“Like Spoon, if Spoon smoked happier weed.”
So read the description for Yohannes, a Boston indie-rock band, on the Facebook event page for one of their Spring house shows. “Honestly, that’s one of the best descriptions I’ve heard of us,” laughs Yohannes frontman Keenan Hye. Perched on a Mission Hill rooftop, we’re gazing the Boston skyline as Alex strums quietly on his guitar and Zack subconsciously taps out a funky beat. They’re calm now; only moments ago bursting with laughter and energy as the gregarious group recounted stories with all the lively banter of birds over a home cooked dinner of baked salmon and clams. Not only were they clever enough to bribe me with food, but they are creatively shameless about encouraging their fans to sign up for their mailing list (they’ve played songs for mailing list members in the past).
The band formerly known as Royale may have changed their name and grown up musically, but at heart they’re still the same ambitious, creative and goofy group they were when they began jamming in their dorm room freshman year. They’re the only people I know that keeps an album of photos they’ve been accidentally tagged in (“Yohannas is a popular Ethiopian name”) and they’ve been known to perform in everything from raincoats and umbrellas (inside) to Superman onesies. Before you even see them live, their Facebook feed serves as a sampler that will give you a taste of the quirky personality in store when you see them live.
For them, music is a “creative outlet”. “Whatever we do in music, we want it to be in a new and fun way. We don’t like to just follow a pattern; we put a lot of thought and work into everything we do,” Keenan notes.
But why the change from Royale to Yohannes? “We love caulk,” Alex Vipond says with a straight face as the guys dissolve into giggles around the table.
Keenan explains, “We have a maintenance man downstairs named Yohannes and he fixes everything with caulk.”
“Anything and everything,” Zack adds.
“90% of the walls are caulk,” Alex finishes.
“We were so different and our sound was different from when we started freshman year (“Less shitty,” Zack voices subconsciously) that we felt it was time to change our name to reflect that.”
“Less college-rock-band cliche” Eli mumbles vehemently through a mouthful of rice.
Keenan continues, “We were all sitting around brainstorming, thinking how can we describe ourselves?”
“Barely-have-our-shit-together came to mind,” Alex laughs. “And we thought . . . who else barely has their shit together? That would be Yohannes.”
For people who claim to barely have their shit together, they put an immense effort into everything they do. From Ok Go-inspired music videos to their writing process, all their work is a passion project. “We’re all involved in the creative process now,” Keenan notes. “That’s one of the biggest changes from when we first started together. Before me and Alex would just write the songs and come to Eli and Zack with bass lines and drum parts in mind, but now we’re all involved in the process and we’re openly critiquing each other.”
Eli breaks in, “On the upcoming album, we’re all writing the lyrics together as well.” He flicks a piece of rice at Keenan, “Keenan used to write about girls mostly, but the new album is a lot more diverse.”
It’s not just the lyric writing they share, you’ll see them do a little Chinese fire drill to switch instruments at least once a set. Their apartment is a veritable stockpile of performing equipment: guitars rub shoulders with drums and mics while banjo, mandolin, cello and saxophone all jockey for position in the corner. There’s even a rain stick. They do all their recording and mastering in-house and friends like rapper Manni Festo or Martin Mancer will often swing up to jam.
“We want to be known for having an open-door policy,” Eli says. “The more collaboration the better, especially across genres and artistic mediums. Our neighbors break dance and we did a house show one time where they danced while we did our set; it was an awesome experience.”
As for the future? “We’re going to buy a farm,” Zack says. “We want to set up a studio in the barn and tend to the animals.”
“And then when we turn 69 we’re going to drop whatever we’re doing and become a rad jazz band that plays at wedding,” Keenan fantasizes. “But for right now this year is a busy one. We want to experiment with recording styles and locations; everything we do we want to be different. It sounds like a cliche, but we’re not content with doing the average path. We just want to be absurd and push the boundaries of what has been done with music.”
“We’re just trying to stay genuine and put as much of ourselves into our music as possible.” Eli says as the group nods. “There are so many people are telling bands what to do; don’t post that, act like this. We don’t want to follow any specific steps. We’re just going to do our own thing.”
Although they’ll be hibernating until January to record their album, you can catch an elusive sighting of them at The Fever Tree this Friday. As part of Allston’s underground live music scene, the address is a secret, but ask around to find what will be an incredible show stocked with local Boston talent.