Saturday 22 November 2014

Interview with YAMA

Yama first came to my attention way back in 2011 when I featured their excellent debut EP – Seaquake. It won a lot of praise within the Doom/Stoner Metal community for it's heavy mix of Sludge/Grunge/Stoner riffs.

Well 3 years later Yama are back with their stunning debut album – Ananta – which Håkan reviewed recently. Ananta is a thrilling ride of intense riffs and even crazier vocals from start to finish that will have you coming back for more. I have already ordered the Vinyl for this brilliant album. That's how great it is.

Yama have performed gigs with bands such as Uncle Acid and The Deadbeats, Orange Sunshine, Glowsun, Huata, Dopethrone, NAAM and Jex Thoth to name but a few. So these guys are very highly regarded in the Stoner Metal scene.

Yama have kindly agreed an interview with ourselves at Sludgelord HQ

Q1 – Hi guys. How are things with you all today.

Y: Doing great Steve! We’re really thrilled that our album is finally coming out. We already recorded it quite a while ago actually. But due to several factors it took a bit longer to release. Once this release ‘thing’ is done we are – of course – ready to conquer the seven seas!

Q2 – Can you give a brief history to our readers of how the band came about and where it is today.

Y: Our history goes back to 2009. Sjoerd (guitars) and Alex (vocals) were housemates back then. It all started in a smoky student’s place. In 2010 the band was formed, at first called ‘Les Ailes’ (meaning ‘the Wings’ in French). Later on we changed the name into ‘Yama’. In 2011 we launched our EP ‘Seaquake’ and got really cool responses and orders from around the globe (we’ve got orders from stonerheads from Vladivostok and India for instance, how awesome is that?!). Now three years later we did a bunch of great gigs and are ready for a next step. We like to reach even more lovers of the heavy riff!

Q3 – Why did you choose the name YAMA. Any specific meaning to the band.

Y: We were looking for a name that both covered the style of the music and the lyrics. The music consists of a wide range of influences. Our lyrics have mythological or philosophical themes. We are really interested in religion and the ‘condition humaine’. One day Alex read about the Vedic deity ‘Yama’. We were really attracted to both the Indian/Vedic and the Tibetan Buddhist narratives about Yama. Yama is the God of Death and Illusion, spinning the wheel of life. But Yama is also a term that’s used in several forms of Yoga. Here Yama means something like abstinence or the cessation of the Ego. Well, we could go on for hours on this topic. Let’s keep our focus on the band haha.

In short, both the wonderful images (especially the Tibetan ones, you should really look that up!) and the spiritual and philosophical meaning of Yama are an inspiration for us.

Q4 – How would you describe your own sound. As I feel it's best coming from the band themselves. Plus you have tons of different vibes going on.

Y: We think it’s a more or less a synthesis of the music we listen to in the present and our musical backgrounds. Sjoerd has his background in music ranging from metal to psychedelia and improvised music. Peter (bass) originated from the ‘kvlt’ world of black metal. Joep (drums) used to play in punk/garage bands. Alex used to sing in a heavy metal band as well as a blues rock group.

More directly our style is influenced by bands we all listen too. Varying from heavy 70ies (Sabbath, Led Zep) to doom (Yob, Electric Wizard) to grunge (Alice in Chains) to folky and bluesy stuff and everything in between.

Q5 – We have to talk about your new album – Ananta - So are you excited, nervous or thrilled what people are going to make of it.

Y: Of course you’ll never know if people will dig it. Our EP was very well received, but Ananta is a very different album. It has more compact songs, it’s more ‘in-your-face’ you might say. This goes for the production as well, we’ve gone for a cleaner, crisper sound this time which is a change from the Seaquake sound. It’s still heavy as a ton of bricks, of course.

Q6 – Was it a hard or easy album to write and record for. As you have a lot of different sounds going on with the album.

Y: Well the writing process was spread out over a long period of time. It wasn’t like we planned a couple of weeks writing before hitting the studio. Some of the songs date from around the time the EP came out (like Hollow or Anchor in Time), others (like SOTCII and Ruach Elohim) were relatively new. We take quite some time – maybe a bit too long sometimes- for the songs to evolve. Maybe that’s why the songs and our sound as a whole are that varied. The recording process itself was intensive but it went pretty well. We took our time to make sure everything sounded the way we wanted it to sound and we are proud of the result!

