Photo Credit: Aaron Lee (@aaronleephotography)
By Alissa Arunarsirakul // March 13, 2020
Yumi Zouma has been operating on multiple continents for years, but that doesn’t make their alternative music any less authentic. Exploring themes like heartbreak, distance, and disillusionment, Yumi Zouma’s new album, Truth or Consequences, offers a deep dive into the quartet’s tumultuous past. With soothing vocals and inspiring instrumentals, Truth or Consequences will help you recognize that there are gray areas in life that just can’t be figured out.
On Truth or Consequences, Yumi Zouma reflected,
“In the age we’re living in, there’s an emphasis on making things clear cut. But in life and in art, nothing is ever that definitive. The truth is usually in the gray zones, and I think that’s so much of what we were trying to explore and understand on this album.”
To celebrate the release of their enchanting new album, we recently chatted with Yumi Zouma about distance, gray areas, and of course, Truth or Consequences.
HH: Although Yumi Zouma has been together for nearly a decade, there’s something special about your new album that almost reintroduces the band to new and old listeners. What overall message does Truth or Consequences convey?
YZ: The album is about personal growth as we progress through our journey in life, and serves a personal reminder to be true to oneself. Unfortunately, the only way we often learn is to face some consequences from time to time–but that’s okay, and all part of the trip we’re on together.
HH: Themes like heartbreak, disillusionment, and distance are found throughout Truth or Consequences, but the sonic soundscapes of the record are fairly upbeat and refreshing. What’s the meaning behind this lyrical and instrumental juxtaposition?
YZ: Although we are fairly melancholic by nature, we set out to make the record as direct as possible, and more accessible to listeners than previous records. Usually we try to throw a few ballads on an album to gain some kind of “artistic balance,” but as we’ve gotten older, our care for those considerations has diminished, and I guess the title of “Truth or Consequences” encouraged us to cut straight to the heart and come through with bolder instrumentation.
HH: Being so far away from each other can make it difficult to create an album, but have you guys discovered any advantages of the distance?
YZ: Definitely. There are two main pros and cons of what we do. First – if we write by distance, we get the space and time to work on changes independently whilst the other writers are asleep, which encourages more experimentation, and allows songs to change more quickly – you basically get a production line going where someone is working on the track 24/7. But when we are all in a room together, ideas get bounced off between us in real time, allowing for songs to rapidly twist into more unique forms that would not be possible without direct interaction. However, you don’t get that same space for experimentation with the rest of the band looking back at you in the room – you don’t want to waste everyone else’s time, and naturally, the first stages of experimentation can sound a bit rough at first. So it’s a trade off between productivity and uniqueness.
HH: You guys wrote Truth or Consequences in a way that most bands don’t. How did your egalitarian approach to songwriting bring out the best in everyone?
YZ: This was the first time we went to the studio and tried to write an album from scratch. Without demos to fall back on, we decided that we would try and write together on a very micro level, often switching between writing duties after singular notes or beats were tracked. That way no one could take over too much and put their stamp on one song too much. This helped to make the new album sound more “Yumi Zouma” than anything we’d ever done before, rather than a collection of songs written by a bunch of individuals.
HH: In my opinion, “Right Track / Wrong Man” is a wholesome tune that everyone should listen to because recognizing that sometimes things aren’t meant to be is so important for relationships. What advice do you have for people who are struggling with coming to this realization?
YZ: Thank you! There’s not much advice to give, just support for those who have gotten to the point where they know they are better off alone. We can only hope that we get support from our loved ones as we go through that transition.
The advice I would give, and have been given by others, having been in this position a few times in the last few years – once you know it’s not right, there’s no point sticking around. It’s a hard thing to do but each day it will get a little easier – and there are so many other people out there who might be better for you, even if it doesn’t feel like it right now. Don’t live your life in a spell of mediocrity and settle for that – take courage in knowing you made the right decision to free yourself to the possibility of something better, brighter, more fulfilling!
HH: This is the first Yumi Zouma album to feature live drums, which sound lovely if I may say. Why are you finally introducing live drums to your mastered tracks?
YZ: Thank you!! The live drums on the recordings came about because Olivia joined our live band during the Willowbank tour. After playing with live drums during shows, it seemed strange to go back to using pure electronic percussion on our recordings. Also, Olivia is definitely the best musician in the band, so we wanted to feature that as much as possible! Olivia is still a bit removed from the “core song-writing process” but we were definitely intrigued to see if her presence would take tracks in a different direction to where we would normally take them. So with this in mind, we sent Olivia all the finished tracks with the electronic drums taken out. It must’ve been kind of weird to hear all of these songs without any rhythm, but it meant that she wrote completely different patterns than we did when initially writing the tracks. We then took the best bits of both and combined them – you can hear this best on a song like “Southwark,” where the chorus breaks up the song nicely with a half-time-esque feel that we would’ve never written ourselves. Collaboration creates beautiful things.
HH: What do you have to say to people who are so stuck seeing things in black and white? How can they realize that there’s much more to explore in the gray areas of life?
YZ: We would say that being closed-minded can bring benefits (like when you need some self belief and resilience to reach your goals), but that it often hurts both other people and yourself, and so it is important to recognize when this is the case. The development of empathy and understanding of context has enabled the human race to treat each other progressively better over time, and while it may seem like we live in an age where this progression has halted, it can be truly beneficial to put yourself in other people’s shoes, engage with others who might not share your opinion, and avoid building up the walls around any echo chamber.
HH: What are your three hidden hits?
YZ: Three is not enough. Here is a playlist:
“Weyes Blood” – Picture Me Better
“Safety Net” – Nilufer Yanya
“Blue Rose” – Amen Dunes
“Teach Me To Forget” (12″ version) – The Radio Dept.
“Poly Blue” – Jessica Pratt
“Kingston” – Faye Webster
“Tenderness” – Jay Som
“Weight of the Planets” – Aldous Harding
“Time, Being” – Jonny Nash
“Only One” – Molly Burch
“Easy” – Claud
“Shark Smile” – Big Thief