By Dave Pehling
SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) — Over the past five years, Denver-based punk-blues trio the Yawpers have been establishing themselves as a harder-edged alternative to the type of earnest indie-folk that the region has become known for thanks to the popularity of the Lumineers. Lyricist and guitarist/singer Nate Cook already had a history playing with fellow guitarist Jesse Parmet in other bands when he invited his regular collaborator to join him for an open mic night back in 2011.
Playing strictly acoustic guitars and accompanied by a drummer, Cook and company would develop a sound that brought together elements of blues (thanks to Parmet’s furious slide playing) and outlaw country delivered with raucous punk energy. Taking their name from a Walt Whitman poem, the Yawpers built a strong local following with their own dates and slots supporting a variety of acts including the Reverend Horton Heat, the Black Angels and Crackers as well as touring with country punks the Supersuckers and pioneering LA rock revivalists the Blasters.
The band self-released its debut album Capon Crusade in 2012 and would eventually be signed to noted Americana-focused imprint Bloodshot Records after label heads witnessed one of the trio’s incendiary performances at South By Southwest in Austin. The band’s first recording for Bloodshot — American Man — came out to wide acclaim last year. CBS SF recently spoke with Cook about the band’s history and their forthcoming second Bloodshot album release ahead of the Yawpers coming to San Francisco to play the Hotel Utah on Friday, Oct. 14, with Minneapolis rockers the 4onthefloor and the Depictions.
CBS SF: Your tour comes to San Francisco in a couple of weeks. Are you already out on the road?
Nate Cook: We’ve been in Chicago for the last month recording our new record. Then we had a gig in Atlanta, so we just got home.
CBS SF: I read in another interview that you first started playing with your bandmates in the Yawpers at an open mic night that you were performing at solo. Had you known them for a while before you actually started playing together regularly?
Nate Cook: Yeah, the guitar player and I were playing together previous to all of that. We’ve been playing together for about ten years I guess. So I had the residency and I asked Jesse to join since we’d been in a band together before and our first drummer joined us. We’ve been through three now [Noah Shomberg is the Yawpers’ current drummer]. It just happened organically, but I had been playing with Jesse for a number of years.
CBS SF: Had you and Jesse played the type of music the Yawpers play? Or was it something entirely different?
Nate Cook: No, the band before this that we played in was this really sh—y, pretentious alternative cock rock I guess [laughs]. It was mediocrity personified. That’s kind of why it dissolved I suppose.
CBS SF: Yawpers inject a lot of punk energy into an Americana sound that touches on country and blues. What was the first style of music that resonated with you when you were growing up?
Nate Cook: I would say early Beck is some of the first stuff I fell in love with; also pre Good News for People Who Love Bad News Modest Mouse, mostly The Lonesome Crowded West era. But like most people my age, I think my first CD was Dookie by Green Day. Though I loved Dylan and Zeppelin and all that s–t too, so I don’t know. Kind of a hard question to answer. I’ve never heard it put that way. But the first act I really fell in love with was Beck.
CBS SF: It’s interesting that you mention Modest Mouse. I just interviewed all the guys from People’s Blues of Richmond, who are this bluesy, psychedelic rock power trio from Virginia. And those guys not only cite Modest Mouse as a big influence, but even covered them when I saw them in SF a few weeks ago. It’s just not a band I expect to influence a more blues-based sound…
Nate Cook: Those early Modest Mouse records are very Americana oriented, before Good News happened and they kind of went off the deep end with their fake Tom Waits horses–t mixed with backwards alternative sensibilities. The early records were raw Americana records that were bristling with pop too. I run into a lot of bordering on country artists that are part of our age group that have that affinity.
CBS SF: Do you remember the point when you really started delving into more blues-based roots music? For me as a suburban, classic-rock kid, I kind of took the typical route of listening to AC/DC, Zeppelin, the Stones and Cream which led me to exploring blues from the ’50s and ’60s and earlier…
Nate Cook: When I was coming of age, my dad had the box set that went with that PBS series Martin Scorcese did called “The Blues.” So it was like a box set of CDs with all the music from the series and my old man had it. It was at the time when I was discovering my love for music and I delved into that.
It was kind of an interesting way to discover the blues. I didn’t really start with Blind Lemon Jefferson and go from there. It was a cool way to do it. So that was where my repertoire started as far as discovering and trying to understand the blues.
CBS SF: There are a few Denver scene bands that I can hear some parallels to your sound like 16 Horsepower and Slim Cessna’s Auto Club. Did they have any influence or inspiration on Yawpers?
Nate Cook: I wouldn’t say they had any influence on me. I moved here after I would have known who they were. I wouldn’t say they’re friends, but I’d say they’re friendly cohorts on the scene. They’re great and every time you see them, they’re awesome. I will say, even more than 16 Horsepower, Woven Hand were my jam. I discovered them after we moved here.
So I wouldn’t say they had an early influence, but it was kind of hard to escape how important they were to redefining what country music has become, at least in our end of it. Because the Denver country sound wound up kind of defining what gothic country was, which we definitely do pull from at times.
CBS SF: You mentioned relocating to Denver. What part of the country did you come from before moving there?
Nate Cook: I’m originally from Texas. Then I did a little bit of travelling around for a couple of years and I actually got arrested here in Colorado and got stuck. So that was about ten years ago and I’ve been here since.
CBS SF: But it’s not like you’re still on parole or something where you can’t leave, because you obviously are out touring quite a bit…
Nate Cook: [Laughs] Oh no. The arrest was for a DUI, so not necessarily something you would go to prison for. But I was on probation for a couple of years and wasn’t allowed to leave the state, so I kind of stuck it out here.
CBS SF: And you met Jesse in Denver? Or did you know him from your travels?
Nate Cook: Yeah, we met here.
CBS SF: A lot of folk-based or roots rock bands currently getting airplay have a lot less of an edge than Yawpers…
Nate Cook: And Denver is kind of ground zero for that s–t too, since this is where the Lumineers come from. I’m going to lose my f—–g breakfast!
CBS SF: Yeah, they’re one of the guilty parties I had in mind. Any thoughts about that trend in indie-folk?
Nate Cook: I’m with you to a point. I think that every generation needs to think the generation after them are a bunch of vapid pussies, and they’ll figure a way to make that a think. Indie-folk isn’t really any worse than emo was a generation before or synth pop was a generation before that.
I find it distasteful personally, but people can do what the f–k they want to do, and kids just buy whatever they’re going to buy. It’s a packageable, homogeneous product and that what has always sold in pop music. There’s no reason to think it would be any different now. But that said, it’s a bad bit of horses–t, in my opinion [laughs].
CBS SF: To get to the album sessions you just got back from, where were you recording in Chicago and are you working with a producer?
Nate Cook: It was produced by Tommy Stinson of the Replacements and we did it with the engineer from JD McPherson’s last album. So we recorded in this ’50s shoe-box studio with an ’80s alternative icon. It was pretty cool.
CBS SF: So are you totally done recording? Or do you still have to mix and master the record? What’s the timeline for it?
Nate Cook: It’s done and my guess is it will probably come out late spring of next year.
CBS SF: Given when the last album came out, I was wondering if the current tour might be to road-test new material prior to recording, but that obviously isn’t the case if it’s done. Are you going to be playing any of the new songs?
Nate Cook: No, we won’t be doing any new material until the new year.
The Yawpers play the Hotel Utah on Friday, Oct. 14, 9 p.m. $10