I’ve been familiar with Yellow6’s music for several years now, but have never got too deeply into it. Part of that is due to the fact that Jon Attwood has put out nearly 50 releases under the moniker, on nearly as many labels. But Melt Inside, his more recent full-length (which just came out on Make Mine Music), may be one the most arresting and involving things he’s recorded. That’s due in large part to the presence of Ally Todd’s vocals, which add a very sensual and mysterious element to Attwood’s foreboding drones and atmospherics.
After listening to Melt Inside several times, I e-mailed Jon and asked if he’d be game for an interview. After a few e-mails, this is the result.
Let’s get the bio stuff out of the way first. How and when did you first start recording as Yellow6?
Jon: I first started solo recordings at home in about 1995 using guitar and 4-track, initially basic drone guitar pieces with little structure. Over the next couple of years I recorded hours of material which gradually became more structured. It was the release of Enraptured Records’ Bedroom Ambience LP which made me send them a demo and they came back with the offer of a single, released in 1998.
You’ve had a pretty prodigious output with Yellow6, with nearly 50 releases under your belt. Where does that productivity come from? Are you ever worried that you might run out of ideas and sounds for your releases? Is that why you took a two year break before releasing Melt Inside?
Jon: I just seem to be lucky that I have lots of ideas I guess. I don’t spend as much time now as I used to but I try to play at least a bit every day. Some of the ideas come from this, others just seem to appear in my head.
I do constantly worry that I’ll run out of ideas and tend to get frustrated with myself if I don’t create anything for a few weeks. The thing I have learned is that I can’t force the creativity, it either happens or it doesn’t.
There were a number of reasons for the 2 year break before Melt Inside — firstly that I spent 5 months in early 2004 living and working in Sweden. This is where I wrote some of the basic tracks for the album and also first discussed with Ally the idea of her doing vocals. As all of the music is based on inspiration it can take time — but was worth the wait.
Obviously, one of the major differences on the new album is the presence of Ally Todd’s voice. Given that much of your music has predominantly been drone-based, why did you opt for a more vocal-centered sound with Melt Inside? How did you find Ally?
Ally: The vocal centred sound with Melt Inside was something that came about a bit out of the blue to be honest. A brief conversation between Jon and I whilst we were in Sweden, about whether or not you could adapt vocals to the sounds of yellow6, was the beginning of it really. We still didn’t think about it seriously for another 6 months or so after that. It was a challenge at first, but to be honest, it was one that came very easy for me. Jon and I met about 9 years ago when we joined a soul band, of which we are both part of today.
Jon: I’d wanted to work with vocals for a long time but the opportunity never arose. I asked Ally one day if she’d be interested in having a go. I didn’t imagine she would be interested and I really had no idea what the result would be like as Ally has very different musical tastes to me, but also refreshingly has no preconceptions of how other artists in a similar vein incorporate vocals. We have known each other for 9 years through playing in a Stax/Motown soul cover band together and have become very good friends. Once Ally had recorded the first demo we had a listen, both really nervous in case I didn’t like it! I had no idea what I expected but it wasn’t this — I absolutely loved it.
Ally has been incredibly easy to work with as she has a similar approach to recording — going for feel over absolute perfection and all the vocals were recorded in 2 sessions. She also pushed me to do a little singing as well!
Was it difficult to find a way to blend your sound with her voice, or vice-versa? How did the songwriting process for this album differ with the others, or did it?
Jon: From my perspective it was incredibly easy. Most of the initial instrumental tracks were recorded as “unfinished” rather than being completed as I normally would. Ally then took these and wrote lyrics and melodies. Once those were recorded, I added a few extra guitars or beats and another friend, Amanda Stafford, added some piano and keyboard. I then completed the mixing adding things or taking some of the original track out in some cases, very similar to my usual way of working. The most difficult thing for me was the technical aspects of recording Ally’s voice, as I’ve never recorded vocals before.
Ally: Initially, I thought it would be difficult to find lyrics suitable for Jon’s music and was a little concerned I would just get one big mental block! What happened for me was something quite the opposite in fact. I found Jon’s music to be very emotive, in all sorts of ways, and each song triggered different emotions within me. I thought of the lyrics to each song on the basis — whatever a particular song made me feel, I expressed it with words! Good or bad!
One of the things I’ve noticed most about the album is that it has a very anxious, foreboding tone about it, even though a number of the lyrics have an intimate, and even uplifting angle to them. It creates an interesting tension in the songs. Was that a conscious decision between the two of you? Is there a sort of theme or concept at work in the album?
Ally: There was never a conscious decision made between us about which direction to go in with the album. It was whatever felt right at the time. I’m pleased that you felt contrasting emotions and feelings whilst listening to Melt Inside. Both of us are complex people with dark and light sides, so that’s probably what you picked up on! It’s a project which turned out to be the best achievement I’ve had so far so I’m very proud of it.
Jon: There wasn’t really any intention to create a particular mood or feeling, it’s just the way it turned out. We never talked about trying to create a certain feeling, I gave Ally freedom to do whatever she felt right (but never disliked or disagreed with anything she did). Musically some of the songs may reflect the fact that the time I spent in Sweden was a little isolating, but I guess the more sparse instrumental arrangements also reflect that, being away from home, I was recording using minimal equipment. Ally just managed to totally get into the feel of the music and bring those feelings out in her words and the tone of her voice.
How did you get involved with Make Mine Music? Given that it’s an artist-controlled label, how does that work out with recording, touring, distribution, etc? How do you make plans as to what to release, when to record, etc.?
Jon: The label started from a conversation between myself and Scott Sinfield (Portal). He’d had some bad experiences with labels and I was interested in following the whole process of releasing a record. We set up the umbrella organization along with other artists we knew. Scott is the point of contact for Cargo and Darla who handle distribution but otherwise everything is down to the artist to organize, from recording to manufacture to promotion. We share contacts and info on manufacturers etc. The rest is down to the artist just to decide what they want to do and when.
If there’s something else you would like to talk about, please feel free to do so.
Jon: One thing I’m keen to stress is that I don’t intend the collaboration with Ally to be a one-off. Although I love all the songs on the album, the last few we wrote I think are among the strongest and think there is potential for something even better. That doesn’t mean there won’t still be instrumental releases as well.
After 25 years of playing in bands, this feels the most complete music I have ever been involved in, and that I am most satisfied with.
Ally: I hope that people can find a connection with some of the songs, if not all, and although there will be some people that prefer yellow6 without vocals, I hope there are just as many that have enjoyed this new venture.