Interview – Yama

Yama is a heavy rock band from the Netherlands, who take the weight of Sabbath, the bombast of Zeppelin and the groove of Kyuss, and sprinkle in a healthy ammount of psychedelic flourishes to create a sound that is all their own. M3 couldn’t resist contacting the band to find out more about the expansion of local music scenes, their re-released demo and how to act against the commodification of art…

Artwork by Maarten Donders

M3 – First of all, could you tell us a bit about yourself, and what it is that you do?
Yama – Yama is a heavy stoner rock band from Utrecht and Tilburg. Sjoerd (guitar) and I (Alex, vocals) started this band in 2008/2009 and we released our first EP, “Seaquake”, about a year ago. We did about a lot of gigs in The Netherlands last year. A couple of months ago we signed with Mind Flare Media for a re-release of our EP, which is already available for pre-order and will be out early April.

What inspired you to start Yama? What are your own musical backgrounds?
I got into hard rock and metal when I was 11 or 12 and started my first band when I was 15. We played metal that was somewhere between the old sound of Metallica, thrash like Testament and somewhat newer stuff like Nevermore and Arch Enemy. There was a lot of energy and loudness in this band – named Encircled- that I really enjoyed. After a few years the band split up and by then my musical interests had changed and broadened – I was listening to old Mississippi blues: just one guy, a guitar and a tape recorder. Quite different from metal, but this music was so honest, so evil.. I remember nights that I couldn’t sleep and listened to ‘Hard time killing floor blues’ by Skip James, or to Robert Johnson, Bukka White, Blind Willie Johnson, and so on.

Around 2007 I met Sjoerd, he was my housemate for some time and he introduced me to bands like Yawning Man, Colour Haze, Goatsnake, and so on. It felt like this music really bridged the gap between the energy of metal and hard rock, and the honesty and raw purity of delta blues. Sjoerd and I had very similar ideas about the music we wanted to play and pretty quickly decided to start a band.

What’s your opinion on the music scene in the Netherlands?
I don’t know if there’s such a thing as “the music scene” or a “Dutch music scene”. There are a lot of bands obviously and scenes of some sort always develop as a result. I don’t think location has all that much to do with it nowadays for two reasons: first, the musical landscape is too scattered and second, physical location is less important.

If you look at the amazing diversity of music nowadays, where everything from retro 60s Beatles -inspired pop to ambient jazz metal to reggae-crustpunk goes, it makes sense that bands/people are looking for other bands/people with similar ideas about music, rather than just people that live in the same town, you know? Especially now that social media and the Internet in general have made it so much easier to get in touch with people in any corner of the world. And this not only makes it easier for smaller scenes to form independent of location, but also to organize events around an idea rather than just proximity. You can see this in many small “scenes” – small scale festivals that focus on very specific types of music emerge very often nowadays while some of the more generic, mainstream festivals disappear. And in some cases the small, specialized events in a way become mainstream themselves. Where we live this is very obvious with the Roadburn festival, which started out as a pretty small stoner rock festival, but grew into a massive – though not commercialised – event attracting people from everywhere around the world.

So I would say that the music scene, as in “people around the world that love music”, is actually in pretty good shape!

What would be your preferred medium to listen to music (eg. Vinyl, CD, tape, MP3 etc.), and why?
I don’t really prefer one medium, it really depends on the music. I have quite a few LP’s varying from Dylan to Sabbath. Most of the vinyl I listen to is music that’s originally published on vinyl. Maybe it’s superstitious but I believe this music (mostly blues rock from the 60s/70s) and vinyl really suit each other. I also have a lot of CD’s and (together with Myspace, YouTube etc.) I listen to most of my music through this medium.

Do you feel the idea of an album, as a piece of art that people will listen to from start to finish, has been undermined or forgotten about in the digital age?
No, not at all. Lots of cool concept albums, or albums with a story line, or even one-track 60 minute albums are still released even today. Vinyl still seems to be on the rise as well. I doubt that would still happen if everyone only listens to MP3s on shuffle. I for one really enjoy just relaxing and listening to such an album start to finish, while reading the lyrics, looking at the artwork on the huge gatefold record sleeve – getting the full experience so to speak. I know lots of other people who enjoy the same and I’m sure there are many others.

Then again, lots of albums are just a bunch of songs that will work in any order and I can enjoy that just as much. I think that writing good songs that work on their own and in any order can be as challenging as any concept album, really. Yama aims to do both! We feel that every track should kick ass live and stand out in its own right, but work as part as a whole as well, tell a story, build up some tension, play with your mood and mind. And then wrap it all up in cool packaging as well, like we did on Seaquake with Maarten Donders’ killer artwork.

Much has been made of the supposed death of the record store in recent years. Do you believe that MP3s have killed the record store, and if so, do you think that this is a necessary part of progression, or a tragic loss?
No, not really. Lots of major records stores have closed but a lot of the good ones are doing pretty well. I couldn’t care less that the major records stores that sell only the current hit albums are closing or moving to selling other digital media such as DVDs or videogames. Others move to selling CDs online and are doing just fine.

I really enjoy going to record stores and flipping through the albums, discussing with people there, listening to stuff that the guys that work there and know me recommend, and going home with a bunch of albums that I had not even heard of before going to the store. Some good examples are the Sounds in Tilburg and Plato in Utrecht. These are two places I visit quite frequently. And MP3s and the Internet can have the same effect. I listen to a lot of music online or as downloaded MP3, read blogs and forums looking for new music, and discuss music online.

