Interview: Owen Masterson & Steve Aliment from Yanks

You can purchase the MP3 album from Amazon Music.

Yanks have just released “Made In The States,” their second EP or remastered and reissued songs from the band. It continues the sense of adventure and energy found on their previous EP, “Only Lovers Left Alive.” Owen Masterson and Steve Aliment kindly shared their thoughts on the new release, as well as all things Yanks.

MD: You’ve come a long way in 2020, from the initial re-release of “I Don’t See Her Anymore” to now having a full dozen Yanks songs available again. You’ve gone from re-introducing yourself to having an eager audience of listeners and DJs looking forward to your next release. How do you feel about the way Yanks music has been received in the modern era?

Owen: Well I have to say I’m thrilled by all this interest in Yanks and I’d be lying if I said it’s not exciting. I won’t say we were ahead of our time, because we were definitely of our time and in the thick of it, but it’s a kick that the music is relevant today, that it stands the test of time.

Steve: Harlan Howard said it all, ‘three chords and the truth”. Sincere lyrics, catchy melodies, guitars, bass, drums! That gets to the listener in the 80’s or the 2020’s. Drop the needle on The Ramones, or The Small Faces – same thing.

MD: Your songs follow convention and buck it at the same time. When I played “Ain’t Like Me” on the show, I’d commented that the song would have fully supported a wild guitar solo, since the intensity builds progressively, and in the back half of the song, you went for a Neil Young “When You Dance” / Be Bop Deluxe “New Precision” mode of repeating the chords, building a consistent tension, with tight harmony vocals on top. For me, your choice was the better choice. How often did you go into the studio with a song fully formed, from idea to execution, as opposed to having a riff, chorus or verse, and fleshing it out in the studio?

Owen: Everything is worked out beforehand: song arrangement, lyrics, vocal parts, all of it. We want to know where can it go, what are the options, how far can we push this thing. We hit the studio, hit record, and the energy explodes. We’ve got such a tight understanding of the song that we can let go of the mechanics and let the song takeover, let inspiration fly.

Steve: Right. Had to be because we didn’t have ProTools then. Two inch tape, 24 tracks, clock running so yes, had to have it tight but A LOT of work went in ahead of time – working out arrangements, the intros, the hooks, that was very collaborative and sometimes messy. Take “Tell Me No Lies” for example. Owen had that verse, chorus, bridge but we were looking at each other saying, how does it start? And I remember saying to Jack Johnson, hey man, remember that O’Jays song “For The Love Of Money”? Try something in that direction. Next thing we know, JJ has this haunting pedal riff going and we were all like THAT’s IT. Live show, JJ would milk that TMNL intro for 30 seconds and revisit it in the breakdown! Saddle Up too, very similar arrangement process.

MD: When Yanks were recording and performing, the San Francisco Bay Area had developed a unique sound, an amalgam of traditional Pop/Rock, elements of New Wave, as well as Punk. One or more of these elements could be found in any one of your songs, you utilize all of them, but weren’t tethered to any of them. You even have a song on the new EP, “We Call Each Other Mine,” which is pure, pristine, state-of-the art CowPunk, a la Jason & The Scorchers at their best. How did your audiences respond to this kind of variety? Having been there at the time, I imagine you were on the ideal playing field for that kind of freedom.

Owen: For us, it was never about: change the chords and lyrics and it’s another ‘bang-bang-bang-bang’ song like the last one. We pushed out at the boundaries of what a “rock” band could get away with musically. We liked to mix genres. We knew we had a sound, and we would let it loose onto whatever style song we were playing.

“Searching’” rides on a sly reggae guitar rhythm but the song that roars out of the speaks is a power chord pop song. “Run” kicks in and just howls, “Tell Me no Lies” gets the funk-disco treatment, while “Made In The States”, with a great duet by Jack and Steve, claims it’s ballad status proudly.

From the first record, “Only Lovers Left Alive” is like some English techno pop dance groove but with hip grinding guitars and a big back beat replacing the squeaky synths and tick-tick drums. Also from the first record, “Ain’t Like Me” really surprised us. OK- it’s a ballad, with way too many chord changes, a complicated melody line snaking through it, and no big ‘reaching for the stars’ solo, in short: the whole thing shouldn’t work, but the audience loves it. It’s a sing along. It’s a party.

Here’s the thing, you do what’s right for the song; building the arrangement that best utilizes the bands sound to that end. It becomes a matter of instinct. I have to admit though, that the “broad Yanks sound” was a blessing and a curse. The major labels want to know exactly where music belongs- the pigeon hole, and we were not playing the same song over and over. Our combined musical influences were extremely wide and varied and we injected all that into the material. It was hard I think for the majors to understand us.

Steve: Yes, and don’t forget soul, metal and power pop. It was all in the stew. You go to a Yanks show at the Mabuhay and look at the crowd. The uptown punks were there, the hard core punks, the skateboarders, the sweater kids, the bikers, and the rockers. They all found something in a Yanks show. Diversity? Shit, we one-off covered “Bernadette” by The Four Tops and “When You Were Mine” by Prince but it was 100% Yanks.

MD: The band has clearly built up a steady momentum in 2020. What’s next?

Owen: What’s next? Well I can tell you that live shows and any tour talk are off the table. In the meantime, Yanks has in the pipeline a new album of never released tracks. We’ll be dropping a few singles from that starting soon; we are working out the selections and sequencing for the album at this moment. We’ve been listening to mountains of live tracks and will release a super collection of the best and the worst! And then there has been some talk about a deluxe limited edition vinyl box set of everything… hummm.

Personally, I’m looking at recording an acoustic album set reaching deep into my own extensive catalogue, and also doing some new writing and recording, remotely of course, with Steve.

Steve: Yes, agree. Paul lives in Belgium. Playing live seems impossible not to mention COVID19. I’m looking forward to Owen’s acoustic album! His solo stuff is going up on Spotify regularly. I also want to work on some co-writes with Owen. It’s a lot easier to collaborate long distance now with the new technology (GarageBand, Logic, ProTools). I have a new song dropping July 19th and the album 150 Tears is going to drop digitally on Labor Day. I’ll knock a few more out between September and the end of 2020. Let’s see what 2021 brings.