With a musical palette incorporating everything from Mac DeMarco to Ray Charles, Yellow Days is at the forefront of a generation that's leaving genre behind.
Yellow Days’ music is youthful by default. A sprawling mix of blues, soul, jazz and R&B, all run through a filter of indie and classic hip-hop, it’s the sound of a subset of today’s teens, the after-effects of a movement Mac DeMarco didn’t realise that he started.
“I’ve spent my teenage years walking around nice fields and woods and shit and being in scenic countryside areas having fun with my friends. There’s space to breathe and think; it’s a freedom; it’s calming,” says George Van Den Broek of his adolescence in Haslemere, Surrey where, aged nineteen, he stills lives. With lavish arrangements andlayers of dense instrumentation that can spiral off into hazy solos at any moment, his is the sound of small towns, where everybreak-up or fight is a drama of grand proportions. “Because [my hometown] lacks so much chaos, you imagine it… Haslemere is a lovely place, but I don’t think we’re learning some kind of spiritual grit from it,” he muses “if anything it’s the opposite. It’s quite a blunt town; not very edgy.”
Instead of being moved by his surroundings, Van Den Broek’s gaze focuses inwards, using his personal struggles and relationships as inspiration. In contrast to the inner-city pressures that drive so much of contemporary pop and hip-hop, his songs are written for himself and his friends and are often sung as if he’s offering advice to the listener. Even his album titles are gentle, kindly concerned questions, such as Is Everything Okay In Your World?, Van Den Broek’s latest.
“I made a lot of mistakes early on, and I think they taught me a lot of lessons” he explains, revealing a less idyllic side to home counties boredom. “I was quite a fool when I was fourteen or fifteen. I used to party pretty hard and have a wild time. I lost a lot of friends, and I think I got it out my system and learned what it means to be a good person. I always draw on that when I write
my songs.” It might appear naïve to think he’s put his demons to rest at just eighteen, but that relative innocence gives his musica purity that’s hard to find in older, more jaded songwriters. In fact, the more you speak to him, the more you believe he’s in a good position to be offering advice. Instead of revelling in the frustration of being stuck at home, halfway between adolescence and adulthood, Van Den Broek seems to have found his peace with it, embracing the freedom it’s given him to wake up, smoke a joint and spend his day writing songs.
The overarching goal of those songs is to chronicle life itself, with all of its contradictions. “I have an extensive plan for what I want to achieve as Yellow Days. I have a structure of albums in my mind that will make an overall statement on life and everything I’ve experienced,” Van Den
Broek affirms with a stoned sincerity. “With everything I do I’m adding to the puzzle. All of the music will add up to this statement.” This attitude is most apparent on ‘A Smiling Face’ when Van Den Broek asks ‘Is it good or bad?’ only to be answered by the titular face ‘it’s not quite as simple as that.’ It’s a philosophy at the core of his music and his way of understanding both the good and bad moments in his relatively short time on earth. Every conflict he experiences, every contradiction in his lyrics or even within this interview, is explained as part of this overarching quest to soundtrack life.
I ask him how long he thinks it will take him to produce his musical guide to life, the universe and everything Yellow Days. He thinks for a minute, “Four albums, including the last one,” he grins. It’s an almost ludicrous statement when you consider the number of songwriters who have failed to do it in ten times that many. However, when Van Den Broek says it there’s not a hint of
arrogance in his voice, just an honest belief that given the time and space he can put his world to rights with a handful of songs.
Van Den Broek’s is a contradictory wisdom. One that transcends the clichés of teenage emotions but still appreciates their purity. “I just have to stay true to my fourteen-year-old self, the guy who was raw as fuck and cared about nothing, only himself and just wanted to prove how fucking sick he was” he laughs when asked about his future. “I can’t get old and self-conscious, so I have to stay in touch with that kid and appreciate myself.” Everything might be ok in Yellow Days’ world right now, but he knows that should it fall apart once more, at least he’ll have something to write about.
Is Everything Okay in Your World? is out now.
This article originally appeared in Notion 79 – the Break Through Issue.