Oli Burslem explains the joys of covering devotional music, the nomadic lifestyle and the value of friends
Julian Marszalek
17:56 14th November 2017

“I’m just trying to acclimatise to not drinking heavily,” chuckles Yak’s singer and guitarist Oli Burslem as he ponders the after-effects of coming off the road from a prolonged period of touring.

“I’ve even taken up swimming,” he says before sheepishly adding, “Well, I gave it a go this morning.”

And this, in a nutshell, is the kind of chat that makes it impossible not to be seduced by the irrepressible charm of Oli Burslem. With so many of today’s bright young things concerned with notions of career, clean living and pristine media presentation, Burslem’s proclamations - and the music that he makes with Yak - come as a breath of fresh air to anyone who likes their rock ’n’ roll poured in double measures and spiked with a hefty dose of mischief and a glint in its eye.

Indeed, to those who’ve witnessed the bedlam and carnage that accompanies their generally unhinged and chaotic live shows, Yak are the sort of band that you might dream about when confronted with so much of the tedium that passes for buzz bands. Their wigged-out sets are characterised by a high degree of crackling energy and scant regard for keeping the volume down. Any notions of Burslem staring at his shoes is given short shrift thanks to his penchant for playing in his bare feet. Set lists are for wimps as Yak’s gigs zig-zag through their back catalogue like a drunk driving a car through sheets of black ice.

And now, after a period of three years that’s seen the band move up from the UK’s toilet circuit through to international touring and an explosive debut album in the form of 2016’s Alas Salvation, Yak are gearing up to resume their next assault. First up is their new single, a cover of The Dixie Nightingales’ ‘All I Need Is Some Sunshine In My Life’, which is soon to be followed by a return to the recording studio.

Not that this should suggest any kind of stability in the world of Yak. In a fashion that mirrors disarray of the band’s stage act, Oli Burslem has elected to live in a Travelodge hotel for the time being.

“I do genuinely like it,” he asserts before explaining the method in his madness. “I pay £39 per day and when you think about it, I’m paying the same as I would for a flatshare in London.”

Burslem was certainly leading an itinerant lifestyle the first time this writer met him just under three years ago. Indeed, he was about to do a flit from his houseshare. Has anything changed for him since then?

“Musically, we managed to do it for three years, which is a surprise,” he considers. “[Original bassist] Andy Jones left the band to get married so we had a few line-up changes. It’s weirdly more enjoyable now and I suppose that I’m more comfortable doing it now.”

So, no. Not really.

According to Burslem, the band members broke away from each other following their sell-out headline gig at the Scala in London at the arse end of last year. Andy Jones relocated to Melbourne, Australia, with his new bride while drummer Elliot Rawson returned home to New Zealand for the first time in three years. The frontman packed two bags and a box, took himself off to Tokyo for “about a month and a crazy time” before heading to Sydney, Australia.

It was in Australia that the seeds of Yak’s new single were sown. With Burslem at a loose end, it wasn’t too much of stretch to get together in Perth with friends and fellow musicians Jono Ma from Jagwa Ma and Pond’s Jay Watson. But why decide to cover The Dixie Nightingales’ cult gospel classic, ‘All I Need Is Some Sunshine in My Life’?

“I’ve always been a fan of Wendy Rene’s ‘After Laughter Comes Tears’,” says Burslem. “It’s a beautiful record and it was out on Stax. Somebody then sent me the original of ‘All I Need Is Some Sunshine In My Life’ and said, ‘You might like this because it’s similar’ and I realised that it was on this subsidiary of Stax and I really loved it.”

He continues: “I was in a hotel room and was getting obsessed by it and listening to it about sixty times day. I thought it’d be good to go to Perth and do a cover of it because it’d be great to work on something that was already written and doing something different with it.”

So he hasn’t found God then?

“No,” laughs Burslem. “I find the singing in the original really attractive; there’s something quite pure about the vocals. I also love the simplicity of the lyrics and they’re coming from a good place.” Moreover, the last three years of Yak seem to have finally put Oli Burslem in a good place of his own. Having once claimed that crap bands and his reaction against them were Yak’s main source of inspiration, the band are now fired up but what it is they can do and achieve themselves.

“I have a very clear vision of what I want us to do. I don’t really have much energy to look around at other bands,” he states. “Especially when you’ve been on the sidelines for so long, I now just feel compelled to make music. It’s important to have that attitude; we never really though of it as a career. We always said that we put Yak together because we don’t want a career.”

But hasn’t always been an easy ride. Even at the beginning of the year, Oli Burslem found himself stranded in Western Australia after the sessions for ‘All I Need Is Some Sunshine In My Life’ had finished.

“I’m not much of beach person and I was sat there thinking, hmmm, I can’t really afford the £10 beer they’ve got here,” he recalls. Spending his last £400 on an upgraded first class plane ticket back to the UK, Oli Burslem then started on getting Yak back together again.

“That was the trickiest thing that I’ve done this year,” he admits. “By this point I’d exacerbated all my resources. I had no money, no flat and I thought, My God! What have I done?”

Oli is quick to credit his nearest and dearest for their assistance in pulling it all together.

“With a lot of help from a lot of friends, I’ve been able to write and record. If it weren’t for this core circle of friends, I’d have never got through this year,” he reveals. “There are enough people who believed in the band to offer a sofa or a bed or a studio or a guitar. I’ve been lucky really.”

Expanding on the theme, Oli continues: “I suppose I’ve been a bit inconsistent this year. I was away with the fairies, really, and I was in this orbit. Some days I couldn’t even get the kettle on and I was getting quite confused with simple tasks like that. But the momentum of a short tour and playing together for 30 days has really helped. The band now feels better than ever.”

With former Hidden Charms bassist is now firmly ensconced in the line-up, what’s next with Yak?

“We’re going to record and finish the record and put it out next year,” says Oli. “It’ll be a continuation of what we’ve done before. The gospel cover was a bit of a curveball but we’ve playing a lot of new stuff live and this time it’s going to be better, I think. It’s going to be heavier than before.”

Heavier? Could such a thing be possible? According to Oli, it can. And it might just reveal a bit more about the psyche of its author.

“I was playing some of the songs to our sound guy who’s been with us for years and after about four songs he turned around and goes, ‘Oli, are you OK?’”

The singer allows himself another chuckle and says: “I thought that was the best compliment I could get.”

As foretastes for the new album and New Year go, louder, heavier and faster sounds as if future is shaping up just as well for Yak as it is for the rest of us.

Bring it on.

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Words: Julian Marszalek
Photo: Niall Green

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