For a decade now, Jon Attwood's Yellow6 project has seen a steady stream of albums, eps, compilation appearances, a series of Christmas CDRs and a not insignificant amount of remix work emerge from his creative hands. Largely working in isolation, travelling to record in locations as varied as from York to Stockholm, and performing live with a guitar and nothing else - not even projections, Yellow6 is about as personal as musical projects come. The fragile ambient guitar soundscapes that result provide rare and emotional moments.
A reserved character but a genuine talent, Attwood himself admits he's often uncomfortable meeting fans and says playing live scares the hell out of him. Although shying away from labelling his sound, there are (as his MySpace page testifies) plenty of folk out there that understand well enough what Attwood's seeks to achieve. Rob Dyer has long been an enthusiast and with Yellow6's latest two-disc epic When The Leaves Fall Like Snow now out on Attwood's part-owned Make Mine Music label marking 10 years since the first Yellow6 first release, it seemed an appropriate time to learn more about this quiet man.
How do you prefer to describe the Yellow6 sound to newcomers?
I don't like to describe it at all, but when pushed it's usually something like 'post rock without the rock' or 'noisy ambient'. I don't dislike genres as a rule, but don't feel what I do fits neatly into any one in particular.
You've released a steady stream of music over the years. Are you constantly writing or do you go through phases?
Generally it goes in phases. I really enjoy creating new music and find it very frustrating when I haven't done anything for a while, almost as I start to forget how to go about it.
How has your approach to making music changed over the years?
It hasn't changed that greatly to from my perspective. I still don't really know what I'm doing when it comes to the 'correct' way to use recording technology. I've picked up some very useful things along the way which I believe make the more recent recordings technically superior to the old ones, but the basic is that if it doesn't feel right I don't record it. I don't have the ability to make something with a specific sound/feel in mind so just play and see what happens - in that respect things haven't changed a bit.
You helped establish the Make Mine Music label with other artists. How did this come together and did this bring with it a sense of feeling part of a scene or movement?
The original motivation was different for each artist involved. Some had had bad experiences with labels, others had a lack of stability, my particular case was I wanted to learn more about the process involved as it was a bit of a mystery. The bands all have something in common, but aren't that close in other ways. We all knew each other to some degree before the label and, as we're geographically quite spread apart, we don't have a lot to do with each other. From that perspective we didn't really build any sort of movement, just some like minded artists helping each other out.
Does composition come easily or must you be in a particular, creative mood to write?
It is totally down to mood and environment. I can play something one day and right some chords down, play it the next and it sounds rubbish. If I'm in the right mood, I can work very quickly and like to complete a song once I've started. If I'm not in the mood then nothing will sound right so I'm better doing something else.
What are the main drivers for performing live? Do you enjoy it or is it more about keeping the profile up/the exposure?
I really enjoy playing live though I'm not totally sure why! It scares the hell out of me and I'm never at my best before I play so don't really talk to people much. But I still really like to do it. It certainly can't hurt with exposure/profile, but I don't really feel I have that much of a profile. Maybe playing live would help, but I find it incredibly hard to get gigs and rely mainly on offers from people as my attempts to hassle promoters usually fail dismally.
Does working in isolation make you feel detached from other artists or the music scene generally? What are the drawbacks or benefits?
I do feel isolated at times and think it would be good to be associated more closely with other artists sometimes. When I first started playing in bands, I was part of the early 80's anarcho-punk scene and spent most of my spare time at gigs and meeting people etc. then I felt part of something, now I do feel as though I'm working outside anything. MySpace actually made me realise there are a few people out there who do care about what I do. Being quite shy I'm not great with talking to people, and I really would have no idea what to say if I spoke to other bands where I was in the audience, so don't bother. Some also comes back to not feeling part of a scene (as I did with Punk).
I guess the advantage is that associations can sometimes be negative, for example if a scene is something that gets popular the drops off (e.g. post-rock, electronica). The drawback is that I do feel isolated at times and don't have the links or network to be able to get gigs etc.
The 2005 album "Melt Inside" (and the gigs you played to perform it) featured lyrics and vocals by Ally Todd. I think I'm right in saying that's the only time when Yellow6 wasn't a solo project. Why only the one off?
I guess it was circumstance. Ally and I had known each other for a long time as we were both playing in a Stax/Motown soul cover band (a bit for removed from Y6). As Ally seemed to understand what Y6 was about, I asked if she'd like to do some vocals. Melt Inside was the result. It was never intended to be a one off or anything else - more of a 'see what happens and take it from there'. We did plan to do more together as we both liked the end result, and discussed doing a totally acoustic EP or something very different. But in the end circumstances weren't right and we haven't worked on anything else (and won't be in the future). Being a bit of a control freak I think I'd find it difficult to work with anyone else, certainly as Y6. But would definitely consider playing with other people outside of the Y6 name.
Would you welcome earning a living from your music or do you think its ability to sustain your living would change the way you approach music? (Assuming you're not already!)
