Interview with Mellow Yellow

Photo: Alex Lianopoulos

What do space, connectivity, and the urge to get down and groove have in common? They’re all elements this trio from Eugene, Oregon tries to infuse into their music. Officially forming a little over a year ago, Mellow Yellow has begun their journey in the world of live shows and late night jam sessions. Crafting a homemade electro-soul and alternative blend, Mellow Yellow draws inspiration from bands like Radiohead, Chet Faker and James Blake. With an EP on the way, and a healthy mix of higher and lower energy songs, this trio is creating a unique sound rooted in electric guitar loops and soulful vocals.

Read on as I sit down and chat with Brandon, Connor, and Wade about their beginnings, inspirations and sights for the future.

Tell me about how you guys met.

Brandon: We were looking for a place to live and I remember waking up really early to see the current house we live in, and we took pretty much the first opportunity. Wade and Connor had lived together the prior year in a house really far away and I knew Connor through On The Rocks – the a capella group here at the University of Oregon.

Connor: That’s what had introduced us musically.

Brandon: Yeah, that’s how we all got connected and we started living in that house. The first couple of months we were always kind of teasing music.

Wade: We would sit around and say, “Yeah, we should jam sometime!” But we never really did it. [laughs]

Brandon: We all knew Wade played guitar, but never really knew at what caliber. It blew my fucking mind when I found out.

What made you decide to start a band together?

Connor: We never really had the idea of forming a band. It was just the kind of idea of, “Yeah, let’s jam tonight. You play guitar. I’ll do something. You sing.” It was super organic at that stage.

Brandon: We were always showing each other music that we liked.

Wade: Yeah, we listened to A LOT of music. I think that was the most important part because we were able to develop a collective taste before we really started playing.

Brandon: And it was all aligned into Radiohead, mainly, and watching all of those live sessions on YouTube. We watched endless amounts of that. The major switch for us was when Connor got a piano over winter break. It was a Yamaha.

Wade: One of the guys Connor and I had lived with previously has a band called A Yawn Worth Yelling. He took last year off to work with them and travel and release stuff, and they came through town and needed an opener. They knew that Connor and I played so they approached us asking, “Do you want to do a little opener for us?” We said yeah and knew we could bring Brandon in on this, so why not.

Connor: Yeah we came out as Martin, Mai, and Eagleton. There was no name.

Brandon: We sat there on a rainy day, just pumping out names. I can send you some of them…

Connor: Some of them you probably shouldn’t. [laughs]

Wade: We were working on covers at that point. We had one original that we got together for that show.

Was “No Diggity” one of the original covers?

Wade: We didn’t play “No Diggity” at that point.

Connor: That was maybe the third cover we did.

Wade: I was still playing acoustic that whole set. I had not set up my electric guitar yet.

Brandon: But that show really pushed us in the direction of writing more of our own songs because of how fun it was to play a live set. And we got a lot of confirmation on our original song too. It wasn’t just like, “Oh, those covers were cool.” People asked us what that last song we played was. They liked what we made. And after that we made our first video for “Strike and Slip,” put it on YouTube, and had our first real thing to share.

How was that first initial share? Was it scary to put it out there?

Wade: We were really proud of it.

Brandon: Yeah, there was no holding back. We were just ready to share something because there was so much cheese that we were just so excited to send something out. It all sparked from there.

Did you guys have your name together at this point or were you still in this transitional state of “are we a group – are we not?”

Connor: We still talk about changing the name. We’re not totally convinced with Mellow Yellow, but at that point we did have our name. It was probably only to about a month ago that we actually settled on a name.

Wade: When we released “Atacama” we knew it was pretty much set.

Brandon: There are these benchmarks where we have to decide on something. The Boreal show made us a band. Making the “Atacama” music video, we couldn’t keep changing our name.

Wade: That was kind of a placeholder while we explored other options, but nothing was ever as important to us as Mellow Yellow.

Brandon: Yeah, because that’s what we named our house. We threw a party and had to name it something. The house is really just a faded yellow. It’s not even really yellow anymore. [laughs]

Speaking of “Atacama,” where did that song name come from?

Brandon: Okay, yeah. I love explaining this. I was taking a documentary class and he played a movie called ‘Nostalgia for the Light,’ and it’s this amazing story about what happened in the Atacama Desert in the ’60s. Basically the Atacama Desert is one of the best places to see the night sky. And that’s where one of the top three observational facilities is for space. So there’s that on one side, but in the ’60s there was this dictator who basically did what Hitler did to his own country. He was doing genocide across the board and it all happened in the Atacama Desert. There were a bunch of these camps where he killed a bunch of people that didn’t agree with his regime. The cultural tradition there between death and the bodies is to have a burial and funeral, and that was really important to that culture. With Pinochet (the dictator) he just kind of trashed these bodies – he threw them all over the place in this desert. Years later in 2000 when this documentary was being made, many women of these families who were lost in that genocide, were looking for the bones of there loved ones. Thousands of people did this, searching for there loved ones. They found a bone in a shoe, just bare bones in a shoe. Things like that. They spent months and months trying to identify who they belonged to. So what inspired the song – to get to that – there was an interview in the documentary from one of the astronomers and he was saying that, “us astronomers in the Atacama Desert share something in common with the ladies, but also something very different. We’re both searching for answers; we’re just looking up. But when we finish our jobs at night – when we’re finished looking up at the night sky – we get to go home to our beds and sleep at night. But when the women find what they want, they still can’t sleep at night.” The whole documentary film was making these amazing metaphors and symbols connecting space and the desert, and that idea of dust and stars. So I just found that amazing and I love the metaphors that connect space back to who we are. It humanizes space and things that are so far away – things that we don’t quite understand – and trying to bring that to our relationships with each other as human beings.