Q7 – What influenced you when writing and recording the album.
Y: This really depends on the song. For instance, SOTCI is primarily written by Sjoerd and Alex. What inspired us was a piece by Franz Schubert called ‘der Erlkönig’, based on a poem by Goethe. When you read the lyrics you’ll definitely see the similarities. But the main riff during the verses echoes some of the violin lines from ‘der Erlkönig’ as well. In most instances the writing of the instrumental part of the song and the scope and content of the lyrics are strongly related.

Q8 – Why did you choose the name Ananta for the title of your album. Does it have any specific meaning to you as a band.

Y: The central theme in our lyrics is the hubris of mankind. Meaning that mankind puts itself on an intellectual pedestal: we are the Enlightened species, we even succeeded God! Or, we are the ones that are ‘chosen’, we are the ones that are created in His own image.

Ironically mankind is especially capable in creating ‘welfare’ societies wherein people get ill from the air they breathe in, the food they take and the medication that’s meant to cure them. Mankind is also superior in ruining the environment, ruining a (financial, religious, ideological) system they’ve created themselves and in using their superb intelligence for a systematic and scientifically brilliant way of massacring their own species.

This ‘bitter sweet symphony’ seems a never ending story to us. Which led us to the Greek mythological figure of ‘ouroboros’ (the serpent biting his own tail). We found out that there’s a Vedic equivalent of this Greek mythological figure, namely: Ananta (meaning both ‘thousand headed serpent’ as ‘the endless’). We found a story – there are also several paintings - wherein Vishnu lays down on Ananta, sailing over the sea of finitude.

This image really appealed to us, because it visualizes and summarizes the theme of ‘infinity versus finitude’ and ‘hubris versus modesty’ really well. Next to that the figure and meaning of Ananta is strongly related to Yama. Also a good thing in terms of artwork of course.

Q9 – Who designed the awesome album cover and how much input did you have into the overall design of the album cover.

Y: It’s our good friend and really talented illustrator Maarten Donders ( He did the artwork for our EP as well. But he also provided artwork for the Roadburn Festival and bands like Monomyth, Blues Pills and Brutus, a.o. We told Maarten about our ideas as we said before. But we decided to let him free. His creative mind, excellent artistic skills and our idea led to this – we agree on this one - awesome artwork!

Q10 – What does the album cover actually represent to you as a band.

Y: The Ananta artwork symbolizes the most important lyrical themes on this record. Apart from being this beautiful philosophical metaphor as we've mentioned above, we liked the aesthetics of it as well. It’s a really cool symbol in that it suits both our musical style and our lyrics. The album cover is a strong, iconic picture, creating a psychedelic atmosphere and it also represents kind of an adventure. We’ve looked at it quite a lot as you can imagine. But every time you look at it you’ll discover something new. A cool detail you didn’t see before. We hope that this is also true for our music, which is a mix of different styles and influences.

Q11 – Now this album has been a very long time coming. Can you explain the long delay since your debut EP which was released way back in 2011.

Y: As mentioned before this is partly due to our writing process. Which can be described as ‘evolving’, or: a bit slow.. The recording process was rather smooth, but then we experienced several technical difficulties. We wanted a (re)master to be done by a good friend of ours. But the transaction of the recorded files went wrong. Which took a lot of time. It was also pretty hard to find a proper record label.

...So that’s sort of an explanation?

Q12 – Which bands and artists influenced you all as musicians. Any particular album that stands out that made you decide to become a musician.

Y: As we've mentioned, our musical backgrounds are pretty wide ranging. But we can name a few common influences: Kyuss, Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin, Goatsnake, Yob, Alice in Chains, 16 horsepower/Wovenhand… More beneath the surface I think all our old time favourites are involved. Ranging from black metal to delta blues, from jazz to garage.

Q13 – Looking at your in-depth gig history profile on BandCamp you have played a lot of gigs over the last few years or so. You have played with a lot of great bands and in some awesome festivals such as Roadburn. What has been your favourite gigging moment so far and the reasons why.

