I ran into Rob Bryn after a few years disconnect and he told me that he had made all the mistakes a man can make, and that now he was finally free. We were standing under the Brooklyn Queens Expressway near the Metropolitan stop in Williamsburg, Brooklyn and the cold was fogging up his thin pink eyeglasses. Brooklyn has a habit of tossing its occupants out into the street. Small apartments and over-priced cable bills provoke a lot of standing on the side of the road, and its not uncommon to run into the same person several times in a day. This is different than Manhattan. Running into somebody on a Manhattan street is like a glitch in the Matrix. There are competing ideas of neighborhood that can never be reconciled.
When I first saw Rob he didn’t tell me that he and Martin Cartegena were making music again. The band that comprised their first album had undergone some surgery. The boys had given up their jobs at a shoe store off Bedford Avenue and had spent the summer in Rockaway Beach. I’d seen Facebook photos of short shorts, long beards and a lot of cheap beer. They looked very happy, like windswept poets, staring at the sea.
Anybody who’s been in Williamsburg since before the mass migration of 2006 knows the Wild Yaks. They’re the boys at the end of the bar, playing pranks and taking the piss out of one another. Their music is half anthem rock, half folk, and half love song–a Venn diagram in the shape of an urban beach ball. It’s hard to explain a band without a genre, other than to point to their fan base and note the impact. The music is happy, heartfelt, and commingles blue-collar charm with the elitism of black-hatted rebelliousness. It’s also sort of stoned, but who isn’t these days.
We asked a friend of the band, jewelry designer Pamela Love, to meet up with the Yaks and pick their brains about fashion, Sandy, and people from North Carolina named José. Their new album A Million Years is out this month.
PAMELA: What were you doing before you joined the band?
JOSE: I was in other bands, that just broke up.
What were they called?
JOSE: I played in a band called Deserter, they were a psychedelic band. We toured for a while and then the band broke up, then I was just playing with any bands at the time. Then I came to a few Wild Yaks shows, and went to Martin Cartagena and said that I’d offer my services to them as their new bass player, because I thought that they needed a better bass player.
MARTIN: Or we said his girlfriend, offer his girlfriend to the band.
JOSE: I also offered my girlfriend to the band.
MARTIN: That never happened
JOSE: And then Martin never replied to my text messages when I offered myself to the band. I guess the band broke up after a while, after that show at Cameo.
MARTIN: Is that true that I never replied to your text messages?
MARTIN: I saw you everyday, it’s not like I could avoid you or anything.
JOSE: But it was a weird text message. I saw the band and my girlfriend at the time was like, “You should ask them, what if they need a new bass player.” And I was like, I don’t think they need a new bass player.
MARTIN: But you saw us a couple of times and were like, “Man, Dan sucks.”
MARTIN: Yeah, no offense Dan. I love you.
JOSE: No offense.
We can change his name.
JOSE: Stan sucks! I was like, “Yeah you really need a new bass player.” And then they broke up, and then when the band got back together Martin and I were friends, kind of friends, and Martin said, “Do you want to try out for the band?”
MARTIN: It was a couple of years later.
Do you remember that time I interviewed you guys and photographed you guys for a magazine?
MARTIN: Did it ever come out?
Yep! It came out, you never saw it?
JOSE: I wasn’t there!
ROBERT: Was it a European magazine?
No, it was The Last Magazine.
JOSE: Oh, that’s funny. So this isn’t the first time that you’ve interviewed us. That’s crazy.
ROBERT: You should write a book, Conversations with Wild Yaks.
JOSE: It could be half that and then half funny cat pics.
Yeah, there’s a section in the middle that should be photos, but it’s just cats.
MARTIN: You could use some of our live show shots and then include cat heads.
There’s an app on your iPhone where you can replace a picture of your face with a cat.
MARTIN: Ok, I’m going to get that.
I need to show you after we do the interview. So what else is going on with you guys now, you just released your new album?
MARTIN: No, it comes out November 20th. It comes out the same day that this comes out.
Can I harass you to give me a copy of it?
MARTIN: You didn’t get a copy of it yet?
MARTIN: Ok, I think our PR is sending one to your office.
Ok, cool. So what is the sound of the new album like?
MARTIN: Dude, get over here. Get off the computer, she’s going to be there when we’re done.
JOSE: Fuck you.
MARTIN: I know who you’re texting
Ok, what’s the sound of the new album? Talk about it.
ROBERT: Um, Jose, Martin?
MARTIN: I think it’s just more melodic than the older stuff. I feel like the older stuff was more funky, kinda more bluesy and this stuff is more rock n’ roll.
JOSE: The guitars definitely have a very surfy, chilly vibe, also very psych-y. Just cause that’s how it is, I mean we don’t make surf music and it’s not necessarily totally psychedelic music either.
