Let’s Plug in and Play: An Interview with Phil Yates

Phil Yates has been on my radar for a while now, but I really sat up and took notice of his music when I found it he was going to be coming to the next town over from mine — Ardmore, Pennsylvania — for a show with Philadelphia locals Scoopski and the Bees, along with New Jersey’s own self-proclaimed lo-fi rock god Graham Repulski. Curious about what might bring him from Chicago to the Philly suburbs, I dropped him a line–but not before buying his most recent album, which I highly recommend!

You teach statistics at the college level, and you’re also a musician. Was it a case of getting your degree in statistics after being in music for a while, or was getting the degree always part of the plan?

I started playing guitar and bass when I was 15 after years of playing the trumpet. For the guitar, it was the geometry of chord shapes that really interested me at the time. Having the book of the complete scores of The Beatles was my “go to” manual. Truthfully, I think I went into math because I thought I could get a job crunching numbers for the Chicago Cubs. I had some friends when I was about 22 years old who pushed me to do a couple of open mics. I had just started graduate school at that time mainly because there were two distinctly non-math jobs I had lined up after graduation fell through due to lack of funding for those positions. Off to grad school I went. The balancing of musician Phil and academic Phil began then.

Do the two worlds intersect? How do they inform each other?

Ha! They do not intersect at all. Maybe someday I will figure out how to combine music with statistical research and write a paper that nobody would ever read – as opposed to writing songs that nobody would ever hear.

I’m also thinking about the performative aspects of teaching. Do you bring any elements of rock-n-roll stagecraft (for lack of a better phrase) to the classroom? Do you ever feel like starting class with a booming HELLLOOO CHICAGO!!!?

This is a great question! I think being comfortable on stage makes me more comfortable in front of a room full of students and vice-versa. For people who see me play live, I sometimes channel my inner Billy Bragg or Robyn Hitchcock and get a little chatty, sometimes to the chagrin of bandmates. The banter I have with the audience on stage is not that different from the banter I have with students in the classroom.

I just bought your 2018 album Party Music on vinyl for $15 (including shipping!) through BandCamp. That’s an incredible deal for fans, but I can’t imagine you’re making a whole lot of money on your end. Am I right about that? Are you looking at the decision to release the album on vinyl from an economic perspective, or do you have another way of looking at it?

That steal of a deal is an attempt to clear some space for when the new record arrives on vinyl. Futureman Records is releasing it. The album, in theory, will arrive mid-to-late July. It’s called A Thin Thread, and it is the first full-length release with the Chicago version of the Affiliates. Also, it will be $20 plus shipping from Bandcamp. I’ve released a handful of singles with the new crew. In the grand scheme of things, I hope to break even on these vinyl or CD releases. Having a steady day job I guess reduces the pressure of trying to immediately sell out all the merch. I consider myself fortunate in that regard. I listen to CDs in the car, but my wife and I own cars that are 10 to 15-years old. At home, we listen to a lot of records. In the end, my decision-making boils down to “what format am I buying?”

You released the vinyl edition of Party Music through Futureman Records. What’s your relationship with them?  How did you find them – or did they find you? What do they offer that you’d rather not do on your own?

The album before Party Music! was No Need To Beg. I was lucky to work with Almost Halloween Time Records, a tiny label out of Bari, Italy, on that release. An artist, Luigi Falagario, runs that label. I must give him some press here because what he does is amazing! He hand-draws every record sleeve on his releases, making each release a work of art. Anyway, Luigi was too busy to release Party Music!, so  when it was finished being recorded, I searched for other small labels to release it. I found Futureman Records, a label out of Detroit run by Keith Klingensmith (of the wonderful band The Legal Matters). He agreed to put it out. When working with them, I am responsible for any CD or vinyl production. Futureman Records helps with promotion. That saves me time of contacting reviewers at magazines, blogs, online radio stations, and avenues like that. He can do that for me. Promotion is a pain in the ass. Also, I find that being on label opens a few more doors in terms of booking shows.

