An Interview with Jon Attwood of Yellow6

An Interview with Jon Attwood of Yellow6

by Jason

Yellow6 is the brainchild of Jon Attwood who has recently released his Merry6mas2016 on Silber Records. We last talked to Attwood back in 2003 and thought it was way past time to catch up. Attwood talked to me about his history as a musician, his process of writing and recording, and the many changes that have occurred over the 18 years of the project. He’s prolific, to say the least, and I highly recommend picking up as many of his releases as you possibly can.

It’s been since 2003 that you’ve talked with us at Somewherecold. Can you talk a bit about what Yellow6 has been up to since 2003 and where things are at now with the project?

10 years….been a long and eventful time.  Life has brought a lot of change in that time (I now have a child, moved houses, changed job) and any environmental changes will make a big difference.  Prior to this though, on a music front, I have had 5 short tours in Europe, played a few shows in the USA and Canada, collaborated with thisquietarmy, Dirk Serries and David Newlyn, released about 7 full length albums, 13 merry6mas CDs, two box sets, joined Bandcamp, ended makeminemusic, joined Silber….

Life has a great influence on my music as does environment and technology, and all those things have changed in that time.  All that, and being older (and wiser?) makes a big difference in the music I make which I think has changed drastically in that time.

Can you talk more about your early history as a musician and the bands you were in before Yellow6? What sort of music were you involved in genre-wise and why did you begin your own ambient/avant-garde project?

yellow6-5Punk inspired me to pick up a guitar as I had no musical training whatsoever.  I learned a couple of chords and formed a terrible band with some school friends.  After a few other similar projects, I joined a local punk band Screaming Babies, who were very Damned influenced.  At the time (1981-2), I was really into post-punk and we morphed into a bizarre hybrid of the old punk thrash and the more introspective songs I wrote, influenced by Joy Division and Bauhaus.  I also joined an anarch punk band Hagar The Womb who achieved some success with their ramshackle feminist pop-punk.  In 1984, I left London and stopped playing.  I discovered the VU and started a band with a few friends for a laugh which lasted a while in the local scene (sort of Siouxsie meets All About Eve).  Then, through a friend, I heard Bark Psychosis who changed my way of thinking about song structure and guitar playing.  I got into mid-90s post-rock and, as I didn’t know anyone else with similar tastes, started making solo recordings.  Yellow6 came out of that and 20 years on….

By my count, you have something like 65 releases including EP’s and singles. I’m betting it’s even more than that. Looking back over your very prolific music output so far, are there any releases that you feel are quintessential “Yellow6”? In other words, is there an album or two that you would hand someone as an entry point into your catalog?

Yes, a lot more than that! Different albums have meant different things to me at the time, but I think the major releases I’d say are landmarks in my ‘career’ would be:  Overtone, Lake:Desert, When The Leaves Fall Like Snow, CUT and No Memories, Only Photographs.  Ask me tomorrow and I may say something different.  I’d say the entry points would be Leaves Fall and No Memories.

How do you go about picking a guitar for the tones you want to produce? Are there any other instruments you gravitate towards in recording your pieces?

I’m a guitar freak to some degree and got a Gretsch in 2002 which was my first professional quality guitar.  Since then, through having a reasonably paid day job and indulgent wife, I’ve acquired a collection including a Jazzmaster, Bass VI, Gretsch White Falcon, and Les Paul.  Most used in Y6 these days are the Gretsch and the Jazzmaster.  Despite playing with a lot of effects, I love the sound of the guitar itself and tend to mix in the clean tones as well.  These guitars just sound and feel so good to play.

I also love piano and percussive tones like marimba, but I’m not a keyboard player by any means so use MIDI for that mostly, though have used some live piano.

Merry6mas2016 is your most recent release. This series has been something you’ve done for much of the Yellow6 projects lifetime. What prompted these yearly albums and why do you keep on making them?

Before Y6, I used to draw a lot and every year made Christmas cards.  When I started Y6, I thought I yellow6-3would make a musical Christmass card for all the people who had helped and supported me (labels, writers, promoters, friends) so hand made 17 copies of a cdr in 1999.  The following year I had a few requests, and it grew from there to a peak around 2006 where i sold 250 copies.  Since then it’s become a more modest affair but I can still shift 100 copies – still on the basis that I give away copies to those who have supported me and sell the rest.

Can you talk a bit about your approach to Merry6mas2016? I know you improvise much of what you do and you record quickly, but what attracted you to the particular tones and textures you use on this album?

My music has always been part improvised but usually starting them of some looped chords, then overlaying other parts to build a piece.  More recently I’ve moved to a fully live recording method so more improvised.  The tones and textures are just what happens.  I play around with some sounds and effects and then just bring these into the various parts, but always keeping in mind the contrasts between sounds so trying to avoid using the same sound on multiple loops.  I also used an electric 12 string for the first time on this years CD which adds new sounds.

