Interview with YĪN YĪN on tour & latest album Mount Matsu

words Ed Charlesworth

Washing ashore at The White Hotel on Thursday, the first stop in the UK leg of their 2024 tour, eclectic psych-funk outfit, YĪN YĪN, sizzled on stage.

Bouncing away beneath the rain soaked gloom of industrial Salford, the Maastricht based band debuted material from their newest release ‘Mount Matsu’, a vibrant, cinematic record steeped in rich, global influence.

Retaining the sixties surf-rock and Southeast Asian influence seen on previous work, the band looked towards the music of Japan for ‘Mount Matsu’, being keen to note the influence of city pop and the instrumental folk form, sõkyoku.

YĪN YĪN interview tour

I had the opportunity to sit down with YĪN YĪN’s keyboard player Robbert Verwijlen and guitarist Eric Bandt before the gig, to discuss the creative process behind the album.

“I’ll stub this out?” Eric asks me, gesturing with his half smoked cigarette to an already overfull ashtray. I assure him it’s not necessary, struggling to meet his eyes through the swelling wall of smoke.

We’re sat in a shoebox greenroom, bare but for a well-worn white leather sofa and an unsteady looking table, cluttered with half drunk bottles of beer and tab ends.

I’m sandwiched between the two exceptionally friendly musicians, Robbert to my right, Eric to my left, both working their way through a communal pack of cigarettes.

They’re gracious hosts, Robbert in particular making a big fuss over my comfort, ensuring that I’m completely cared for before we begin.

YĪN YĪN Mount Matsu

He asks if I’d like a beer or a vodka, or both. I thank him but ask instead for a glass of ginger ale, presumably intended as a mixer.

“I’m trying to stay lucid”, I say, a bemused expression flickering across his face as he pours me a plastic cupful.

“Why would you want to do that?”, he smirks, only half joking.

I hunker down atop the sticky sofa, assuring both once again that I need for nothing, before taking a sip of my lukewarm ginger ale and delving into my questions.

“Tell me about the album’s name, ‘Mount Matsu’, where did that come from?”

Eric  “Kees, our drummer, came up with it. It means pine tree, I think, in Japanese, with a pine tree in their culture symbolising rebirth. We as a band have experienced a kind of rebirth, we had a change of members and also…”

Robbert  “Musically there was a big change between the second and the current album.”

Eric “Absolutely…we made this album with a totally different process than the first two. It just felt right to put it into the title.”

The bands recent lineup change referred to here, saw founding member Yves Lennertz leaving YĪN YĪN after the release of 2022’s ‘Age of Aquarius’.

Eric “The first two albums were written, recorded and produced by Berkers and Lennertz, but this album we really all made together, as friends.

Robbert  “It was more of a band led process…”

Eric  “It was more of a group effort.”

Robbert “Yeah… a group effort.”

This newly reworked songwriting process led to the band’s expansion, and evolution, of its sound.

Eric “We had the idea to draw inspiration from Japanese music and culture for the album. We’re all very much into it. We’d been listening to a lot of traditional Japanese instruments, watching videos on Youtube of these girls, probably sisters I think? just ripping on a samisen. The first time Kees showed it to me I was like, ‘what is this?’”

He chuckles at the thought.

“A big inspiration for us was also city pop and Japanese surf-rock from the sixties. People like Takeshi Terauchi”

Eric’s reference to Terauchi, a deep cut for even the most ardent melophile, demonstrates the authenticity of the bands admiration for the countries musical landscape.

Robbert “On previous albums the emphasis used to be on Thai music, especially Thai musical scales. That was primarily on the first album, ‘The Rabbit That Hunts Tigers’, because the guitarist back then was quite obsessed with the phin, a traditional Thai guitar…”

We’re interrupted as the door to the green room opens and Remy Scheren, the bands exceptionally dapper bassist, ambles in.

Robbert looks up, slightly irked. He mumbles at Scheren in Dutch. All that I can catch is the word ‘interview’, muttered in exasperation.

Scheren “Sorry, I’m just getting a beer”

He nods at me, takes a bottle, then leaves. Robbert resumes, apologising to me for the interruption, ever polite.

Robbert “So yeah, as I was saying…Thai music, and now Japanese music. But, they’re just influences, they aren’t the main thing. The biggest thing in our music is that we try to make a really beautiful song.”

Eric “For instance, we also really like Italo Disco.”

Robbert “Exactly.”

Eric “You can also hear that in there…”

Robbert “And afrobeat, like, it doesn’t really matter where we focus on, it can be anywhere.”

YĪN YĪN’s consummate eclectism is reflected in ‘Mount Matsu’s track list, the record undulating from influence to influence with ease.

Spaghetti western guitars cascade into polyrhythmic percussion. Robotic synths blur together beneath the stately, plucked beauty of the Chinese guzheng. The album is a truly global amalgamation of sounds, skilfully drawn together, and nowhere is the band’s mastery of stylistic cohesion more apparent than in a live context.

Despite Thursday’s setlist featuring sonically disparate tracks that had no real right to fit together, one moment a gong would sound, the next a Kraftwerk-esque icy synth, YĪN YĪN’s performance was beyond smooth.

