Greg Arent of NYC indie rock band Yucca King discusses the band’s new album, how the band has evolved over the years, his longtime struggle with panic attacks, and the band’s uncertain future
By Emily May
Indie rock band Yucca King, comprised of Greg Arent (vocals), John Fraze (bass), Daniel Weiss (guitar) and Jay Williams (drums), have been blending pop, punk and noise influences since forming in NYC in 2016. With influences that range from Primus and the Talking Heads to Tom Waits and Radiohead, the band released their first EP and LP within their first two years as a band, not knowing at the time what they would become. Having grown and evolved musically since then, the band recently released their sophomore album Popcorn, but also House Fire which sees them moving away from their indie rock roots and showcasing their varied musical tastes and influences. Not wanting to place themselves into any one genre, the album showcases many different styles of music, with no two songs sounding alike. Delving into topics such as panic attacks, which singer Arent suffered through for years, depression and food binges to political and religious questioning, the band doesn’t shy away from hot topics. “Yucca King’s attention to detail keeps you engaged through each song. The songs are personal yet deal with issues so many of us face daily. The album is an exciting journey from top to bottom”, says engineer and producer Ian Elkind, who recorded, mixed and mastered the album at his King Killer Studio in Brooklyn. With four years of chemistry fueling them these days, the band has used that energy to create a frenzied live experience for their fans. You can follow Yucca King and stay-up-to-date with all upcoming band news via the following links. Check out their track “Panic Attack #2” from the new album below.
iTunes/Apple Music- https://itunes.apple.com/us/artist/yucca-king/1293958555
You recently released your album Popcorn, but also House Fire that blends different genres such as indie rock, pop and punk. You all bring different influences to the band and don’t want to be tied into a single sound. How did you go about blending all of your influences and developing your sound as a band? What inspired the album title?
Greg: Early on, we decided that we wanted the songwriting process to be collaborative. I have been in other projects where there is a primary songwriter and we did not want that. John (bass) and Jay (drums) seem to have a very natural connection and the majority of songs come from a groove they lock into, with Danny (guitar) and myself fitting around. Sometimes we will jam for an hour just to get one riff that we want to develop. Once we find a section we drill it over and over again until we like the way it’s working and then try to develop additional parts around it.
The album title was born in the recording studio. One of the machines in the room smelled like popcorn when it was turned on and the coffee roaster next-door smelled a little bit like a house fire and thus the album title: popcorn, but also house fire.
What was it like working with Ian Elkind at King Killer Studios? What was the recording process like?
Greg: We loved working with Ian and Dave (Bunting). They provided a comfortable space and a very laid-back process. We don’t like to be too structured. They allowed us to drive the recording process and we were able to get all of the sounds we were looking for. They made some great suggestions for the various takes but also allowed us to be creative. There were a lot of laughs and it was the least stressful recording process I have been through.
Your first EP and LP were written within your first two years as a band. How do you feel that you have grown and changed as a band over the years? Having no idea what you would become as a band when you formed 4 years ago, do you feel that you you have a better grasp now on what kind of band you want to be?
Greg: I think in the beginning of the band we had a very melancholy sound, which was primarily driven by Danny’s guitar playing. He didn’t listen to a lot of punk/grunge/heavy rock music in the beginning of our musical journey. Over the course of time I kept pushing him farther and farther into heavier music. I also decided that I wanted to have more personality in my vocals and more intensity. Playing live is much more fun when you’re playing driving, intense music. It was a very organic change. We haven’t really sat down as a band and said: “This is what we need to sound like”. We just roll with whatever feels right.
What kinda of bands/projects were you involved with before forming Yucca King? How did the four of you meet and what led you to decide to play music together?
Greg: None of us have been in any projects that really took off or were notable but we have all been playing music for many years in cover bands and original bands. Jay & Danny had been friends for a few years and I knew Jay from work so the three of us started playing. John was a craigslist find. We are lucky to have similar goals, schedules and good chemistry musically and personally.
What inspired your use of spoken word on the new album? What do you feel guided your songwriting process and musical direction for the album?
Greg: I got kind of bored of singing and bored of fitting into a typical rock structure. I listen to a lot of post-punk and I am drawn to vocalists with a lot of personality. I don’t really care about range or pitch so much. As we kept progressing as a band, I realized that for my own vocals I care about delivery and intensity more than actually singing. Not much of a difference in the songwriting process, just a different overall feel to what we are doing.