I really am enjoying Merry6mas2016. Can you talk more in-depth about the tracks “Dry#1” and “Zooday”? Do you name the tracks after improvising or do you think of your tracks conceptually? Either way, how did the composition come about, what inspired your choices here, and what did you think of the tracks after they were done?

Just about everything I do, with a few notable exceptions, starts from a simple idea usually on guitar, and then grows from that into whatever happens.  There is very rarely any sort of concept behind them – two notable exceptions are ‘ Beat Them At Their Own Game’, which was intended as my take on pure drone guitar and a tongue in cheek attempt at doing it better than everyone else… it ended up far more structured like most of what I do, and as for better than anyone else???.  The other was Circles (merry6mas2015) which was designed to be intertwining circular guitar patterns.

As you will see, merry6mas2016 includes “Dry#1” and “Dry#5”.  I will very often do multiple versions of a piece, all using the same basic chords, but maybe played in different ways and with different sounds to see where it takes me.  In this case, I didn’t like #2, 3, 4 or 6 very much.  As for “Zooday”, that was a spur of the moment single take recorded in about an hour.  The theme came into my head during a family trip to the zoo that day, hence the title.  Titles just enter my head and often I have no recollection of where it came from.

“Dry” came out of my getting to know a new delay pedal and just came out in messing around with sounds etc.

yello6Zooday came from the descending 3 note run and grew from that.  Similarly, there is a “Zoodays 2” which is longer, more mellow but overall I preferred the first version.

As you can see from this, there are always other pieces which don’t make the cut.  I tend to collect together all the pieces I’ve recorded and pick out the ones I like for the CD (there was nearly 2 hours from which I chose for the 75 mins of 6mas).

Since you improvise recordings, how do you approach playing live? Do you reproduce what you have done on your albums or are your live sets approximations or do you completely improvise your sets as well?

I use a similar set up live as for home recording these days, and I tend to take a selection of pieces, use the basic structure as a base, and then go from there.  That means nothing is the same as the original recording but has some familiarity for people who know me.  I also tend to work to the clock live, playing until I run out of time, whatever I may have done in that time.  I tend to have a set list including more than I actually play and adjust according to feel and time.

For our gearheads, what sort of gear do you use to record and what do you use live?
I’ve been collecting guitars for a while and refined down to a list of Fender Jazzmaster 62 reissue, Lee Ranaldo Jazzmaster, Fender Bass VI, Gretsch 6120, Gretsch White Falcon, Gibson Les Paul LP-295 and Rickenbacker 660/12.  Effects wise I have a mix including some Strymon (Flint, Deco, Timeline), MXR RV-300 Reverb, Diaz Texas Tremodillo, EHX Soul Food, Freeze and Superego, ZVEX Super Hard On, Lo-fi loop junky and instant lo-fi junky, Fulltone OCD and a few others I switch around.

I’ve tried most of the hardware loopers, and finally settled on using Mobius looper on Mac either stand-alone or as a plugin to LIVE.  Using this I can record 8 tracks of audio with loops live.  I can also use this setup for live shows too.  I use a MIDI foot controller with that so all looping is live and in synch.

You have talked about influences both on your webpages and in our former interview. That being said, what are you listening to now? Any artists catching your attention in the last year?

My top albums of this year (as in most played) would be Bowie’s Black Star, Nick Cave – Skeleton Tree, Richmond Fontaine – You Can’t Go Back If There’s Nothing To Go Back To, Lee Harvey Osmond – Beautiful Scars, Unloved – Guilty of Love, sophia – As We Make Our Own Way.  Along with that, lots of merry6mas2016old music I guess – last couple of Godspeed albums, lots of old punk (brought to mind by the 40th-anniversary stuff in the UK) and some Mark Lanegan, Howe Gelb, Songs:Ohia and a revisit of Kraftwerk, Reich, and Glass classics.

Probably the best gigs I’ve been to this year are Stars of the Lid, Richmond Fontaine, Low, and Adam and the Ants.

As you can see, not very much thatIi listen to is in the same vein as the music I make!

What is next for Yellow6?

I have one live show planned so far – at a gallery in London.  My first London show in a few years.  Release wise, I’m working on an album for Sound In Silence, and lathe cut 10” for Champion Version and, obviously, having merry6mas2017 in the back of my mind.

Thanks so much for doing this! Any other comments?

I’m contemplating what, if anything, I may do for the 20th anniversary of my first release (in Dec 1998).  Maybe re-record that first single 20 years on? It will also be 20 years of merry6mas so a time for reflection I think.

Yellow6 Official Homepage

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