My Music DNA: Ian Anderson of yllwshrk

Defying genre-tags, yllwshrk have defined their experimental musical spirit in their band name, taken from ‘The Yellow Shark’, Frank Zappa’s foray into contemporary classical music alongside Ensemble Modern.

Yllwshrk have been described as “musical misfits who embrace the current blurring of genres and push that to the extreme” in response to using tuning forks to create beats and even a saxophone hooked up to an amp so it can control feedback pitches.

Neither wholly embracing rock or classical, yllwshrk have an impressive combined CV of work, appearing on albums with Radiohead and Foals, while live performances include working alongside Little Simz, Goldfrapp, Eric Clapton and Elbow. They have also regularly giving classical chamber music recitals with many of the UK’s leading orchestras.

As yllwshrk look towards the release of their album ‘I Am Aladdin’, band guitarist and string arranger, Ian Anderson discusses his Music DNA with Andy Howells.

What was the first song that made an impact on you?

I have this memory of listening to The Beatles’ With A Little Help From My Friends in the car on the way to a family holiday when I was very young. My parents only really listened to classical music (which of course I love too), so this foray into the pop music world definitely made an impression.

In terms of the first song that changed my life, I’d probably say Radiohead’s Fake Plastic Trees. That started me on the Radiohead obsession path that I’m still on to this day (they’ll probably get mentioned several times in this interview…).

What was the first single/download you bought?

I wish I could say something arty like Björk or Jeff Buckley, but it was in fact Where Do You Go by No Mercy… Still a party classic.

What was the first album you owned?

Thankfully this is more respectable! It was Blur’s The Great Escape. I listened to Charmless Man, The Universal, and Country House in particular non-stop.

Those strings in The Universal really struck me — I don’t think I’d heard strings have an actual role in a rock or pop song before, they’d always just been in the background. Whenever I hear the music or see that album cover it bring back such vivid memories of lying on the orange-red carpet in the attic leafing through the CD booklet. I can still smell it.

What’s your constant go to track?

It’s strange, I don’t really listen to my favourite songs that often. I’m involved in so much music every day these days that when I relax I more listen to podcasts, spoken word stuff. I find that really sad, but talking to a lot of musicians that’s just what happens. Having said that, Radiohead’s Pyramid Song is always incredible, and is the track that comes to mind first.

What’s your constant go to album?

I have many favourite albums, but I don’t revisit them that often. But when I do, it always feels like coming home. I can’t pick one sorry, but a few that are always welcome are Bowie’s Scary Monsters, Björk’s Homogenic, Radiohead’s In Rainbows, Sigur Rós’ Agætis byrjun, and of course The Best of The Beatles.

Who’s your latest music discovery?

In 2019, I challenged myself to listen to a new album (for me) every single day of the year, which was really amazing and expanded my musical horizons massively. It really influenced the ideas we explored during the post-production stages of yllwshrk’s album, and we maybe (definitely) lifted a couple of the most compelling ideas I came across… It did have its frustrations too however, and the sheer concentration it takes to constantly listen to new music can be exhausting. I ended up listening to 375 new albums in 2019.

Off the top of my head some favourites were Oneohtrix Point Never’s Returnal, Missy Mazzoli’s Vespers for a New Dark Age, Jarlath Henderson’s Hearts Broken, Heads Turned, and Moor Mother’s Fetish Bones.

What’s your own track that best defines you as an artist?

A big part of our debut album, and something we hope to continue on future recordings, is the emphasis on collaborating with artists and performers who we admire, using their expertise and ideas to enhance the songs.

There’s only one track on the album which is just pure unadulterated yllwshrk, the other eight tracks having varying degrees of input from a variety of guests. The track that has probably changed the most due to our collaborators is the opening track of the album, Smudge, so in a way that is the track that best encapsulates our approach to making music.

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