour schedule, amongst giggles from his band mates. It kind of makes sense. After all, this is a band that never intended to play live – they were content in letting their recorded output do the talking, each track nestling in the heart of the next drooling blogger, only for heady support slots to prove too tempting to ignore…
“Chet Faker asked us to play his Australian tour and Lorde asked us to open her New Zealand tour so we got real busy, real quick,” Charlie Ryder explains to me.
Sam Perry, freshly added to the lineup in the midst of those unexpected live shows, recalls a sobering period of experimentation. “I remember those Chet Faker shows and we’d been a band for about a week and having these really crack-up band practices in front of thousands of people. After doing it for eighteen months, we actually became a real band.” Refreshingly carefree, there’s little doubt that it seeps into their music too.
“We only had one song. Looking back, it was actually really stressful.”
That initial reluctance to play live is a far cry from the views they hold now (“We get to see some pretty amazing places. I couldn’t ask for a better way to live my life,” Christie Simpson enthuses), and the claims of evolving into a “real band” are reinforced on every passing second of Yoncalla, their debut album. It’s something of a privilege to confirm that yes, Yumi Zouma have delivered the album of sun-kissed dream pop that we craved and damn right demanded since falling under the joyful spell of ‘The Brae’ two years ago.
It’ll suit long summer days, a Yumi Zouma record all but guarantees that, but this isn’t merely a collection of tracks destined to stagnate on a forgotten BBQ playlist – Yoncalla soothes and seduces and stuns in a manner that urges meticulous, repeated visits. “There was no pressure to make the album sound a certain way,” Charlie maintains, and he’s right; it’s a record that retains everything you adored while continuing to explore a cluster of daring themes.
Often spoken of as if hushed folklore, EPs I and II were birthed in slightly unconventional circumstances. “Incestuous” is how they describe the years preceding Yumi Zouma, with each member crossing paths in Christchurch, NZ via previous musical projects at one time or another. It was only when they scattered, as Josh explains, that anything of substance began to materialise.
“I moved away and Charlie stayed in Christchurch and we stopped working on music for about six months. I sent a few things, one of them was ‘A Long Walk Home For Parted Lovers’. We sent it out to a few labels and they really liked it and asked if we had enough for an EP and we said of course we do.” He grins. “We only had one song. Looking back, it was actually really stressful.”
Charlie shares similar sentiments. “Every time someone interested was going to Skype us, we had to write a bunch of new songs. Basically, the early version of EP II was finished really quickly because this dude from some big management company wanted to hear it.”
So if the EPs were thrown together out of necessity, what about the LP? “During the II tour, we wrote it together. When we recorded separately, you can hear a Charlie part, Sam’s part, that’s a Joe part, but this album is the first time I can’t remember who wrote which part.” Despite writing intensively as a collective for the first time, the band barely deviated from their usual approach.
Josh sums it up fittingly: “I think you’ve got to have faith that people connected with the music you wrote when no one was listening, so you shouldn’t try to tailor it to what you think is going to be well received.” From initially dismissing the live arena, to being thrust under the bright lights of cavernous rooms, and piecing together songs from thousands of miles away while now sporting a fantastic, fully-fledged album, you get the sense that Yumi Zouma take it all in one languorous stride.