British band yndi halda does not do the three-minute pop song. They do the sprawling, epic, cinematic song full of symphonic instrumentation and massive builds and dive in dynamics. And their shit is awesome.
We were recently sent Under Summer, the band’s recently released, long-awaited follow-up their 2006 debut, Enjoy Eternal Bliss, and had to find out more about them. We talked with founder, multi-instrumentalist, and singer James Vella (hooded, attacking above) about how the band arrived at their sound, what got the members back in the studio and out on tour after so many years, and how the hell to say their name. Listen below and read on.
raven + crow: I apologize as I imagine this you’re usual out the gate question, but where does the band name come from and how on earth do I pronounce it?
James Vella: The name comes from an ancient Norse poem entitled Odin’s Raven Magic. We found it as teenagers and loved the line (it translates to “Enjoy Eternal Bliss”) so much that we felt it perfect for the name of the band.
We pronounce it “yin-dee hal-dar”, but I have no doubt that we pronounce it wrong. A real modern-day Icelander would probably take exception to our voicing of it.
Good enough for me. Also, raven magic. Nice. How did the band originally form?
Most of us met in school. Jack, Daniel, Olly, and I met as boys and grew up together, scattered across a few small towns in one local area. We developed our musicality together, and I think that characterises the nature of the band and our music a great deal. We started playing covers together—graduating from The Smashing Pumpkins to Jeff Buckley to Radiohead over our school years, and formed yndi halda when we were 15-16.
I’m not usually a player of the comparison game, but I hear a lot in your music—Explosions in the Sky, Rachel’s, other early Touch and Go/Quarterstick Records—but it’s definitely distinct too. I also feel like there’s just not a ton of good music in this vein being made these days—what other bands do you guys listen to that you feel like might inform your sound? Or at least be on par with it?
We all listen to a huge amount of music. So much so, in fact, that I don’t think any of us listen to anything similar to our own. I am a fan of Rachel’s, for sure, but among a much bigger record collection they only provide so much influence to my songwriting. Something I like to do is reduce the number of records on my iPod to a bare minimum so I have to listen very closely to a small pool of albums. For example, I currently have: Fugazi, Julia Holter, Majical Cloudz, Omar Khorshid, Rully Shabara, Shellac, Sun Ra and a few of the Habibi Funk mixtapes on there. I think it’s really important to expand the palette. Not just to listen to music like your own.
Man. It is safe to say that is a very eclectic list of music-makers. I like your anti-single approach though. I sometimes feel that I listen to way too much music from way too many people, to the point of not really getting to know many of the artists like I used to when music existed without the internet.
Many of your songs have run pretty long compared to most contemporary pop out there and the new work’s no exception. Is that by design or more just an effect of the music itself?
That’s a good question. A few of us in our solo projects—mine is A Lily, Olly does The Lunchtime Sardine Club, Alex has Vincent Vocoder Voice—write much shorter, more pop-orientated pieces. So I guess we could do that if it fit for yh, but it seems evident that the sum of the yh songwriters’ influence is long-form structures. There’s no design to it, just the natural result of the compositional process. We always like multiple moods and movements in a song, and we also like very patiently-paced tempos, so I guess it is inevitable that we require some time to include everything we want in a single piece.
What brought the shift to more vocals in the music? …or maybe a better question is why the absence of vocals in earlier work?
I think a similar answer to my last one, honestly. I think we can only ever write the music that naturally comes out of us, and in this case that includes wishing to express something that could only come out in real lyrics. Much of us are big fans of vocal music—we’re all big Beach Boys listeners, for example—and so it wouldn’t have taken us long to have arrived there in any case. I think we work to the instrumentation or timbres that best express what we intend to express. It just happened that the first record came out almost entirely instrumental and the second record a lot more vocal.
I heard you guys did handmade covers for the self-release of Enjoy Eternal Bliss—you don’t have any photographs of those you can share do you?
Not personally, but I bet if we did a social network shout-out we could unearth a few!
Let’s do it! I’m super-curious. Besides the vocals, how else do you see the new work differing from what you did some ten years back?
I see it differing a great deal. I said in another interview somewhere that it feels less like a memory and more like a past-life revival in some cases. Unearthing lots of old feelings that I couldn’t have accessed without playing those older pieces again. That became especially true on our UK tour last week, performing Enjoy Eternal Bliss material for the first time in years. I think, for one, we’re better musicians this time around. We can all play a lot more comfortably. I feel that that represents a significant difference on this record.
I can hear that, as a listener. Obviously, the whole music scene and how we consume music has changed a lot since then. Do you have any opinion on whether it’s for the better or the worse?
I couldn’t say whether it has become better or worse, truthfully. In fact—in a wider sense—I don’t believe that anything actually becomes much better or much worse over time, just that the world and its people change. With that in mind, I can see positives and negatives in equal measure across the music industry. There has been a huge, huge influx of bands and labels and platforms over the past couple of years. This is great for plurality and creativity, but it of course becomes very difficult to be heard as one, competing against all of the others. Likewise, income and sales have reduced—a bad thing by anyone’s reckoning—but distribution has expanded. I’ve received emails from India, Malaysia, Peru, and other countries miles and miles away from home. This must have become possible only recently.
On that note, where have you guys been for the past decade? I assume pursuing the non-band part of your lives.
You assume correctly. We finished Enjoy Eternal Bliss while we were studying at our respective universities, and by then had all moved away from home to various cities and had lives to get on with. Day-jobs, relationships, other obligations. It was difficult for the band—meeting only on odd weekends when our calendars could match up—but we always knew we wanted to make it work, however slowly.
What brought the move to get everyone back in the studio now?
Honestly, just the realisation that we could do it. The material for the record felt ready and though we still had some loose ends to tie up—additional instrumentation, some arrangements etc.—by the time we went into the studio, we did so with more or less completed pieces. And that was the first time that that had felt the case, even after the years of songwriting. We can be very hard on ourselves and each other with our internal criticism and though it was tough at times, I definitely feel it made the record stronger.
That’s excellent. Again, I feel like it comes through in the sound of the record. So is everyone still based in Canterbury?
None of us, actually. Phil from the touring band is nearby, but most of us have long left our hometown. We’re fairly scattered across the UK now.
Are you touring more to support the new album?
We have just finished our first UK tour with the new record. It felt great to be back on the road. Just a week of shows, but really rewarding, fulfilling, exciting. And playing a sold out show in London—our first there for two years—was genuinely moving for all of us.
That’s great to hear! Think you’ll make it over to the states again any time soon?
Well heads up when you do.