Yautja’s Kayhan Vaziri: “It’s Not Just ‘F*ck You!’ There’s Some Substance There.”

Photo by Chappy Hull

There’s nothing particularly dogmatic about Yautja’s approach to being a metal band. There’s no question about the heaviness, intensity or ferocity of the Nashville trio’s music. But they’re not particularly invested in ensuring that their wardrobe lives up to the riffs.

“Someone did a show review for us in, I think, Montreal. They started off the show review talking about each of our individual appearances. I was the metal guy, I guess, like, ‘The bass player had on black pants and an Aura Noir shirt, and the drummer looked like he was traveling with The Grateful Dead and eating mushrooms, and the guitarist looked like he was in Car Seat Headrest,’” says bassist/vocalist Kayhan Vaziri. “Like, OK dude, that’s a weird take.”

Don’t be fooled by the absence of frayed battle vests or the fact some of the group members’ extracurriculars have included post-hardcore (Coliseum) and noise rock bands (Gnarwhal) — the sound of Yautja is a crushing one. The Lurch, the band’s third album and first for Relapse, is a more progressive and dissonant take on their sludgy hardcore, embracing slower tempos, longer tracks and an even more pronounced ominous tension. It’s a wrenchingly cathartic slab of razor’s-edge riffs and pummeling rhythms that adheres to the style the band established on records like 2014’s Songs of Descent without necessarily being limited by it.

While the album is new to listeners, however, the members of Yautja — Vaziri, drummer Tyler Coburn and guitarist Shibby Poole — have been sitting with it since a few months before the pandemic hit. Yet the themes they explore throughout its throttling nine tracks, — such as society’s tendency toward disaster voyeurism on “The Spectacle” or the disconnect that a population constantly wired into technology creates on “Tethered”– have become increasingly relevant after a year where most of us had few options other than to panic about the outside world from lockdown. The Lurch is both a reaction to and a reflection of a world increasingly burdened by technology’s influence and a disconcerting lack of empathy and compassion, the songs thereon meditations rather than temper tantrums, which just so happen to come in the form of three-to-seven minute bursts of sonic violence and aggression. Just don’t expect the band behind it to participate in hesher cosplay. 

“You don’t have to have the murdered-out sunglasses and be covered in tattoos,” says Vaziri. “It’s okay to make heavy, dissonant metal music and still love all kinds of music. Obviously, I want to share these songs with people. We’re all very proud of them. I hope some people read the lyrics and it resonates with them or it makes them think twice about something they haven’t thought about. But we want people to see that you can make whatever kind of music you want, and it can fall into a loose genre of metal, but you don’t necessarily have to play that part.”

How has the past year been for you?

Oh man, it’s been pretty wacky. A lot of people don’t know we recorded this record at the end of January 2020. So our 2020 was pretty different than we imagined it. We thought we’d record in January and have something out by the summer and tour pretty hard off of that. Obviously, none of that happened. The whole process of finishing and releasing the record slowed down significantly. Even mastering and mixing and getting artwork for the record was a slog because there wasn’t any rush to get that done. And other stuff here and there got pushed around because of the pandemic. We’re all used to touring pretty hard most years, so we all kind of did a lot of relaxing and letting our minds decompress. We worked and saved money and, yeah, it was a pretty strange year for everyone. 

It’s been six years since the last proper Yautja album—what’s changed or evolved within the band since then?

We’ve always taken the band seriously. I think that the interest and small fanbase we have that’s grown from those last releases have kind of made us dedicate some more time toward songwriting and maybe take it more seriously. We definitely take a long time to write songs. That’s also why it took so long. We’re perfectionists and OCD with our music. As far as the songs themselves, they’re a little bit longer now for the most part. I feel our style is the same but a little bit more narrowed down to our sound. There are less of the one-minute, one-and-a-half-minute grind songs. There are some of those, but there are more, longer metal songs, three to seven minutes, in that range. As far as ideologically and lyrically, we’re all pretty much in the same place. We just have been slowly writing this record in the past six years between touring too much and job stuff. 

