“If you're not dividing opinion, then
you're Coldplay. And no-one wants that really.”
YSN – An interview with Pete Wurlitzer
He dresses like Andre 3000 if he was a skinny white English kid, he's got the looks and the charm to break girls' hearts, he sings like the bastard offspring of Scott Walker and Neil "Divine Comedy" Hannon, he performs to 50 people in Dry Bar like he's the star turn at a baroque Parisian music hall and once you get him started he can talk for Britain. Three months after unleashing the single "More" which had half the Manchestermusic staff falling over themselves with superlatives, I caught up with the band's flamboyant frontman Pete Wurlitzer in the ramshackle walk-in cupboard that passes for a dressing room at Dry Bar. And yeah, he broke my heart. Well, a little bit, anyway. But not in any untoward way, I hasten to add...
So can we start with a bit of background?
YSN formed about two years ago, summer 2004, we'd been in another band before called Yellow Stripe Nine, hence the abbreviation....we started a new band with a keyboard player, and we were playing with him for two or three months playing the same songs and we started to get bored with them, decided we wanted to change direction - to ditch everything we had and start afresh. At that time I suppose we should have changed the name... I'd been in indie bands for quite a while and just became a bit disillusioned with it all, people were just forming bands without really thinking what they were doing. You can just play music for the fun of it, but I like bands who've got something to say - there's an angle to it, musically or lyrically or whatever. We were interested in all sorts of non-indie things, musicals and hip-hop, I started listening to a lot of Prince again which I used to listen to when I was younger, and we put the new band together with those kinds of influences, taking an indie-rock template and adding synthesisers and a bit of performance flamboyance, bit of theatre...
And the whole barbershop thing?
Well our drummer is a fantastic singer, our keyboard player as well, I'm probably the least natural singer in the band! Another thing I was listening to at that time was a lot of Scott Walker, and I tried to work on my voice a bit more, listen to people who are actually singers. From that I evolved a style. I think a lot of people assume I just put it on, but it's more about learning how your voice works.
It certainly stands out. At the moment it seems there are a lot of bands in Leeds doing the whole punk-funk thing, there's a bit of a scene there, where do YSN fit in? Do you fit it?
I wouldn't say so, no. But it's interesting to see what people from outside think of the whole Leeds scene, there are two or three bands doing realy well with that kind of music, a few more sort of bubbling under, and perhaps that's how it seems from the outside, that's the "Sound of Leeds", but there are so many bands in Leeds doing different things. But we do get a lot of derision and criticism I suppose because at the end of the day I don't think people know how to take what we do - there's a slight... well, (laughs) more than a slight camp element to what we do... But I'm just so tired of that whoole four lads get up on stage 1 2 3 4 off you go and yell and all their influences are all the same. It just bores me. I long for bands just with a bit of colour in them. Something like Andre 3000 and Outkast, the music is still fantastic but there's a little bit of humour too. Bands like Queen as well, but you need to be careful saying that, we're not a Darkness type band whatsoever! But yeah, we don't really fit in in the Leeds scene. For whatever reason there are various people in Leeds who don't like what we do and that's led to a bit of a negative thing. There's a certain controversy surrounding us in Leeds - but if you're not causing some kind of controversy with your music then it's probably a bit shit! If you're not dividing opinion, then you're Coldplay. And no-one wants that really.
So you've mentioned Prince and Scott Walker, who are your icons and heroes?
Prince is the foremost, maybe it's not something that's immediately obvious in the music - but there's a Prince / Talking Heads kind of use of the guitar, making polyrhythms out of basic instruments, making songs shift around and move and have that kind of itchy feeling about them. Scott Walker, not just the vocal style but the big productions. I like a lot of electronic music, Depeche Mode... Roxy Music is a very big influence on what we do, David Bowie... one of those very British performers whereby you can enjoy the music for what it is but he had that whole sense of colour and style that came with it. That kind of thing seems to have been so totally lobotomised out of music these days. Bowie inspires me because just because we dress like this now, we do this thing now, doesn't mean we can't come up with something else. and move on. I think in this day and age that's somehow seen as being insincere, like you don't mean what you're doing. But the music is heartfelt and we love what we do, we just want to give an audience more.
By this point drummer James Knox has joined us, although he doesn't manage to get a word in really either. Pete is quite definitely in full flight. However he's about to drop quite a bombshell, and I certainly didn't see this one coming...
OK, so you've had a couple of singles out, what's happening next then?
Well it's a little bit of a difficult one this really... no easy way to say this really but the band's basically splitting up as of next week! All the stuff I'm saying is what I feel, we have these big ideas, but we very much grew up in front of people, decided to do this thing and went for it... and we met the reaction. It's not a compromise, but you have to learn from your mistakes and the environment you're creating the music in, and we feel we've spent two years doing something I'm so proud of... the word "music career" flies around so much these days especially in Leeds, there's a sense that everything has to be very well worked out. We're just following this to see where it goes and I think it's led us to some very interesting places, we've almost performed to a script at times - at our launch night we had burlesque dancers, we've worked around this world and explored it and we've learnt a lot but we feel this particular band has had its time. preconceptions have built up around it - some of which are accurate and some of which are not.
Moving on to the next phase?
Yeah, in some ways it may seem like we've been defeated by doing something so completely outrageous or perhaps we just didn't do it well enough to make it work properly! But when you distil it all down what we've got is a bunch of really really strong pop songs and that's what we want to move back towards - writing pop songs, and perhaps working those influences in in a slightly more underhand way. We'll play our last gig as YSN next week and that's the end of that. I'm working on a new thing at the moment with some of the members of this band and we're trying to keep it a bit under wraps at the moment because we don't know where it's going to go...
By which point the next band are onstage, and we all want to go and watch them. I wonder for a while if I should even publish this at all. But we chat a little longer, and Pete seems utterly convinced that whatever happens next is going to be the right thing – and I can’t help but believe him. Watch this space, as they say…
words : Cath Aubergine / all pictures courtesy of YSN Web - contact for (c) info / www.ysnmusic.com www.myspace.com/ysn
(c) (p) mybigmouth for musicdash/manchstermusic 2006