Max Bloom, Yuck

After talking to guitarist and songwriter Max Bloom of Yuck on the phone recently, I have an image in my mind: Bloom and his bandmates jamming loudly in his parents' house, so loudly that they wake the neighbors, who come out and shout up at the bedroom window, "Turn that f***ing music down!"  Typical young kids, I guess.  It's almost a stereotype.

Only it's true.  Bloom and co-songwriter Daniel Blumberg write and demo all the Yuck music in Bloom's parents' house.  And when they play, the neighbors get angry. This house is also where they recorded the album.  According to Bloom, it's the only place he feels comfortable enough to write; it's clearly where he gets his best writing done. So while Bloom is at the age when most young adults (at least here in the US) would do anything to get out of their parents' house, Bloom wants to get back in.  Though he still has some trepidation about the neighbors' reaction when the band starts recording new material... 

Do you have any other creative endeavors besides songwriting?

We are all creative people in the band.  Music is my thing, though.  Every day, I do something musically.  When I'm at home, I play guitar and write songs all day, every day. It's important not to restrict yourself, though. Daniel and I can both paint and sketch, but he does a lot more of that than I do.  I'm interested in a lot of creative stuff, but for me it's mostly music, since it gives me the most pleasure.  I do some creative writing, like short stories, though it's been a while.  But I like to think that when I'm writing music, it's like writing words.  I'd also like to think that music can provoke the same sort of emotions as our words, but it can provoke something in the listener way beyond what words can.

When you and Daniel write, what happens?

Generally, I write the music and he writes the lyrics.  Occasionally he might have a guitar riff and write everything, or he'll take a vocal melody and make it into a song.  Or sometimes I might have a vocal melody that comes while writing music.  Generally, though, I write and record the music, Daniel does the vocals to it, then we record it as a demo.  After we're satisfied with that, we play it as a full band, and the song comes into its own.  

When I record in my bedroom, I do all the music: guitar, bass, drums, everything apart from the vocals.  It's important to our process and easier to think about the song and write the lyrics over the music when it seems almost finished.  I like to do it that way, rather than writing on acoustic guitar and not knowing how it's going to end up. Recording is important  for me because I need to hear early in the process everything that's happening in the song.  I rarely have the full song in my head before I record it.

If I have the loose chords or the structure, then I'll record the drums and bass.  Then when I record the guitars, I get the opportunity to be instinctive and not really put too much thought into it; I can see what happens.  The best results happen when you're not thinking too much about it and you're doing what feels right at that moment, and you're just responding to what you're hearing yourself play.

How active are you when it comes to seeking inspiration?

Inspiration is so important.  The hardest thing in the world is sitting down and forcing yourself to write a song.  It just can't be done.  Nothing good comes from that.  You have to wait until you're feeling good.  If you think about songwriting consciously and about what you're doing, the result is usually poor. You have to be in a relaxed state and wait for it to come, almost subconsciously.  

Do you worry if you sit and wait that nothing will come?

Of course.  I get nervous far too much.  When it comes to writing songs, I worry constantly.  I'm paranoid that when something does come, it's a fluke.  But that's good.  It means I'm a perfectionist and will always push myself to do better.  When I finish a song, it's an amazing feeling.  It feels better when it's done, like a sense of relief.  I've had really big moments of being scared, like I'll never write again.

So instead of euphoria when you finish, you feel relief.

Yeah, I guess it is relief.  When I'm inspired and in the flow of writing, like when I'm motivated and suddenly a song comes, I go to a different place in my mind than I was in when I had those worrying thoughts. It's the place in my mind when I was more innocent.  It drives me.  When I'm recording in my bedroom, I spend the whole day recording, not eating.  I would never do that ordinarily, but when I'm that involved, I go to a weird place in my head.

So you don't very often make a conscious decision to write a song, but once the process starts, you are driven.

Yes, but I do think it's important to be disciplined.  I've heard people who literally work in an office environment writing songs, but I can't do that because it feels unnatural.  The best songs are written when it's not forced.  You have to be relaxed.

But at the same time, I dedicate every day to writing and recording.  I never have nothing to record.  It's as important as writing. They go hand in hand because I've been doing both for a long time.  I have a backlog of songs that need to be recorded, since I write songs everywhere but can only record at home.  Songs happen while I'm recording other songs, so there's always a waiting list of songs that I need to work on. I can't do any recording on tour, but as soon as I get home, I start recording, and more songs come. 

So you do most of your recording in your bedroom?

I haven't found a good place other than my parents' house where I grew up.  That's the best place.  It's so comfortable.  Some people can get an acoustic guitar and just write anywhere, but I've never felt comfortable doing it that way.  I need to be in a normal, relaxed environment.  Touring is stressful and I have so much on my mind; I don't think anything good is going to come from writing in such a stressful environment.  Some people thrive on that.  I can't. 

I only feel comfortable in my parents' house without much to do.  It's where all the songs for the past album were written and recorded.  Daniel is more comfortable there as well. Being in a comfortable place is critical, and my parents' house is where I feel the most comfortable because I grew up there.  It would have been a very different album had we recorded it in a studio, or even someone else's house without that comfort level. 

I can never be complacent when it comes to writing songs.  My bedroom is a place where I wouldn't be afraid to play music.  I associate being in my bedroom now not only with being in a comfortable state of mind but also with music.  It's built around music.  I've lived in flats before, and I always end up going to my parents' house to write and record. 

Do you like to write during a certain time of day?

I like starting early.  The only bad thing about recording at my parents' is that the neighbors complained.  I'm going to start doing it again soon, and I don't think they're going to be very happy. They are really quite aggressive; they shout up to my window, "Turn that fucking music down!"

Is there an ideal emotion in which you get the best writing done?

I don't really associate a particular emotion with writing music.  I don't have to be happy or sad.  Writing songs and making music gives me the most fulfillment in the world, so that in itself gives me happiness.  I like to start with a feeling of determination.

What do you do when you get writer's block?

I have had that before.  Actually, I get it a lot when I don't have a lot of confidence.  I start thinking stupid thoughts about never writing again.  But if you force yourself to write when you're not inspired or feeling up to it like I said earlier, you won't get anything good.

When it comes to being blocked, you can either force it: keep playing, get anxious, and keep writing in your spiral.  Or you can drop it entirely and move on.  I like to move on.  I won't even listen to music.  There is such a thing as listening to too much music.  I wouldn't do too much of anything creative.  If I stop writing music and explore other creative outlets like reading or drawing, then coming back, I'm a lot more relaxed.

Everyone needs a break.  I used to get really anxious about this.  Everyone has times when they aren't confident, and that's what creates writer's block.  But I know myself better now, and I know how to cure myself of that.

How do you know when a song is done?

It's difficult.  You have to be very stern with yourself and a bit of a butcher.  The hardest thing is knowing when to draw the line.  When we were recording this album ourselves, we could have done take after take after take.  But you have to be unafraid to be self-critical.  It's important for anyone in a band to be hard on themselves and always to be always thinking you can do better. 

My attitude is that less is more.  I never get carried away.  It's not a conscious decision that a song will be done after a certain point.  Recording on our own as we did, we didn't have to explain ourselves to anyone.  It's never a conscious decision.  You just know.  It's the subconscious mind.