Yoko and the Oh No’s are a local trio that describe themselves as “rock n’ roll with a touch of soul.” It’s a description that holds up when listening to their self-titled debut album. Serving up a slickly produced “rock n’soul” sound, their songs are filled with soulful vocals and swaggering bravado not often heard in a city dominated by a lot of louder, lo-fi punk and garage acts. The following is a conversation with drummer Stef Roti and vocalist Max Goldstein (producer and guitarist Max Loebman couldn’t make it). We discussed how they came together, their process of coming up with new songs, and their first album. Be sure to listen to “Drag,” the single the band recorded exclusively for LoudLoopPress.com by our own Damian Wiseman. It’s available for free download at the conclusion of this post and/or can be streamed in the Bandcamp sidebar to the right.
LLP: Tell me about the band’s formation.
Max: We were all in another band together called The New Originals. Yoko was sort of the side project, and when I went off to school, The New Originals broke up, and then I moved back and we started doing Yoko full time.
Stef: We’ve been playing in various bands with each other for about four years. The three of us are good friends and we love making music together, it’s so much fun.
LLP: What makes this band so fun?
Stef: I don’t know, it’s weird, you can’t even describe it, it just clicks.
Max: Yeah. We don’t really fight about things. If one of us is really passionate about something, we’ll just do it.
Stef: We’re friends before we’re bandmates.
Max: Yeah! Other bands can feel like work, and with us it’s just really easy. I think it’s because we all have the same goals and we’re working towards the same vision.
LLP: You all put out a self-titled album at the beginning of this year…
Max: Yeah, that was a really fun album. It was a bunch of songs that we had been playing and working on since the beginning. We just wanted to get our ideas out there. We wanted to convey them to the people who had been coming out to see us at shows. Also we sort of wanted to be able to move on past that material, because we’d been playing those songs for so long.
LLP: I really like the track, “Lone Wolf,” what’s the instrument in the beginning?
Stef: Max has an organ in his basement that his parents found at a garage sale.
Max: That’s one that I wrote. That’s actually the first song I ever wrote.
LLP: I also like the last song, “Who’d Stop Me”, it reminded me of a tUnE-yArDs song. Can you tell me a little bit about it?
Max: [laughs] That’s so funny, we love tUnE-yArDs! That song, the first demo was Max and I with just drumsticks on a wooden chair. We were just whacking it and the chair was breaking. So then we put this version out on the album, our friends that had heard the demo were like “what happened to that song?” When we were mixing it the three of us were just like “this song needs an upgrade.” We were just coming up with weird stuff we could change.
Stef: Weird effects…
Max: Yeah, the drums are looped.
Stef: We just sat there one day and added a lot of things.
Max: Like a UFO noise.
Stef: We just had fun with it.
Max: And also it’s the last song, we sort of wanted to make people say “what?!” [laughs]. Yeah I love Merrill.
LLP: So, what’s next for Yoko and the Oh No’s?
Max: We have a lot of stuff going on. Look out for an album, probably early next year. We’re going to be playing a lot of shows this winter with some awesome Chicago bands.
LLP: How’s the new album coming along?
Max: We’re making progress on it, I’m actually going to record some vocals tomorrow. We can’t say much right now about when we’re going to release it or anything like that.
LLP: Are you able to compare or contrast it with the first one at this point?
Stef: You”ll see, [laughs] we don’t even really know yet. We’re just kind of writing the songs and playing them. We think it will be tighter.
Max: Yeah, that’s the biggest thing. Also there will be a lot of songs that we wanted to be on the first album. Because of the time crunch, there were ones that couldn’t make it. A lot of those songs that we really wanted to release but couldn’t, now we’ll get a chance to put those out there.
Stef: Yeah, with the first album, we kind of didn’t have a good overall idea of the record, we just wanted to record it. Now that we’ve played the songs so much, we’ve changed them up a lot. For this next one we’re changing up our approach. We want to play them a lot more first and really make sure they’re solid before we record.
LLP: How do your new songs generally come together?
Max: Lately it’s been Max [Loebman]. He writes a lot of songs. He’s an amazing songwriter, he’s always been more of a songwriter than I am, so recently he’s been coming up with most of the songs.
Stef: And he’ll makes demos.
Max: Yeah so he’ll come to us with a song that’s pretty much already done, and then it’s just like “oooh, I can see us playing this.” Sometimes he comes to us and it’s like “this is a dope song but I can’t see us playing it” and other times I can totally see it.
Stef: Yeah and then we just jam on it and change it up a little bit.
Max: Yeah, I don’t always stick exactly to the melody. There are certain things that he does vocally that I couldn’t do or that wouldn’t make sense.
Stef: We just do whatever is best for the song.
LLP: Tell me about the song you recorded for us, “Drag.”
Stef: That was so fun, Damian’s a great dude.
LLP: Did you have the idea for the song already?
Stef: Well I was in a band with the guitarist [Max Loebman] while Max was away at school, because we just always need to be playing music. That band was called The Irenes, I played in it for a year while Max was gone. That was a song for that band and we just started playing it as Yoko for fun.
Max: We’d been playing it a lot. We played it a lot this summer. That was the song we closed shows with. It had become a major part of our set and we didn’t have a recording of it, so we thought this would be the opportunity to release it.