From the sidewalk, YAWN’s tour van doesn’t look like anything special. It’s a greying white, a little past its prime, totally nondescript. Step out to the other side of the street where it’s just been parked, though, and you’ll catch the flash of color that sets the vehicle apart from every other tour van. It’s a portrait of Danny McBride by the satirical graffiti artist Hansky, former Chicagoan and acquaintance to the band. Its caption, of course, reads “Vanny McBride.”
There is a playful side to YAWN, even if the local four-piece obscure it a little on their newest album, Love Chills. The cover suggests a very different record than what actually plays inside. A naked, dog-headed man-beast holds a baby in one hand and a sword on the other in the hint of a torchlit cave. YAWN’s name and the album’s title are written in ghoulish, glowing capital letters. Tweak the hues a little and you’d have a metal album cover on your hands.
While the record boasts the band’s scariest and most specific lyrics to date, the words are still set loose in a sea of amped-up psychedelics. But unlike YAWN’s debut full-length Open Season, released in 2011, Love Chills opens plenty of space for its various elements to slide around.
Sometimes different tones slam into each other, like on the single “What’s in the World”, where vocalist Adam Gil crests an elongated hook with the words “choking me ’til I die.” “I’ve always liked that: sunny-sounding music with murderous lyrics,” he tells me. “All the dark songs were from a bad relationship I had. I think it was a more honest approach to songwriting. I didn’t want to just fill space.”
I’m sitting with Gil and his bandmate Sam Wolf on the Logan Square Boulevard green near their practice space. (The other half of the band, Daniel Perzan and Jorge Perez, couldn’t make it—one is stuck at work and the other, as far as I can tell, is AWOL.) Traffic and cicadas buzz around us. It’s been a year to the day since YAWN played their last show in the DIY studio where they recorded Love Chills and venue, Feel Trip. A former professional studio owned by the Chicago metal band Disturbed, YAWN’s South Loop space became something of a hub for up-and-coming local bands during the year and a half they operated it. Both the Orwells and Twin Peaks, Chicago’s two garage rock prodigies, played there while their audiences were still small enough to fit inside a DIY venue.
Both Wolf and Gil lived at Feel Trip, though the studio was never meant to be a residential space, and both speak fondly of their former home, which was bought out by the city shortly after YAWN wrapped Love Chills. “It was so big that sometimes if nobody was there, it would feel kind of lonely,” remembers Wolf. “I always liked that,” says Gil, whose makeshift bedroom was located in one of Disturbed’s old vocal booths. “I always liked looking out. It would take you a minute to run from end to end. It was so big. You could skateboard through it.”
Despite the convenience of waking up in their own studio every morning, YAWN struggled to finish Love Chills once they’d started it. The equipment they’d collected or borrowed over the months was all right there, but so were their friends. “The hardest part was probably just being in the Feel Trip studio and not wanting to party every single night. It was so fun in there,” says Gil. Eventually, the band imposed a deadline. They knew they would have to finish recording before they got booted out of the building, and they cracked down. “We wanted to get it done so quickly that we started to work a lot faster,” says Wolf. “I think we can keep that going. We don’t want to slow down like that again.”
They may have packed a lot of work into the final months of the recording process, but Love Chills sounds more spacious and patient than anything else in YAWN’s catalog. Compared to Open Season‘s packed psychedelics, the new record unspools slowly, letting each discrete texture bubble to the surface in turn. “We started writing it right after Open Season was done,” Gil tells me. “We realized that there wasn’t enough breathing room there. This is dense too, but it has more dynamics.” From the flutes and strings that pepper “Summer Heat” to the strange, synthetic bass voice that carries “Till the End”, Love Chills works on more of a call-and-response mechanism than a constant overflow. It’s a surprising ride, not just a sunny one. “We got sick of the super bright sounds that we were known for more than anything else,” adds Wolf. “We never really felt like that was always going to be our sound.”
Now that the record’s out, Wolf and Gil are already excited to move onto the next thing. Both are working on solo projects, and some of the songs they’re writing will probably end up as new YAWN material. Mostly, they don’t want to get stuck in the same headspace as the summer of 2013. They’re feeling momentum now, partying less, working on music more. Their songwriting efforts feel more collaborative, more open. “It’s even more collaborative. We all get in a room and write something together,” says Gil. “Not in the computer. We just jam it out all together. I think it’s more fun that way.”
YAWN’s Love Chills is out now on Old Flame.