"Winston Yellen's Night Beds has been a band I've had my eye on for a couple of years now. I first noticed their music start popping up on my friend's "listen to them now before they blow up" playlists and was instantly hooked on the lush arrangements and saturated sound. It was immediately recognizable that these guys were on to something really interesting and beautiful. We exchanged messages for an entire year before we were finally able to make a session work out and even in that time, I could see the band growing and evolving and more thoroughly finding their voice. Night Beds is a band on the move.
During our session, right after the very first take of the very first song I asked Winston if he wanted another take and he quietly said, 'Nah man, the little screw ups are as interesting as the things we did right, let's move on.' I couldn't wipe the smile off my face: that's exactly how I hope the bands feel about their performances with us. We only did one take of each of the three songs and that was it. SerialBox Presents: Night Beds was in the can.
I then sat down with Winston to talk about being willing to let your sound evolve, working hard, and how being in a band is the ultimate team sport..."
- Ryan Booth, Creator/Director
RB: What started you on the path to where you are today?
WY: It remains a bit of a mystery to me as to why I’m doing music, but it really is the only thing I’m good at. I feel like I have no where-with-all for any of the shit required for living life outside of that. I’m just a fucking idiot with a lot of things and music was the thing that seemed to always make progress. I just kept working at it. I would sense these flickers and moments of joy because I might do something that’s 'semi-good’. And that seemed to be all I needed to continue on. At this point, I feel like I’m as good as I’ve ever been at music, and I actually have confidence in what I’m doing. And, I hope that doesn't sound arrogant, because it’s not, it’s just that I'm bad at so many things, and this is the one thing I can wake up every day and do that fulfills so many things for me. I can’t not have it because if I don’t have music, then I’m fucked. (laughs) Sometimes I think, surely God just gave this to me. He’s like, “Alright, you suck at pretty much everything else, so I’m gonna give you a little extra kick in this area.”
Sure, you’re going to hit some road blocks and there will be days that you can't write for shit. But ultimately if you just keep subjecting yourself to the process, and you’re aiming to create something that’s worth while, you’re gonna get there...
RB: “So, why don’t you not spend the next 15 years wandering in the wilderness trying to figure out…”
WY: Seriously. I’d probably be dead or in prison or I don’t know, just some weird dude that talks to people outside of Port-a-potties. I don’t know what I’d be doing.
WY: If that was an occupation, that would be so fucking cool. If I just stood outside of port-a-potties and struck up conversations with people.
RB: This is 2013, I’m sure someone could come up with a way to make that a job.
RB: In the beginning when you start something, you’re just taking big whacks at it and you may not be that great, but you make a lot of progress really quickly. But then at some point that progress begins to transition and suddenly it takes a lot of effort to make even the tiny, deliberate steps required to continue getting better at your craft. Does that feel true in your journey? Is "getting better" an intentional process for you?
WY: I’ve started wrapping my head around the idea that music is work and that fundamentally means that you have to show up. No matter what. Sure, you’re going to hit some road blocks and there will be days that you can't write for shit. But ultimately if you just keep subjecting yourself to the process, if you’re aiming to create something that’s worth while, you’re gonna get there if you cultivate that ability to show up. If anything, Night Beds has progressed and gotten better due to sheer velocity. We write so much, we work so intensely, and we work so hard that we can't help but get better. We put everything into this. I mean, none of us really even have lives outside of music.
RB: Yeah, do you feel like that all-consuming mindset is required to be successful? Or is it a disadvantage in the long run?
WY: I think it’s just my lot in life. I feel like maybe I was created to be someone who’s gonna be on the fringe making music as a reclusive hermit. Ultimately I want to give to people. I want to make things that move people and if I have to sacrifice my own happiness in a social or domestic sense, then that’s what it is. So maybe that’s what I’m supposed to be doing. That's what I’m coming to terms with. I have no social life, I have nothing outside of the band. I’m the guy in tennis shoes. I’m (laughs) just the dude that lives in the studio. I’m the fucker that’s there working at 3:00 in the morning. I know everybody has their thing that invigorates them and inspires them, I just so happen to get off on music so thoroughly that I can barely do anything else. Maybe I’m just coming to terms with what it is to be Winston. (laughs) I’m just now at 24 getting an idea in my head of what that looks like. It’s weird, but I wouldn’t trade it. There are times where I think I just want a kid, a house, a dog, and a wife, and that’s it, you know? But maybe that’s just not for me. Did I ramble the fuck out of that?
RB: No no no, I think there are going to be cycles of trying to figure out who we are, because there are different phases of our lives to require it. When we move out on our own, we have to figure out who we're going to be because so many of the things we may have been using to hold up our identities are different now. The circumstances have changed, so we have to figure out who we are in new contexts. The same would be true if you were in a relationship with somebody. You discover the parts of you that carry over as you grow up.
I’m single and I can be dark. I can go and disappear for days and be wild with my friends and work really ravenously in the context of music and just be weird as fuck. But even though I don't have anyone to answer to, the shit that I end up writing about is wishing that I did.