ROBERT: But also the end result is surfy-er, the end result is surfy-er than ever.
You’ve been spending a lot of time in Rockaway.
ROBERT: It’s true and a bunch of the other songs were written there. That starts the conversation where it’s like, where does surf music come from? Is it a rhythmic response to the ocean or is it a genre because I know what ocean music sounds like? Like blues is definitely related to the sound of a train.
MARTIN: Yeah, but I don’t think that comes necessarily from your end. I think you write a song and then the guitar, the other elements just kinda come.
ROBERT: I think it’s funny though, because the cover is an old man lying on a surf board in a giant wave. He’s lying down and his beard is on his surf board and he’s going into the wave, becoming part of the wave, and when I showed Hunter the cover image he was like, “Is that the cover image?” I was like, “Yeah I love it,” and he was like, “You can’t do that.” So I was like, “What do you mean?” and he was like, “That beach is so tired, there’s so many beach themes, you can’t do that.” I kinda agreed with him, I was like, “Yeah, I think you’re kinda right. I don’t want to be associated with this thing that’s been so glutted, but at the same time I think there’s something about the music that is related to the ocean or about the ocean somehow.”
MARTIN: I don’t subscribe to that, how could the beach be played out?
ROBERT: Well I think that culture is a dialogue and I think that Wavves record King of the Beach is a really great record.
MARTIN: I wouldn’t say that’s a great record.
ROBERT: You don’t have to think that, you’re entitled to your opinion but I think that it’s a great record.
MARTIN: You think that’s a great record?
ROBERT: I think it’s a great record, but that’s not the point. The point is that the record is called King of the Beach and his band is called Wavves, and I think that’s saying something. I think that “King of the Beach” is funny, but he is saying something to bands that would sound beachy-er. You could be Queen of the Beach if you wanted.
Aren’t you friends with that band, Beach Fossils?
MARTIN: Yeah, we used to work with them.
ROBERT: The lead singer of that band used to a live in a town, that I used to live in and all of my friends are friends with him.
MARTIN: What town did you used to live in?
ROBERT: Charlotte, North Carolina. That’s my beef with that band, whenever they’d play they’d be like, “We’re from Brooklyn, New York.” And I’m like, Fuck no you’re not.
Well, anyways, who cares about them?
ROBERT: But I think you picked up on something funny, like what’s up with motherfuckers named Jose and what’s up with people from North Carolina? These are like constants.
Well there’s a lot of people that are from North Carolina and there’s a lot of people named Jose.
MARTIN: There’s a lot of people named Jose and this shit stands up, if you are a black person and you make epoch, shifty music as a black person from the years 1959 to like 1975, then you’re from North Carolina.
Except for in Charleston.
MARTIN: But look at Wikipedia pages, Nina Simone is from like Salisbury or something. Shit like that, everybody is from North Carolina. But I think any town that made music in the past is having a resurgence, like the great-grandkids, like in say Philadelphia. Philadelphia at one point was this super music town and then for a while it was just dead, then an explosion comes. It’s like woosh!
ROBERT: Yeah, Boys II Men.
MARTIN: Come on man, but it’s true, it did put Philly on the map.
ROBERT: But for posterity’s sake, the point I wanted to make was in Brooklyn, now, I think that there’s a lot of people from North Carolina and there’s a lot of motherfuckers named Jose.
Are any of the Jose’s from North Carolina?
ROBERT: Yes, Jose Boyer is from North Carolina.
MARTIN: Isn’t he from Austin?
ROBERT: No, he’s from North Carolina.
MARTIN: He was born and raised in Austin, we have a lot of mutual friends.
What is it about the name Jose and playing the bass?
ROBERT: They have the same number of letters and they’re both groovy sounding, Jose and bass.
MARTIN: But no, it’s funny Jose Boyer and Jose Ayer.
You’re from Philadelphia, right Martin?
MARTIN: No, but I lived there for a while.
Where are you from?
MARTIN: I was raised in New Jersey, but I’m originally from Williamsburg, Brooklyn. I was born in Manhattan and lived in Williamsburg until I was 6.
So both you and Robert are from New Jersey?
Jose where are you from?
JOSE: I’m from the Dominican Republic.
ROBERT: He’s not American.
Not New Jersey–so when did you move to America?
JOSE: I guess permanently in 2006.
ROBERT: Really? That’s not that long ago. Permanently? Jose was just in the D.R. and got a nice tan.
JOSE: Yeah, just got back last night.
Why did you want to come back to this weather Jose?
JOSE: I didn’t want to come back.
Were you visiting family?
JOSE: Yeah, I was there for a wedding.