Emerging wordlessly through an alarmingly thick layer of machine spewed smoke, think being trapped in an oven with a grease fire, the band materialised upon The White Hotel’s square stage to great hollers from the audience.

Riled up by sterling opener Seabreeze, a moody Mancunian two-piece debuting at the gig, the crowd were packed tight around the ninety degree point of the stage, where two sides of the square met.

The rag-tag members of YĪN YĪN, each dressed for a slightly different occasion, occupied their own small section of the stage, overlooking a distinct portion of the crowd and creating a sense of intimacy between themselves and the audience.

Beginning their ascent up the heady incline of ‘Mount Matsu’ with album opener Year of the Rabbit, the band encouraged easy movement, the track’s twangy guitar and plodding bass line reverberating over the space with warmth.

YĪN YĪN, though by no means static on stage here, assumed an air of stillness for the track.

Robbert was particularly placid, leaning back from his synth and swaying along to the music with an easy smile, his eyes closed for it’s duration.

This stillness glided through to the midpoint of track two, retro futurist funk banger Nautilus, lifted from 2022’s ‘Age of Aquarius’.

With the conclusion of Robbert’s particularly groovy solo, all squelchy synths and cascading keys, the band exploded into life, jumping in unison to the cathartic release of the drums.

Robbert hopped back and forth, Eric and Scheren gleefully bounded about towards the front of the stage and Kees’s smile shone wide from behind the drum kit.

This was the point in which YĪN YĪN forwent the pretence of poise so prevalent amongst artsy, revered bands like themselves, instead allowing the performance to be led by the un-ceaseless joy they so clearly draw from the craft.

Each track was lovingly imbued with a sense of vitality that, whilst present on the studio versions, can only really be attained within the ephemeral space of a live performance.

The band’s passion for live performance was similarly evident when talking with Robbert and Eric.

“Are there any songs from the new album that you’re most looking forward to playing live?”

Robbert “The two disco songs on the album.”

Eric “Yeah, Tokyo Disko and Takahashi Timing, those are fun to play”

Robbert “I really enjoy playing them live and the audience usually really enjoys it if we play them so…but, actually, any new song is a pleasure to play live. With the other tracks, we’ve been playing them for years and years, which, I don’t mind, they’re always fun but..”

Eric “They’re still fun to play”

Robbert “Every song is fun to play otherwise we wouldn’t play it. But, it’s always nice to play new songs.”

Eric “They’re exciting because they’re new”

Robbert “Yeah”

Eric “All these songs we’ve been playing, because we have played them so much, they’ve evolved. Just by overplaying them you do different things with them, almost jamming them. It will be interesting to see with the new songs, what will happen to them? After a year they’ll probably sound way different than they do now.”

The transformative nature of YĪN YĪN’s compositions in a live context allowed the band freedom of movement in their set, extending whole sections of a particular track if the audience latched onto a groove, deftly operating to ensure the crowds energy did not drop for even a moment.

By The Rabbit That Hunts Tigers, the final track before the encore, the audience were noticeably lagging, soaked in sweat after being in a constant state of movement for over an hour.

It would be a feat for any band to be able to stir a meaningful amount of energy back into a half depleted audience, but through the use of an impeccably timed, and impressively executed, drum solo from Kees, YĪN YĪN managed it.

Clattering atop the drum kit with such force, the swirling mass of sticks formerly know as Kees was rightfully afforded the spotlight, each member inconspicuously settling down upon the floor, ensuring the audience would have nowhere to look but Kees.

Slowly, accompanied by a building wall of crashing cymbals and a relentless snare, each member stood back up, resumed their positions, and picked up their instruments. Waiting with baited breath, the audience, once exhausted, began to rally, sensing the inevitability of the bands musical reintroduction.

Then, with one last thwack of the bass drum, the guitar, keys and bass rushed back in, and the room exploded with movement.

No-one was left static, every member of the audience, and the band, leapt up with such force, such vitality, it was as though a bolt of lightning had struck the building and electrified the floor.

The band, disappearing after the tracks cataclysmic conclusion, presumably to lay down for a moment, and reemerging one by one, formally introduced to the crowd by founding member and very damp looking drummer Kees, fulfilled the sacred promise of an encore.

Returning to play the disco-tinged Takahashi Timing, previously mentioned by Eric as being a favourite to play live, and the stellar, Donna Summer-does-Thailand romp Dis kô Dis kô, YĪN YĪN reached the apex point of ‘Mount Matsu’ with style.

I thank Robbert and Eric for their time, and for their unmatched hospitality, but, before I go, I ask them one last question.

“Which country do you enjoy playing in the most”

Robbert “People ask me the question a lot, which country do you enjoy playing the most? I always say the UK because the crowds here are just insane, so enthusiastic even if they don’t know the music. Everybody goes wild and that’s…where we’re from people are a bit shy and, even if you make danceable music, well, they might dance a bit but… ”

Eric “Over here people don’t give a fuck.”

Robbert “They go crazy, and that’s always a pleasure.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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