Yak Strangler, a duo of Chris Newman (guitar) and Rylan Bledsoe (drums), is an ideal outlet for its members' technical abilities. Newman and Bledsoe, who studied under teachers Kevin Abernathy and Keith Brown, respectively, were brought together by Abernathy. Now after two years as Yak Strangler, the band will unveil its full-length debut, and it is only fitting that the act will be joined by none other than Kevin Abernathy and Stolen Sheep for its release show.
In its infancy, Yak Strangler was intended to be the foundation of a fully staffed progressive metal band. However, after introducing other players into the mix, Newman and Bledsoe found the group worked best as an instrumental duo, with the arrangement necessitating an inventive songwriting approach that is now the band's signature. While the band's repertoire sports a high degree of technicality rooted in metal, blues and psychadelia, its sound is difficult to classify. With unpredictable structures, the meandering tunes possess all the noodling and flash of a jam band condensed into succinct, three-minute tracks.
"My guitar teacher at the time, Kevin Abernathy, introduced me to this drummer that was looking to start a band," recalls Newman. "We kept jamming with a bunch of people to try and fill out a full band, but we realized that we worked well as a two-piece and over the years have just learned to make it work. I think that having to fill up songs as a two-piece has forced us to experiment more with different styles of playing. ... While we didn't initially intend on being a two-piece, learning to make it work and work with less helped us develop a sound that we feel is unique and we are really proud of that."
"A big part of the sound that we've built is an effect of us trying to play all the parts of a full band on our own," Bledsoe elaborates. "Much of the time Chris will be tapping the bass line and the melody at the same time, and we have a song where I fret his guitar for him while he plays a solo while keeping a beat with one hand. So it's the experimentation of finding ways to fill out the song that make Yak Strangler Yak Strangler."
Yak Strangler began recordings for what would become its debut album "Yak Strangler Presents 'Your Body Is a Wonderland' " in March. The band tracked seven songs in a two-day session with Dave DeWitt at Shed 55 Studios. After evaluating the content, Yak Strangler decided to record an additional three songs to bump up its first release to full-on album status. Tempting as it must be for a two-man band to embellish on its studio projects, the band insisted on keeping its recordings demonstrative of its live performance capability.
"For the most part, we wanted everything to sound the way it does live," explains Bledsoe. "I pushed for realistic drum tones without samples, and Dave didn't correct every drum stroke to sound like a drum machine. I feel like taking away imperfections takes away the soul of the recording, which will make it sound flat. In some genres, people want that produced perfect sound, but we want the raw, honest sound."
"Making the record have a full tone with only two instruments is a challenge," adds Newman, "but we really tried to stick to an honest representation of what we sound like live."
As for the record's somewhat arbitrary title — a clear reference to John Mayer's song of the same name — Newman admits it can be perceived as either a slight or a tribute to Mayer depending on whom you ask.
"We thought that the sound was such a complete opposite to John Mayer that it would be an ironic name and it would catch people's attention," Newman says. "It's both an homage and a jab at John Mayer. I like John Mayer; Rylan hates John Mayer."
To promote the release, Yak Strangler will soon film a video for the album's first single. The band reveals the video will be centered around the reverse mastication and consumption of a chicken and will star Teenage Love and Melungeons front man Rus Harper.
"The video started out when I had a vision of a chicken dinner, but I imagined it in reverse," describes Bledsoe. "I thought about how gross it would be to have people regurgitating meat back onto a chicken carcass. So that's the basis of the first video which will feature the track 'A Tight Squeeze.' We basically asked Rus because he's the scariest, coolest, local celebrity around. We also hope to record a video for 'James Brown' that will feature a bunch of people attempting to dance like James Brown. We are going to start shooting 'A Tight Squeeze' as soon as possible after the release, so hopefully it will be out here in the next couple months."
Tonight Yak Stangler celebrates the release of its new album with a show at The Well. Kevin Abernathy and Stolen Sheep are also on the bill.
The show is slated for 10 p.m. and costs $5.
© 2012, Knoxville News Sentinel Co.
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