What can you tell me about the addition of a second guitar player to the band, which you have said has made the band more dynamic in the studio and on stage?
Greg: Throughout our time as a band we have taken “road trips” out to Long Island to practice at my friend Aaron’s studio in his backyard. Aaron is also a monster guitar player. When his band broke up we asked him if he wanted to write some secondary guitar parts and be part of the abum/tour. Two sessions on LI, one day in the recording studio and four days on the road. It was a great collaboration. Aaron is a real adult, so I am not sure how much he will be a part of Yucca King in the future, but having the second guitarist really filled our sound us and made things much bigger and louder for our live shows.
You have said that the songwriting process in the band is very collaborative, with each member counted as a principal songwriter. Do you all have different songwriting styles? What was it like when you first started writing together and has that process changed much over the years?
Greg: When we first got together four years ago, Danny brought a lot of fully-written songs, or sketches for a song. John is very independent and doesn’t really like to conform around someone else’s material so we ditched that song writing process. We started writing everything organically on the spot and we will slow things down if we like the direction something is going in. During the early days of this process, the jams were clunky, but over four years of developing chemistry, now sometimes I sit in the room and think the other guys don’t even need me. Sometimes I just sit and listen to three amazing musicians jamming and I feel bad trying to wrangle it in to add structure and vocals.
On your most recent Instagram post, you said that your recent tour with Treads was the most fun ever! What were some highlights? Do you have any especially good tour stories?
Greg: The members of Treads have all done real tours and been on the road for significant stretches. For the YK guys, we have never done anything more than weekend warrior treks. This was four shows in four nights so not exactly an epic adventure. The Arlene’s Grocery show was sold-out so we even had to sneak some extra people in. It was the most exciting show I have ever played. The crowd was ready to go and everyone was bringing great energy, so it really felt amazing to be on stage. Other than that, being in the car together for long stretches was fun. We all were sleep-deprived, eating fast-food and making each other laugh. That’s what I will remember the most.
The band recently released the single “Panic Attack #2”, which you have said was written about the panic and anxiety you have experienced in functioning socially since becoming sober. What has that journey been like for you and do you feel it is getting easier?
Greg: When I was younger, in Junior High and High School, I used to have panic attacks when I went to parties… I didn’t identify them as panic attacks at the time, but now I know that’s what they were. It was frustrating to me to not be able to go out and have fun like everyone else, but my body/mind just wouldn’t allow it. I never developed any coping mechanisms until I found alcohol. Once I discovered drinking, I went from shy, self-conscious and uncomfortable to being the life of the party, outgoing and completely out of control. As my drinking progressed, I knew it was becoming problematic but I always felt that the only other option was to go back to not being able to go out and be social. When I became sober at 25 years old (six years ago), most of my friends still drank heavily. I spent the first six months of sobriety lifting weights in the morning, going to work, and running at night. I didn’t socialize because I was afraid of falling off the wagon. Once I started trying to socialize again, the panic attacks came back. I spent years forcing myself to to go to parties and bars (immersion therapy) and teaching myself coping mechanisms. The chorus of: “Deep breath, count to five, relax, close your eyes” is actually what I would do if I was out at a bar or a party and was trying to slow my heart down and stop a panic attack. The verses explain all of the thoughts that used to race through my mind and all of the effects it would have on my body. Six years into sobriety, I rarely have panic attacks anymore and can do all of the things socially that I did when I was drinking without any of the negative consequences. A lot of people rely on substances to get them through anxiety and depression and maybe someone will hear those lyrics and it will help them realize that other people have similar issues and can push through them.
The band recently held a contest where you asked people to send in a video of them dancing to “Panic Attack #2”, with the best contestant winning a t-shirt. How was the response?
Greg: Fun idea but it didn’t catch on. I got the idea because some friends sent a video of them dancing around the kitchen of their apartment with our music playing. We didn’t get any other responses to the dance contest. We are definitely not social media experts.
What’s next for the band?
Greg: We have a very uncertain future. I blew my voice out on tour because of laryngitis and because I don’t know how to sing properly, I am still having trouble singing two months later. I have to see a doctor and hopefully there isn’t any permanent damage. Our guitar player might leave New York City. We haven’t even seen each other since early May. We are hoping that Yucca King will survive, but if it doesn’t, at least we can be proud of the music we created the past four years.