The Underground Sounds Of America: Yellow Eyes
Welcome to the latest installment of U.S.A.: The Underground Sounds of America, our series that shines a spotlight on the most underrated rock, metal, punk, and hardcore bands in the United States. Each week, we ask one band member to answer five unique questions so you can get to know them better. Because if you aren’t already a fan of the artist featured below…you should be.
There is something distinctly American about Yellow Eyes’s brand of black metal. The East Coast quartet’s use of lustrous guitar tones, dissonant chords, and tangible, understated drumming creates an instant kinship with the blackgaze music born out of New York in the late 2000s and early 2010s. At the same time, Yellow Eyes’s more ethereal and harmonious moments have a bucolic vibe to them that’s reminiscent of the more romantic forms of the genre that have come out of Utah and Washington.
Overall, there’s an underlying thrum of the American black metal dream to the band’s music — which is interesting, given that their home base is in Connecticut, a state known to most Americans for its McMansions and expensive colleges rather than unfathomable darkness.
“None of us are actually from Connecticut, and we don’t have any special attachments there except that we have a cabin we can use in a patch of dense forest,” says guitarist Sam Skarstad, one half of the brothers who make up the core of Yellow Eyes. “The forest, the wildlife, the sense of isolation we feel there — those things aren’t necessarily specific to Connecticut. That being said, small towns in northwestern Connecticut do have a distinct charm. Driving an hour through cornfields in the evening to get a burger at a biker bar before we go back to work is a significant part of the creative process. I can’t help but think about the radio: what we hear on the radio at any time could change what we do in the studio the next day.”
Listen to the band’s upcoming new album, Rare Field Ceiling, and you’ll be able to hear those disparate influences siphoned from the airwaves. The album is a bright and unpredictable piece of black metal that sounds raw yet deliberate, never losing the genre’s abrasive edge while reveling in its more atmospheric and jazzy elements. For Sam, that dichotomy has always been a part of his musical upbringing.
“Will [Skarstad, guitarist and vocalist] and I were raised by a composer and a violinmaker in a house where it wasn’t unusual to hear Estonian choral music or a Norwegian Hardanger fiddle record at the dinner table,” says Sam. “It never occurred to us until years into releasing music as Yellow Eyes that we were trying for specific sounds that we heard when we were young. Estonian choral music has some of the darkest and most beautiful melodies on the planet.
Before premiering a new track from Rare Field Ceiling, we spoke to Sam about what drives Yellow Eyes’ unorthodox beauty.
1) If you had to play to a newcomer one Yellow Eyes song to introduce them to the band, what would it be and why?
A handful of our songs work as openers in concert, and we choose track order carefully in our releases. These days we are opening with Warmth Trance Reversal, which also opens the new album. I see no reason not to start there.
2) Who are Yellow Eyes’s five biggest musical influences?
We’ve been doing this for so long that the influences and origins of our early work are difficult to pinpoint. These days, I would say we are guided primarily by our own methods and experiments. That’s not to say we aren’t susceptible to musical influences. In fact, we are dangerously vulnerable. We listened to a lot of prog rock while driving around picking up supplies the day before recording Immersion Trench Reverie and I have a theory that that album would have sounded totally different (either way better or way worse) if we had put on a different radio station that day. As for what we like to listen to as a band, which naturally filters through: Psychic TV, Kraftwerk, Thin Lizzy, Ved Buens Ende, or Laibach, to name a few.
3) Yellow Eyes often use guitar tones and harmonies that many people wouldn’t normally associate with black metal. How do you feel these add to the art form? What do Yellow Eyes bring to black metal?
Our guitar tones are generally the result of feeling our way through the technical side of things without knowing (or caring) how to create classic guitar tones. Our harmonies are the result of trying to create straight black metal and stumbling upon our own proclivities in the process. I think the real trick with maintaining a band and finding fresh ideas over the years is keeping your own mastery at bay. You have to stay kind of bad at it.
4) Tell me about the title of the album. Where did it come from? Does it represent recurring themes throughout the record?
It’s about trying to touch the ceiling. It’s about mania. You climb higher and higher and by the final moments you’re not sure if you touched it or fell into the sea.
5) Who would be on Yellow Eyes’ dream tour?
Our dream tour is just us and a rental car.
Listen to Light Delusion Curtain from Yellow Eyes’s Rare Field Ceiling below:
Yellow Eyes’s Rare Field Ceiling drops June 28 via Gilead Media, and is available for preorder.
Let Tom Morello shred in peace.
Oso Oso will hit the road in North America this summer with The Sidekicks and Future Teens.