I think it took me exactly twenty-four hours to get the pun in your band name – Phil Yates and the Affiliates. It’s the kind of name that was meant to be. Do you remember when the epiphany struck? I picture the clouds parting and light shining down on you. Or maybe a clap of thunder. Did the name precede the band, or was it the other way around?

I was doing the solo acoustic thing for a while and was excited to finally recruit musicians to beef up my songs. The name came when I had the original lineup of the band in Burlington, Vermont. I distinctly remember that I wanted something like Phil Yates & The First Dates, which while not terrible, it is not very good. It was either my bassist at the time, Raph Worrick, or the lead guitarist, Kevin Stevens, who said “Why not Phil Yates & The Affiliates?” Boom! Done! Now we need to learn more of my songs and go play shows. People either get that pun right away, like you did, or it takes them a long, long time for it to click. The head music editor of the weekly alternative newspaper in Burlington (I won’t embarrass him by calling him out by name) came to me, after one of my last shows before moving back to Chicago, and said “I’ve reviewed and seen you guys for years and only now I get the name.”

How long has the band been together, and has the lineup changed over time?

Phil Yates & The Affiliates started in Fall 2010 in Burlington, Vermont. The lineup was Raph Worrick (bass), Kevin Stevens (lead guitar), and Dev Jana (drums). Dev moved away after two years and then we had Jake Blodgett behind the kit. He appears on Oh So Sour, No Need To Beg, and Party Music!. That last album took a while to mix. In fact, I moved to Chicago in 2017 before it was officially released in 2018. Since I had an album by Phil Yates & The Affiliates being released, I needed to form a new band to play those songs. With the blessing from the old Affiliates, I kept the name and now have new Affiliates. They play on the new record, A Thin Thread. Shout out to Jay Lyon (bass), Richard Bandini (lead guitar), and Bill Urban (drums).

You’re touring this summer with stops in Chicago, Detroit, Dayton, Philadelphia(ish), and Winooski, Vermont. How did you decide the itinerary? What goes into planning a tour of this scale? Why do you do it?

First, Richard and I both teach – me at a university and Richard at an elementary school. I love this version of the band and want to play as many shows as possible. We chose Detroit because of Futureman. Dayton appeared because I was having no luck with Cleveland and my search kept pushing me further south in Ohio. Pittsburgh might be in the works. I have a handful of friends in Philly, and that bill has come together nicely with BEES!, Scoopski, and Graham Repulski. NYC is in the works. Winooski is outside of Burlington, and where I am playing is my favorite place to play in the greater Burlington area. A lot of emailing bookers and networking with bands I know in those various locations goes a long way in the planning. I do it because I love playing live. I hate recording. I hate the entire process, but it is a necessary evil. Let’s plug in and play! Get sweaty, play my three-minute pop songs loudly, and hang out with other like-minded artists. That’s it. That’s a perfect evening.

Is the tour in support of a new release? 

Yes. A Thin Thread should be on my doorstep mid-to-late July. I will have a short run of CDs for promo purposes (college radio, Futureman’s sending to blogs, etc.).

Any plans for after the tour?

We will have an album release show on August 7 at my neighborhood record store, Tone Deaf Records in Chicago. We will be playing a handful of shows in Chicago the rest of the year. Then I get back to academic work. I also plan on going to some shows. I have tickets for Elvis Costello and Nick Lowe in August, the Decemberists (also in August), and will be taking my daughter to her first “in door” show in September for her birthday – Pavement (one of her favorite bands, which is a parenting win!). She’s been to a ton of outdoor shows with us.

Did I geek out a little and design a poster for the Ardmore show? Yes, I did.

No Rest for the Rockin’ – All About “Desperately Wanting”

“Desperately Wanting” is a new song by Brian Lambert and Marc Schuster. It sounds like:

  • New Order
  • The Cure
  • The Smiths
  • Echo and the Bunnymen
  • Roxy Music
  • Belly

You can stream it on all the major music platforms: Find Your Platform!

About…

After releasing a song a week for a full year, Denton, Texas, indie-rocker Brian Lambert had certainly earned himself a day off. But no sooner had he completed the final song of his 52-week song challenge than Philadelphia native Marc Schuster reached out with a collaboration in mind.