I'm definitely not! To some degree I would like to earn a living from music but would be wary of the commercial pressure that would add. The additional time to spend would be very nice but, given the non-commercial nature of what I do, I don't ever see it as a realistic possibility, more an unrealistic dream.
Musicians frequently seem to disregard past releases. How would you describe your relationship with your past work?
I don't think it surprising for an artist to not like what they did 5 or 10 years ago, as I know that other people's music that I listened to a lot in the past I wouldn't listen to now, and sometimes can no longer see why I liked it. Having said that, I don't dislike any of the previous Y6 releases and wouldn't disown them. I'm very proud of the achievement of actually making music other people want to hear, something I never saw as a reality. I don't actually listen to my own releases once they are released, but when I do, I find I like them. I can always be very picky but they were right at the time and that can't be changed. I'm not the same as I was 10 years ago so why would my music and my tastes be the same?
How did the Rroopp compilation come about, and what did you make of the finished release?
Ali Whitehead who runs RROOPP contacted me about the idea - he had been buying Y6 releases from me for years and has an almost complete collection. He thought it would be good to get together all the rare and obscure tracks in a handy format at a reasonable price. Originally planned as a double CD it ended up having to be a triple. Ali designed the mechanics of the sleeve and I supplied the photos etc (the snow pictures taken in Boston). I'm really pleased with the final result. I try not to look back on things and think how I would change them as I was happy at the time, and it's always easy to look back and think how it could be different or better.
What do you make of the people that follow your music? Do you have an affinity with them, or are they just strangers?
I have got to know a few people through MySpace, and prior to that, through gigs and things and, for the most part, found that we have other things in common, and have made a few long term friends thru Y6. I have also had a number of occasions where I'll have long and frequent emails with people that stop once we meet in person… and I wonder if it's the fact that I'm not that good with people, especially when I'm playing live, that leads to that.
The current album was recorded over 6 weeks in Stockholm. It sounds idlyllic, what were those 6 weeks and recording the album like?
Not all as idyllic as it sounds, as the real reason I was there was a by-product of - I went over on a secondment. Having said that, I had evenings and weekends to myself and spent that time exploring the city, and making music in my apartment. I love Sweden and had spent a weekend in Stockholm a few years back, but never really seen outside the tourist areas. I had the opportunity to walk all over the city, and also spent 45 minutes each way on the train to/from work listening to lots of music. I found the city and the time there very inspiring and ended up recording all of When The Leaves Fall Like Snow and STHLM there - over 3 hours of music and I was happy with all of the results. Of course there is often a down side, and it can feel very isolating being in a foreign city alone. I'm not the most sociable person and can't easily go and make conversation with someone in a pub or whatever... In Sweden that is hard to do even if you ARE that sort of person, so a bit lonely at times. Some of that isolation comes over in the music I think, but I'd certainly do it again given the opportunity (unfortunately unlikely).
You took the photographs for the new album. Does photography have a close link with your music for you?
I've also taken the photos used on just about every previous release I have put out, in addition to putting together the layout etc. (with a few exceptions). I see the visual side as being complementary to the music. The photos I take are all of things that mean something to me, and the music means something to me as well. I think that if someone likes the music, they will most likely also like the artwork.
Your live setup is minimalist by any standards. Do you ever feel vulnerable when performing?
Totally… I really don't like people staring at me. When I've played in bands I can kid myself I'm not what people are looking at, but when it's only me I don't have that. I have always wanted to use back projections and things but have never got around to it. To some extent that has also become a bit of a cliché for instrumental bands and I would much rather play without than to have the 'wrong' images. One of the things I like about playing live is the edge it gives. I only have the bare bones planned or learned I advance and the rest I make up as I go along. That allows for it to be a bit different from the released version so more interesting for myself and the audience, and to keep me focussed knowing that it could easily all go wrong. I don't feel comfortable with the live setting, but like to put myself in difficult situations at time.
You always seem to be up to something: releasing, performing, remixing, etc. What's on the horizon for Yellow6?
At the moment, I've not really got any plans. This year is the 10th anniversary of my first releases (1998 single on Enraptured) and also the 10th year of my 'merry6mas' cdr releases so I'm planning something for that - possibly a 10 cdr box set of all the merry6mas discs to date. Aside from that, there's a bit of work for a film by US artist Sean Townsend (Somnambulist Red) and Make Mine Music are doing a second compilation cd so I need a track for that. Aside from that, I have done a bit of work with Crippled Black Phoenix, some recording with Dave Collingwood (Gravenhurst drummer) as White Noise Masking (one track on his label Dreamboat Records compilation). I'm having a period of reflection right now as the music world is changing so fast… traditional distribution seems to be dying rapidly with less places to buy cd's and less people buying so… who knows where next.
Yellow6 on DSO:
Music Reviews - Yellow6
Gig Reviews - Yellow6
Official Yellow6 website: http://www.yellow6.com