Y: The Roadburn show was outstanding of course! Especially because 3 of us are born and raised in Tilburg. So it was a strange mixture of playing in your local pub and performing on one of the most special and high rated stoner/doom festivals of the world.. The reaction of the crowd was great, so it really gave us a confidence boost. The gigs with Uncle Acid were pretty cool as well. For example, the show in Amsterdam, where we hadn’t played before. Our capital is well-known for an extremely busy music scene, with a lot of bands competing for the limelight. To be debuting at the legendary Melkweg venue in front of some 500 people was amazing. We really enjoyed our shows in Germany as well. Such an enthusiastic and generous crowd. We definitely want to go back there!

Q14 – Do you have any plans to do an extensive European Tour in the near future.

Y: We’re aiming to play a bunch of stoner or metal festivals this summer!
Q15 – Congrats on getting your album released on Vinyl. Are you releasing that album yourselves or through a record label.

Y: Thanks man! We released it through ‘Lighttown Fidelity Records’. It’s a relatively small Dutch record label, owned and run by Matthijs, a really dedicated guy. He really has heart for the music and the artists. We are very excited to be part of his roster.

Q16 – What is your musical setup when playing live or recording new material. Do you have an advanced setup or basic setup.

Y: Pretty basic actually. Joep (drums) has a raw rebuild Tama Rockstar from the late 80’s. Peter (bass) uses an Orange Terror Bass head along with big muff and bass juice fuzz/distortion. Sjoerd (guitar) uses a Blackstar amplifier and a few stomp boxes. Alex spices up his sound with a bullet mic (Green Bullet).

Q17 – What is the song-writing dynamic in the band. Is it down to one individual or a group collective.

Y: This really varies. Initially most of the songs were written by Sjoerd (guitar) and Alex. Sjoerd is still the ‘Riff Meister’. But everyone in the band plays guitar or bass, so everyone provides input on the different parts. A few examples: the opening and closing riffs of SOTCII were written by Peter (bass) and the opening riff of ‘Migraine City’ and most riffs of ‘Vy’ are written by Alex. But also Joep (drums) plays a key role in the writing process, especially when it comes to grooves, dynamics and details. So you could say it’s a mix of both individual and collective endeavours.

Q18 – Apart from the new album release, what other plans do you have over the next 12 months or so. Anything exciting you would like to share with us.

Y: Well, we will soon launch a promo clip we recorded. So that’s exciting. And we also have plans for shooting a full video clip. And we mentioned the summer festival tour. Next to that we are constantly writing new songs. So there won’t be a three year gap between ‘Ananta’ and the next release ;-).

Q19 – Do you find it hard being in a band in today's current climate. If you could change anything about the Stoner/Doom/Sludge Metal scene. What would it be and why.

Y: We love this scene. The people are open-minded, fraternal and there are a lot of good bands. A totally different climate than, for instance, the more mainstream metal scene. The only thing is, which is in a way pretty logical, it’s a small scene. The biggest festivals like Roadburn, have a couple of thousand visitors. If you compare that to Wacken Open Air or Metal Days.. More and more stoner bands are playing these major festivals, but still, the ‘market’ seems to be rather small.

On the other hand, a bigger market could also do harm to the special atmosphere we experience at specific stoner festivals around Europe.

Q20 – With 2014 drawing to a close, what have been your favourite records this year.

Y: The new albums by Yob and Pallbearer are our common favourites we could say. Alex is really fond of the new Robert Plant record (‘Lullabies and the ceaseless roar’). Peter mostly has the new Sólstafir and Wovenhand albums on repeat at the moment. Joep is in love with Goat’s 'Commune'. And Sjoerd is really into Sturgill Simpsons' sophomore album 'Metamodern Sounds in Country Music'.

Q21 – Before you go do you have anything to say to your fans.

Y: Well it’s corny, but still: we really like to thank all people that support our stuff. It is indescribably cool to get all this nice reactions during and after shows. But also many e-mails or facebook messages from people just saying they dig our music. We really appreciate that!

Well guys thanks for this. All the best with your debut album as it's a brilliant record which we rate very highly here at Sludgelord HQ.

Words by Steve Howe and YAMA

Thanks to YAMA for taking the time out to talk to us here at Sludgelord HQ. You can buy Ananta on DD from BandCamp. CD and Vinyl from LightTownFidelity.

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