Connor: There’s a huge juxtaposition as well. From the meaning of the song to the feeling of the music. The song feels very happy, but the lyrics are actually really deep.

Brandon: Yeah, especially when we play it. I feel that it brings our friends together to dance, and that’s just a lot of fun. There’s a line in Atacama that we sing and it’s, “we were made of the universe, separated in the same way. The space between the stars will match. The space between you and me.” So that’s kind of an ode to everything.

Interesting, I never would’ve guessed that. That reminds me of The Most Astounding Fact by Neil deGrasse Tyson.

Brandon: Totally, that’s definitely an inspiration too.

In the process of creating your music video, were you able to incorporate any of those elements in there that maybe the average person may not pick up on?

Connor: Hands. Hand in the sand.

Brandon: [laughs] Yeah, there’s a huge memorial statue in the Atacama Desert, and it’s a hand coming out of the sand. There’s a bunch of interpretations of that.

Wade: It symbolizes helplessness – being lost. It’s this gigantic half-a-hand sticking out of the sand.

Brandon: It’s an amazing spectacle. I hope to see it one day. So there’s a bunch of hands in the music video. The music video, I’d say, is the most vague connection. We are in the dunes and desert, but it’s more attached to the name and the meaning of the song. We were just having fun.

Especially that closing scene. In reverse! Did you guys get it on your first try and that was it?

Connor: We rehearsed it but…

Wade: We only had one take with the smoke bomb.

Connor: Definitely ate shit while walking backwards, multiple times. [laughs]

Brandon: We had one smoke bomb and it was the end of the shoot. Probably around 5, and everyone was on edge. I hadn’t eaten since that morning. We were running through the rehearsal and I kept forgetting to pick up the chair. That was the scariest scene to shoot.

Connor: When we actually got it, it was a good feeling.

Wade: Nowhere in that video was I nervous except for that one shot. [laughs]

Brandon: The smoke bomb kept burning my hand as I was running with it.

Wade: Yeah, you’re holding fire – combustion.

Fire tends to burn things near it.

BCW: [laughs]

So are you guys all from Oregon or the Pacific Northwest?

Wade: Connor and I are both from Boise, Idaho. Kind of a cultural central, I’d say. That’s how we met. Our freshman year, our perspective roommates were both from San Jose – went to high school with each other. So first week before school starts, I meet Connor and we’re both from the same place. We didn’t know each other before, but we were both from the same place so we started hanging out.

You said Radiohead was a huge influence, alongside Twin Shadow, Foster The People and James Blake. How heavy of an influence are all of those artists?

Connor: I think it’s sort of changed over time throughout the progression of the band. Initially it was a major Radiohead influence, and I’d say that’s still in the background, but it’s really what we’re listening to at the time that influences our writing style. There was a period where Foster The People was big and now we’re going into more the electro feel with songs like “Cloverleaf.” Chet Faker is another big influence. We kind of like where this electro thing is going.

Brandon: What’s interesting is that we had this new song – really high energy – kind of bluesy, and it’s driven in a very different way than we usually write music. But it was a lot of fun to write and sing. Last week we started to play it and write it, and there was a point where we thought, “What is this? This doesn’t feel right.”

Wade: I was at a wall throughout the whole progression of it.

Brandon: We were like, “Yeah, this is a weird song.” [laughs] We all started saying what we didn’t like about it.

Connor: We really realized how much our style had changed.

Brandon: Yeah, and especially with releases like “Cloverleaf,” we really love that sound. The last few nights, we actually scrapped a huge part of that song, rewrote it, and it only took about ten minutes. We just understood and solidified our sound as that electro-soul, James Blake influenced sound. That’s when we knew, “Wow, this is who we are.”

That eureka moment.

Brandon: Being able to write that song in ten minutes and then having so much trouble with some of our older ones is testament to us starting to realize what our sound really is.

Connor: It’s definitely difficult at this stage because we have songs in so many different fields. Atacama is very Twin Shadow – a little bit Foster inspired. The songs we’ve done more recently are definitely more James Blake – a little more low energy and sultry.

Brandon: Yeah, we’re debuting that new song tonight, which is more on that side with “Cloverleaf” and “Columbia.”

Any exciting plans or shows lined up in the near future?

Connor: We’re going to be playing a radio show on Sunday for KWVA. We’re also doing a battle of the bands in January.

Brandon: Yeah, up in Portland at Hawthorne Theatre. And maybe a show in Portland with a friend at the Doug Fir.