Since you had more time to sit with The Lurch, did that result in you putting more work into it, or did you kind of set it aside for a longer period of time?

Kind of both. We definitely did not rush anything on the sequencing, mixing and mastering and then artwork, because there was no rush. Like, Hey, the record’s done, time to go out and tour. When we recorded this, we weren’t signed to Relapse. We weren’t on a label, we didn’t know who’d put it out. But the Relapse thing didn’t come about until last summer. And then on that same tip, we spent a lot of time listening to the record as far as approving it and making sure everything sounded good. But I definitely put it on the shelf for months at a time, just so I wouldn’t get tired of it or over-listen to it. It is weird to listen to something and have it come out almost a year and a half later. We didn’t want to sit on it anymore. At first there was an idea that maybe we should just shelve this for a while and release it after things calmed down. But after it was apparent things weren’t going to settle down, we decided to just work on it at our own pace, and go ahead and put this out.

A lot of the themes on the record seem tied to this complicated time in history and the frustrations that result from it. In that sense, is music an effective form of catharsis for you?

Oh yeah, sure. I would imagine if we weren’t playing in this band or playing music in general, we’d be creating something, whether it’s writing or visual art. It’s definitely cathartic as a way to express things that are on your mind or in environments or communities. That tends to come up in our lyrics, whether it’s a personal struggle or things that we observed or things happening around us in the world. Even playing the songs live, however long later after the fact the songs are written, you feel that a little bit at shows. It’s cool that the things you’re screaming resonate with you in a way and it has a release. It’s not just, “Fuck you!” There’s some substance there that elicits a cathartic response.

Our reliance on technology and its influence on us is a major theme throughout the album — it’s kind of inescapable, but does that make it even more aggravating in a way?

I’m sure everyone would say, especially in the last year, Where would we have been without technology? We’re doing a Zoom interview right now. I think everything would have been fucked without technology and the Internet. I don’t know about social media per se. But anyone who’s involved with social media or has a smartphone or works in any industry that involves technology sees the downside of it. Like, your eyes hurt from staring at a screen at work. Or you find yourself mindlessly checking Facebook or Instagram or whatever. In the past couple of years, that stuff’s been highlighted to me personally in a number of ways. I’m guilty of it, too. Even if I’m just on the social media apps for the band stuff, I find myself locked into it, and then, oh wow, 45 minutes have gone by and I’m angrier than I was before, because I’ve been reading people arguing about COVID or protests or whatever. And its’s a double-edged sword. Social media is great for informing people of those things, but it’s extremely toxic. I know it’s not a groundbreaking idea, but I think everyone has their own personal anecdote about why. Especially when stuff started popping off with unrest in the US last summer, I spent way too much time on my phone. I was just glued to Facebook, and this is after the lyrics for the record were written, but this stuff applies to that, too.

I had an experience — it didn’t mess with me that much — but I had someone add me on Instagram and reach out to me, have a small conversation, then I saw them out in public and said, ‘Hey, what’s up’ and it wasn’t like they didn’t recognize me, but more that I was weird for breaking the barrier. It wasn’t a relationship or hookup kind of thing. Just a totally platonic music thing. I thought we were cool to engage here, because you reached out to me. Just little things like that sit in the back of my brain. Social media’s okay for connecting people, but it also puts this weird barrier between actual human interaction. 

I’ve known people through social media who then introduce themselves in public and it always catches me off guard.

Oh yeah, I understand that. It’s like I’ve been revealed! I don’t have the veil of the internet here. I almost feel like the internet with progress and society and culture is, we’re plateaued and we’re teetering on a plateau and starting to dip a little bit in terms of benefiting humanity.

And that’s before we even get into NFTs…

Oh God, let’s not even delve into NFTs and cryptocurrency and all those shenanigans. 

Yautja’s The Lurch drops Friday, May 21st, and is available for preorder.

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Words by Jeff Terich