The pair had worked together earlier in the year when Marc contributed a synth riff and backing vocals to Brian’s song “Kids.” This time around, the collaboration would be more balanced. Marc had a track that needed a top-line—lyrics and a melody. If anyone could deliver, he knew it would be Brian.

Twenty-four hours later, they had “Desperately Wanting.” Reminiscent of music by the Cure, the Smiths, and Echo and the Bunnymen (with hints of Roxy Music and Belly), the song explores the human need for connection—and laments all the ways we feel to communicate when we need it most. In short, it’s a song for and about our emotionally fraught times.

Needless to say, the duo is very excited about the release of their song. In fact, Brian’s wife says it’s her favorite of his songs. Considering that he just finished writing and recording 52 other stellar songs, that’s really saying something.

As for the future, Brian and Marc have already started work on an EP together and are kicking around band names. Right now, the front runner is The Star Crumbles, an anagram of their surnames. With any luck, they’ll come up with something better before the EP is finished!

About Brian Lambert:

Based in Denton, Texas, Brian Lambert has reinvented himself more times than he can count, but his current indie-rock sound has been heavily influenced by a constantly evolving and rotating list of artists including Gang of Youths, the Replacements, and Spoon. He used to play gigs all over the Denton-Fort Worth metroplex, but took a break from gigging to focus on a 52-week song challenge that saw him writing, recording and producing mind-blowing new jams every week for a year.

Praise: 

  • “Lambert’s taken a step back to reshape at his own style, leading him to cozy up more to the likes of Grimes and Spoon than to the classic country folk acts he’s historically been compared to. That’s not to say that Lambert doesn’t still carry the standing of songwriters like Ol’ Hank and Dylan, but this new undertaking of indie rock is undeniably refreshing to hear, especially in this year of surprises and hard left turns.” – Jack Anderson, KUTX
  • “Fuzz-laden pop rock, that jangles in every conceivable place, yet still retains an air of languid melancholy… Lambert does modern pop-rock without frills and pretenses, just relying on his lived in voice and superb musicianship.” – Darrin Lee, Janglepop Hub
  • “Honing his craft Lambert – who has been compared to such artists as Tom Petty and Hank Williams – has been finding inspiration and writing songs since he was a teenager. Now, his blend of country, folk and rock has made him a fixture on the Texas music scene.” – Jessica De Leon, Denton County Magazine

About Marc Schuster:

Marc Schuster has been hanging around the fringes of the Philadelphia art and music scenes since the 90s. His projects are too numerous and obscure to mention, but recent highlights include the EP There Is No Down and the children’s book Frankie Lumlit’s Janky Drumkit. When he isn’t making music, Marc interviews indie musicians on his blog, Abominations, and teaches English at Montgomery County Community College in Blue Bell, PA.

Praise:

  • “One of my favorite humans on the planet is Marc Schuster, who’s not only insanely creative and multi-talented, but also incredibly generous, funny and kind… Not only are his songs infectiously catchy, he has a wonderful knack for putting a youthful, often tongue-in-cheek perspective on everyday situations and problems many of us have faced at one time or another.” – Jeff Archuleta, Eclectic Music Lover
  • “If there was ever the perfect way to contemplate our place in the universe, then Marc Schuster’s plaintive R.E.M-meets-subtle-fuzz-pop, delivers it.”  — Darrin Lee, ​Janglepop Hub
L-R: Marc Schuster and Brian Lambert

Great Chemistry: An Interview with Torrid (A Love Affair)

Torrid (A Love Affair) has been gaining a loyal following among those in the know since the release of their debut album, Poems from Mars, on Bandcamp in February. Indie singer-songwriter duo the Kintners, for example, described as a “pretty effin’ inspiring group of rockers.” And with good reason: Soaring over a solid foundation of grunge-inspired noise, their crystal-clear vocals offer a message of hope and strength in uncertain times. With their album making the leap to all major streaming services on June 10, I dropped them a line to see what makes them tick.