ROBERT: Hurricane Sandy just happened, you missed it.
JOSE: I experienced it there.
Obviously I’m a really big fan of your band, but something really cool about you guys is that you have a really funny style which I think a lot of people notice.
ROBERT: Personal style?
Yeah, like your personal style not your musical style. You dress real weird. Can we talk a bit about that?
ROBERT: I need specifics.
MARTIN: I can be specific, some people wear sweatshirts on top of nice button ups.
ROBERT: I don’t know what you’re talking about.
MARTIN: You were wearing this nice shirt and then you went to the bathroom, came out and had a sweatshirt on top of it. You did that on purpose.
ROBERT: I was at your house and I was cold, I basically live out of a backpack. Rockaway Beach is destroyed, I can’t go home, there’s no electricity where I live so I’ve been living out of a backpack for more than a week now, and this is one of the things that I have that I like.
ROBERT: It’s not that soft, but there’s something that I like about survivalist pragmatic-ness or whatever. Were you looking at me specifically when you said that we have weird style? Because I want to know what you mean by that.
No, just all of you. I just think that you all have a look about you, especially when you play the drums. People say that you look like Animal from the Muppets.
ROBERT: With his style? I kinda like it. That sweater you’re wearing Martin, it’s beautiful.
It is gorgeous, but would you say that you aren’t particularly interested in fashion, or you are?
MARTIN: No, I am interested in fashion but I don’t make conclusions. I’m not like, Oh this is the perfect way for me to dress. But I get certain things and they’ll last until they fall apart, and then that forces me to come up with a new plan. I’ve always wished that I had durable pants with big pockets, and that would look good on me. I want to figure that out, like what’s the most comfortable shoe that also looks good. You know what I mean? Something that if the roof fell into the house, that anything I’d wear would go with that environment.
ROBERT: Maybe like a wetsuit, boots and fanny pack then?
MARTIN: I like fashion though, I like style. Piece of jewelry, which could also be certain pieces where it’s like, wow, this is a funky work of art.
But you like a lot of vintage stuff, you don’t follow any fashion labels?
MARTIN: Yeah, I don’t follow it that much, but we’re always working for stores. Getting styled by gay men and women who are all into that kind of stuff. So sometimes I’ll follow it. I don’t go out of my way to look at fashion magazines but I can appreciate it. The culture and the whole thing seems a little tough. It’s tough to be a part of it unless you’re really, fully in it. It’s the same thing with art though, there are tastemakers who influence these kinds of things, but there’s also people that show up and just do their thing. My cousins from New York City, they would come to New Jersey and they would look fly. They had the newest coats, the newest sneakers, pressed Wrangler jeans, just really ’80s fly. We lived in New Jersey, so like, whatever. It was this thing for me even then, where Spanish, Puerto Rican, black people had this look, so clean and fly, I remember that influencing me a lot. I think Converse are an amazing design. I think when people have the same tastes it kind of brings them together.
The reason why I like your band is that it’s hard to compare you to anything, you just sound like The Wild Yaks.
MARTIN: I never really listened to these guys, but people used to always come up to me and tell me that we sounded like The Replacements.
I see that, but I feel like you guys have your own thing that’s really hard to put into a genre and it’s also hard to compare to a lot of other bands. But I think that’s a really good thing.
MARTIN: I think so, too. And like with Grateful Dead, they were trying to make a bluegrass record but they couldn’t help becoming The Grateful Dead.
Yeah, ya’ll aren’t beachy, it’s like pirate music.
MARTIN: Absolutely. But before this record, we’d changed the band so much and done so many different things that I didn’t really know what we sounded like. It’s crazy to talk about the music and stuff, and this record isn’t even out. You’ve heard us play and stuff, but if someone wanted to look us up they’d really only be able to listen to that album that we put out like five years ago. So it’s weird because the band doesn’t sound anything like that now. It’s weird to talk about the sound of the band when we don’t know what the sound is. We had this conversation the other day, we don’t know what the record is going to sound like, but it definitely will sound like the band. We didn’t really have a choice either, because if you record one record with a group of people and then they’re gone and you have new people for the next record it’s going to sound different. We didn’t have Jose on the first record, he’s on this second record and then we may not have the guitarist, but we’ll have these three people and they bring something completely different.
But I think that your shows are a completely separate entity from the recordings.
MARTIN: Yeah, I never really cared about the recordings. I took a shower once in Jack Black’s shower in Beverly Hills. A friend of mine works for him, and his shower has a glass window, so you look down at this canyon, and it has super high pressure hot water. I was taking a shower in his shower, looked down and was like, If you make people happy then this is the reward that you get. I always thought about the shows, in this self aware way, that I wanted them to be fun, funny, and that this may not be music but it will be entertainment.