This interview was originally published in Issue 21 of the zine, February 2012. Words by Tiffany Daniels, illustrations by Sephryn Grey.
Fresh on the scene, new London outfit Emperor Yes have already challenged Tips for 2012 articles that callously omitted their name – DrunkenWerewolf amongst them. Their first five demos brim with a revitalised pop aesthetic while also quoting the unlikely influences of Carl Sagan, astronauts and reptilians; causing a select few albeit noteworthy blogs to compare the trio to The Flaming Lips and Postal Service.
In their first interview, front man and founder Ash Gardiner speaks to Tiffany Daniels about forming the band, working with Adam Betts of Three Trapped Tigers and musician-in-his-own-right Hugo Sheppard, and what we can expect from Emperor Yes in the coming year.
Emperor Yes seems to have come out of nowhere! How, when and why did you decide to form the band?In late 2010 I was in Japan for six months, and during my hours off free time (of which there were a ton) I wrote the basics of these songs. I wanted to take all the good bits of House of Strange, thematically and sonically, but make the arrangements simpler and to add choruses. It was super exciting to start from the beginning and concentrate on nothing but the music, not thinking about a personnel or anything.
It was only after recording the drums that [Adam] Betts [also of Three Trapped Tigers] asked when the first rehearsal was going to be. That was in November 2011, I think. Emperor Yes was going to be a studio project that me and Hugo [Sheppard, also of To-mera and ex-Summer Camp] would sort of lead, but with Betts on board we had a killer band that could do shows. We should be playing around town from February.
Is there something specific about the new direction that you felt wouldn’t suit House of Strange, Three Trapped Tigers or To-mera?I reckon so. If any of these songs were from those bands it would be pretty weird, huh? I guess my role is closest to mine in House of Strange, but did you ever hear any choruses [from that band]? That’s my Emperor Yes secret pleasure, the choruses.
About the other lads - I don't think Three Trapped Tigers and To-Mera completely represent Betts and Hugo as musicians, or [are representative] of what they listen to. Both those bands showcase a specific area of their killer arsenal, but they are super diverse, mentally capable and enjoy playing tons [of different] musical styles. They both love M83 and Daft Punk, and I reckon those influences will get used in Emperor Yes. But its only early days, we are going to be recording a batch of new tunes in the next few months that will have songs written by the other guys. We will know more then, [I] can’t wait.
The shift in style varies between each band member – how much have you all had to compromise to meet a common ground?Not for me, no. I love what both those guys do. We all listen to so many different styles of music none of them feel taboo or anything. Having worked in plenty of different bands, I think an idea of what works for the tune and what doesn't is quite strong with us. Apart from hoping this band is around for a while I don't have too many other expectations from it, I’m just happy to see where it goes. After so many years of driving projects I've found a couple of people I'm very happy to surrender to!
Where did you all meet?London! I saw Betts play first in 2004 with his band the Optimist Club (with Beach from Young Husband). They played a show I couldn't forget – [it was] properly full on, with toplessness, sweat and blood. Then a couple of years later we met through Tom Rogerson who was playing with Jeremy Warmsley (who I have helped with recording, gone on tour with and looked up to for years). When Tom got people together for Three Trapped Tigers and I was asked to do their front of house we got to spent a bunch more time together.
I met Hugo through Pete from the House of Strange in 2008, and he has been my closest working buddy since pretty soon after. These tunes would not sound half as great without his influence at every step. Making sure I practice, helping me remember lyrics, making synth sounds, being super creative with structures and arrangements are just a few of his talents. Hugo is a super win.
Several other musicians have worked with you on your first five demos. Will they contribute in the future?I certainly hope so! It’s an honour to have all these guys helping out, they're people who I have looked up to for ages now and have taught me so much. Whether it’s with the exact same people or with new people, there’s so much to learn and so little time. I know I can’t predict whether things are going to work together, I need to hear them or see them to know if they will fit. So adding as much external, randomising, influence is a great way to hear or see to those unplanned flukes. There is a beauty in art created solely by one individual, but Emperor Yes is a collaborative affair.
Frank Zappa used to record all his instruments onto different "tracks" on the tape real so that when it came to mixing the voice might come down half way through the kick drum track, and the guitar could be coming down on the hi-hat track. He said almost every time he would have to rematch the tracks to their original channels on the mixing console. But if there was one discovery a day it would be worth the extra time. You can never treat a hi-hat like you would treat a voice, even if you try.
Though you’ve had relatively limited coverage on the internet, blogs generally agree you’re influenced by The Postal Service, The Flaming Lips and Mercury Rev. Do you think that’s fair, and is there any truth in it?Sure! Whatever people hear in it. We all listen to a bunch of music so I hope it excites people in different ways. I've spent a lot of time with all 3 of those bands, but equally with many others. See what you can hear in it.
Why Carl Sagan [the scientist Emperor Yes chose to name a song after]?The only other person [it] could [have been was] David Eagleman; his book SUM is one of the best books I’ve read. Both are scientists who are uber creative in a bunch of different fields. I’m also into Michel Gondry for his out of the box DIY thing; Hayao Miyazaki for his epic themes, character design, and attention to detail; Robert Rodrigeuz for his DIY approach, its inspiring what you can do with little gear; Walter Murch for his views on video editing and how they are applicable to most aspects of life and work; and Henry Selick and Ardmann studios - with that sort of animation there is an almost instant recognition of the time and patience it takes to produce their shows. With computer graphics you need to know about making computer graphics to appreciate the time and creative thinking involved.
The next person song will be about David Eagleman though, for sure.
When you’re not singing about Earth-bound creatures and plants, you’re singing about outer space. Will this be a dominant theme with Emperor Yes? What’s with the fascination?You always hear people say, sing about what you know and what you think about. So I guess when I stop thinking about science I'll stop writing about it. There must also be a bit of "if you can’t beat them do something different" when I write about feelings, situations and relationships. I feel like I'm competing with greats, very poorly. Too much pressure. I think good lyrics are ones that you can feel comfortable saying out loud, at dinner, or to friends, or to your Mom, and not feel like you are pretending to be somebody you’re not. There are great lyricists like Elliot Smith whose lyrics wouldn't work coming from me. For me lyrics are to be believed, and I’m a horrible actor.
What’s your game plan for 2012? Will your other projects take a back-seat to Emperor Yes, or vice versa?Three Trapped Tigers is the focus for Betts and me whenever the project is on, hopefully [they’ll have] a new album will be out by the summer. I also run House of Strange Studios which is pretty full time at the moment, but as long as people keep wanting to hear the songs we will record them and play them live.
Emperor Yes’ demos are now available through SoundCloud.