Who’s in the band, and what does everyone do—both musically and beyond? Who’s your biggest cheerleader? Who takes care of business? Who handles social media?

Sarah: I’m Sarah, I’m the singer and main songwriter – we all contribute but they generally start with me. I think I champion the band by driving us forward, but my lovely bandmates definitely cheer me along when I’m having doubts about something – usually my latest song!.

Will: I’m Will, the drummer and producer of Poems from Mars! Honestly, I think Ads is the biggest cheerleader, but everyone encourages and inspires each other all the time. That could be just in a rehearsal room with a new riff or comment on a new drum fill, or by sending a message to the band about a song they’ve listened to and were inspired by! Sarah takes a lot of the weight of socials and business but I’m trying to take a more active part in some of those business roles.

Syd: I’m the bass player, Sydney. Sarah is definitely our cheerleader and we wouldn’t exist without her.

Ads: I’m Adam. I guitarinate and sing high bits. And what the others said.

I don’t often see bands with parentheticals in their names. Can you say a little bit about that? And why “a love affair”?

Sarah: Well that’s my fault! Back in the early days of Syd, Ads and I putting songs together we were discussing band names. I said I wanted something poetic like the word torrid. At some point during the session Ads mentioned something about a love affair and I said that’s it! But to be different (a recurring problem of mine) I said let’s not just be Torrid Love Affair, let’s switch it up!

Can your friends just call you “Torrid,” or do you prefer the full name?

Sarah: You can call us anything you like! But Torrid is fine.

How would you describe the chemistry within the band?

Syd: I love our chemistry. We have always worked well together in a musical and social way. I think it’s fair to say we all pretty much clicked from the start

Will: I think we have a great chemistry, when we’re writing new music I think (and hope) everyone feels comfortable experimenting and throwing their ideas into the hat, knowing that we’ll all listen and give our honest opinions. Outside of music we all get on well, we have a lot in common, enjoy the same things and are all pretty easy going, though it’s not often we all get to hang out all four of us together unless it’s just after a gig!

Ads: I’m enormously attracted to all of them. On a spiritual, physical and musical level. Plus Sarah brings crisps.

Sarah: We get on really well! I’m lucky as I get to spend the most time with each of them individually, writing, producing or just down the pub! I can be honest in front of them, which is challenging for me writing such frank songs. I remember actually shaking the first time I showed All The Bad Men to Ads, I didn’t think I could get through it! But thank god I did cos look what it’s become! That is the kind of chemistry you need from your bandmates.

And how is that chemistry reflected in the music?

Will: I see the union of our various parts played on the songs as a reflection of our chemistry, we all know when to work together and play in unison, and also when to spend some time on our owns and take the lead or fall back. Sarah does an amazing job of bringing a great concept to the studio every time, then we build on that together while also thinking about our own parts. We often have quickfire discussions about our favourite artists or songs recently and that helps us work together musically. Our writing group process is very laid back and very naturally flowing and I think that shows in the end product!

Sarah: For me it’s seeing the journey of the song, from 1 acoustic guitar to the final track. But it’s also what you see on stage. I think you can tell we like each other, we enjoy what we do and we believe in it.

Ads: I think our personalities can be heard in each instrument and although individual, they all fit together to form an unstoppable mega-personality. Called Torrid.

Syd: Agree with all of the answers here. Our individuality is reflected at the same time as how we all come together to create our sound.

Your songs have an underlying theme of strength and resilience. What makes Torrid (A Love Affair) especially qualified to deliver that message?

Will: Though I think Sarah is most qualified to answer this as they’re her songs, I think that absolutely anyone is qualified to deliver a message that is personal to them, we’re no more qualified than anyone else, but we’re choosing to convey those themes and emotional states through music.

Ads: Age.

Sarah: Er, I don’t think we or I are any more qualified than anyone else! I just write what I know, what I feel, and I do it because I have to do it. If Torrid didn’t exist I’d do it anyway. So I guess it’s more about the receptiveness of the listener than what we have to say!

I understand that the art that the album art was produced by local artists. How did that come about? And how does their contribution enhance the overall presentation of the music?