WY: Yeah, exactly, and I’d be making totally different music under different circumstances. I’m single and I can be dark. I can go and disappear for days and be wild with my friends and work really ravenously in the context of music and just be weird as fuck. But even though I don't have anyone to answer to, the shit that I end up writing about is wishing that I did. It’s this weird perpetual cycle that I haven’t wrapped my head around, and nor do I care to because I just want to keep making impressions of what my life is like, be as honest as I can about it, and make good art that reflects what I’m going through.
RB: Talk to me about writing. What is the feeling or the moment that an ethereal thought or feeling starts to reveal itself as a song? I'm sure it's a weird process that’s not always the same, but is there a moment when you think, "alright, I need to write now.”
WY: You know, I just want to be excited. That has to be at the beginning of any song that I write. And the things that get me excited have been changing a lot lately. I made Country Sleep by myself. Just a dude and a guitar. But when I toured on that record, I took a band out with me and we really evolved into something different. There was an energy there that we were able to carry over to the record itself. So the process of making this record we're working on now is completely different. For instance, I haven’t even touched a guitar in this entire process. I have no interest in writing a song that way. Maybe in a year or something, but I’ve listened to way too much J-dilla to want to touch a guitar right now. I'm all about creating sounds right now. We’ve written all the new songs in the studio, and there’s a real freedom and spontaneity to go nuts. Usually one of us starts doing something that’s interesting and then I'll lay down some vocal impressions, then we might just riff on it and start building a song. It just grows from there. That's what we’ve been doing for the past year as we've made time to write between tours.
RB: Do you feel like that was that an entirely new process for you or were you just basically adding "dudes and guitars?" Basically, just expounding upon how you were doing it on your own on the last record?
WY: No, totally new. I mean totally new. I think that I got bored with myself. I got bored with trying to make everything perfect. I mean, a lot of the vocal takes I’m doing on the new record are one-take things. I’m no longer slaving over a song and spending six months like I did on a song like 10. 10 took six months to write lyrically. I slaved over that song. But this new stuff is all one or two takes. For some of the songs, I’m literally making up lyrics as I sing into a microphone. I’m not holding anything back, I'll just sing. That’s where I’m at home and more comfortable than I’ve ever been as an artist.
RB: That's really interesting. Granted, we work with a lot of bands who are incredible live musicians, so I don't know if it's a bit of a self-selected group, but I’m hearing that kind of description about how people are writing quite often as of late. Far fewer takes, rough edges, "live" recordings. Do you feel like it's a subconscious push against the state of pop music, the kind of hyper-produced top 40 music?
WY: I think it totally is. I want to make music that gets under your skin, that really punches you out, but also has deeply emotive content. I think that’s what "indie" music needs to get to. We have to change the culture of how we approach writing and playing music. Indie musicians will complain all the time about top 40, but there’s a reason it’s there. It’s because it blows your face off. Katy Perry songs knock you on your ass because they’re so big. Rihanna songs absolutely nail you to the floor, and we, as indie artists, are always bitching about it, but we're not willing to lyrically do something, melodically do something, and then work towards collaborating with people that sonically can put up a fight with that shit.
We’re just trying to do the things that we’re inspired by and we can work so intensely because we have nothing to lose. We’re trying, we’re really trying.
RB: (laughs) Yeah.
WY: It all seems to make sense to me. We’re just trying to do the things that we’re inspired by and we can work so intensely because we have nothing to lose. We’re trying, we’re really trying.
RB: Not much else you can ask for.
WY: I’m just in a different head space now. Before, I think I was implementing the wrong philosophy for the wrong form. Like I was super casual with very delicate, pretty songs that were completely dependent on the voice. But obsessing over others to no end. Now I’ll riff on something and create the entire melody and structure of the song with a bunch of improvisations, and then go back to write the lyrics. You just end up looking like an idiot when you're tracking. Everybody is sitting in the other room and you’re just singing your ass off doing a bunch of weird stupid shit, and then you have to go back and sift through everything. And then you’ll find something amazing buried in the process. "Oh man those two to those eight bars were wild." Those bars end up being what we were looking for.
RB: Do you feel like looking like an idiot is a necessary component required to do something that’s really good?
WY: You have to be willing to subject yourself to looking like a total fucking moron. If you’re not willing to push as far as possible, then you might as well not show up. I’m not good enough to just show up half-assed and be great. I have to be willing to feel my way through it and potentially look really stupid because you know it'll amazing when you get there. I’m confident enough in the quality of what we may find that I’m willing to look dumb as fuck in front of people. (laughter). Sometimes I nail the first one, but sometimes it’s pain staking. Sometimes it's work. I think most people have that one thing that makes them feel like they’re supposed to be doing it. It makes them not clock-out of this life, and it's the thing that they’re going to work on the rest of their life. If you're not perfect at it all the time, it’s okay because that’s part of the process. Art is hard. There is no part of art that is not hard. To make great art requires work and you have to subject yourself to it.