As a band, MP3s are a great way to get your music out there. And we did pretty well actually selling CDs through our Bandcamp to people as far as Australia, Russia, US, etc. All our CDs, actually and I doubt any of those people would have even heard of Yama without MP3s and the Internet. It got us in touch with Mind Flare Media (who are re-releasing Seaquake) as well.

Many people have claimed that there is no longer any money in record sales, and that touring is the most efficient way to earn an income as a band. How much truth do you think there is in this sentiment?
So far the most we got paid is just barely enough to cover gas money and a couple of beers but we’ll take it any day!

In general, this claim is probably true, not because there is no money in record sales but because you can sell more records and other merch at gigs then through stores. And I like it that way, there’s a certain honesty to it that you can’t get in any other way. People come to your show, you play like your life depends on it, get them excited and they buy your album on the way to the bar. I think that’s a lot cooler than releasing through a big label, launching some campaign, securing airplay, putting billboards in stores and such and count on the power of mass exposure to get a return on your investment.

Recently, there seem to be a large number of bands offering their releases for free via sites like Bandcamp. What do you think of this distribution method, do you think it is a realistic solution to the problem of illegal downloading?
Offering albums for free on sites like Bandcamp can help to get exposure, which helps with getting gigs and getting people to come to those gigs. So in that sense, it definitely helps. An added advantage is that at least people will get your music in proper quality. But as a solution to illegal downloads I doubt it will help, add or change anything; giving stuff away to prevent people from stealing it is not a solution. Might as well not be bothered with people stealing and in a sense this is the most sensible thing to do I think: use this “piracy” to your advantage, get as much exposure from it as you can, and offer a good alternative that people will happily pay for.

What is your take on the current SOPA/ACTA controversy?
It all boils down to an artists’ autonomy and fitting appreciation for the audience.

We’re probably on the progressive side of things when it comes to copyrights and the music business in general. The thing about ACTA for instance, is that it favors a lot of big companies that are supposed to support and/or represent artists but in fact want to control internet filesharing in a very old fashioned, top-down way. An artist, by means of hard work and by staying alert, can profit a lot from (free) internet distribution. A big entertainment company is not interested in this kind of micromanagement, it simply want to tackle the whole net at once by means of supporting international legislation to “stop piracy”.

Of course, we do care about our author’s rights even if there isn’t a lot of money involved at this point. But we don’t, as opposed to the supporters of ACTA, see internet distribution as a phenomenon that can stay within our full control, but rather as a very valuable and fast marketing tool for which there’s always a -manageable- trade-off. Simply put, not every record that is listened to is paid for. But internet distribution has been crucial in expanding our reach, and we’re still surprised to find orders coming in from Russia, Australia or Canada. This would have never happened if our demo was released exclusively to Dutch record stores.

We’re very lucky to operate in a scene that still values the qualities of the physical product and live-experience over quick consumption. It’s a scene of highly interconnected fanatics who take pride in owning first prints, limited runs, original artwork and the like. This is a pretty unique situation, as a lot of the music scene has gone commercial which resulted in individualised listeners downloading tons of music while bands are pushed to tour as much as possible for their album sales have become marginal to their income. This pressure comes from companies that, as I’ve stated before, are just there to push product and protect their own interests; something that was a perfectly sensible business model in the second half of the twentieth century, the era of mass-media, but is slowly losing relevance in today’s world of interconnectedness.

For instance: why should a band put out a full-length every year? It seems to be the standard nowadays, but sometimes I think it’s an insult to the dedicated fans that want their favorite band to excel, not to sell out because the company they’re signed to has its priorities set backward.

But I know there are still places (certain underground labels, bookers) where quality is valued and they seem to coïncide with the places where creativity thrives and money is nothing more than a necessity. An investment made in rock and roll should be an investment in the ideals of creative independence and actual freedom from the current commodification of art.

I don’t think ACTA is going to hurt the independent, creative minds of the underground. It does, however, widen the gap between “professionals” and “hard-working hobbyists” in a commercialized musical landscape, by the proliferation of backward views on the workings of the internet coming from a profound underestimation -in some cases even criminalisation of artists and audiences alike.

In conclusion: the best way to avoid the protectionist trappings of the entertainment industry as an artist is to stay as far away from it as possible and retain a sense of autonomy. Never treat your audience as consumers, unless you want to be treated like a product yourself.

Finally, what does the future hold for Yama?
Seaquake, our 2011 EP, will be re-released by Mind Flare Media early April. We’re very happy with this re-release and the effort Mind Flare Media put into the re-release and the promotion of the EP. It’s good to see that there are still labels that are still kicking ass instead of bowing down.

Meanwhile, we are writing for our first full length which we hope will be out somewhere in 2012. We got a lot of cool gigs lined up as well and are looking to put together a small European tour, so get in touch you venues, stoner bands, labels, bookers and would-be groupies!

For more information about Yama you can visit their official Facebook page. You can also purchase (or freely download a digital copy) of their ‘Seaquake’ demo through their Bandcamp page.

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About M3 Event

The music industry is rapidly changing. The internet has enabled widespread piracy, as well as a variety of new business and distribution models. We want to offer an engaged audience in and around the Euregion an opportunity to develop a coherent and detailed picture of the future of music distribution. On the 31st of May 2012 a music conference in Maastricht, consisting of oppositional debates, creative workshops and lectures, will provoke opportunities for intellectual stimulation, debate, as well as networking. We hope to utilise the skills and ideas of some of most forward thinking minds and operators in the industry in order to highlight some promising new ideas and areas which can be improved upon.

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