Sarah: Well, when we realised the album was going to be an actual tangible object (thanks to Lights&Lines), I was reflecting on what I loved most about getting a new CD or tape. Yes, listening obviously, but for me as a budding vocalist even then, it was opening the insert and praying all the lyrics would be there, seeing photos and the personalities of the artist! So I starting thinking how we could incite that same excitement. I can’t draw stick men, but I have some very talented friends, so I asked around and it went from there! The support from people was incredible and it was great to help and be helped in such a creative and reciprocal way! So it was a real pleasure to be able to put unknown or local artists work in print. I think it looks stunning and I honestly couldn’t be prouder, it’s a such a wonderful layer to the album.

In addition to the art, how is the band part of a larger community, however you might define it—on a local scale or within a more global context? How do you use your voice, and what do you use it for?

Ads: Lyrically, I love that although from a female perspective, the themes are so universal and realistic that everyone can dig it. I can feel the connection with the audience on a much fuller level than when I was singing about goblins and apocalypse…es.

Sarah: Really, I just want to be relatable as a writer. I tell stories, usually real stories, of real emotions and experiences. I was always inspired by Alanis Morissette and George Michael for the way they didn’t ‘write a song’, they told a story. That’s all I want to do, and I believe if you tell the truth then people will hear that and respond. And even if you don’t understand the lyrics, hopefully our riffs and hooks will be enough to engage with. And that’s really what music is all about; connection.

You’re billed as a combination of grunge and stoner rock, but I’m also hearing a strong echo of what might be termed classic rock in your sound. Your harmonies in particular call to mind Heart. Do you have any… I don’t know what to call them… “Hidden” or “secret” influences?

Sarah: Firstly – thank you! Well despite being mainly into the rock and grunge genres now, I grew up on a mix of Andrew Lloyd-Webber, The Beatles and Barbershop! So harmonies were everywhere in my house! Singing a 5th along with the microwave was not uncommon! Later, seminal albums like Jagged Little Pill, the greatest hits of Roxette, Bon Jovi and Aerosmith never left my stereo. So yes, lots of influences and you’ll hear moments throughout our album – the title is a courteous nod to David Bowie.

Will: I believe that 90% of people you talk to, especially musicians or people with musical interests, won’t primarily listen to the music they play. I absolutely enjoy stoner rock and grunge and desert rock, but I often listen to RnB, Soul, Jazz, Soul, Opera, Classical/Orchestral pieces. Absolutely I enjoy thrashing to some power metal and chilling to some stoner doom, but musical influences come from all over the place and I truly believe that that is really well reflected in the songs. If you look at the whole album, there are rock and grunge riffs, jazz beats, funk basslines. We’re channeling our influences into these songs but those influences aren’t always as obvious, immediate and recognisable as a lot of people think!

Ads: I love ethereal shoegaze guitars and I really connected with that in the 90’s. Being a very 90’s influenced band, I like to try and fit in some of that mournful psychedelic stuff where I can.

Syd: I am a huge rock fan, but I also love Country music and the uplifting sound of Spanish music. I love the harmonies in country music which maybe helps inspire me with the backing vocals? Within our genre I think there are lots of sub-genres infused, or just right out in the open! You can hear Queens of The Stone Age, something Sarah calls her Beatles harmony, even Portishead and Tool. Part of what makes us musically interesting is our unique blend of so many styles – we think so anyway!

What are your plans for the future?

Ads: To play loud to people that exist.

Will: We were in the studio a short while back working on some new tracks, we’ve got some shows lined up, maybe there’s a new album secretly brewing in Sarah’s head. If there is, I’ll be ready to tackle it head on!

Syd: To keep doing what we’re doing and see where it takes us. I think the future is exciting!

Sarah: Gigs! Always playing live, ideally some festivals – maybe abroad!?! I’d like to write 15 songs (I’ve got 7 or 8 so far) and make 10 of them good enough for a second album. And lately I’ve been toying with the concept of a remix EP of our favourite songs in different styles? A swing version, maybe a dance remix….it could be fun! We are open to suggestions…