According to The Longman Anthology, poet Walt Whitman "received little public acclaim for his poems during his lifetime for several reasons: his openness regarding sex, his self-presentation as a rough working man, and his stylistic innovations." Yet despite his critical reception in the U.S., Whitman stands as one of the most revered American poets — especially to the guys in Colorado-based band The Yawpers.
The band takes its name from the final stanza of Whitman's "Song of Myself." When asked about the connection, singer Nate Cook, unprompted, quotes the line verbatim — "I too am not a bit tamed/ I too am untranslatable/ I sound my barbaric yawp over the roofs of the world."
"I'm a big fan of literature in general," Cook says. "And Walt Whitman is the quintessential American poet. So I think it meshes with the aesthetic."
The Yawpers' catalog is dotted with literary references. Their first record Savage Blue is named after a Wallace Stevens poem. There are frequent allusions to James Joyce, Ezra Pound, and W.B. Yeats, plus existentialist writers like Jean-Paul Sartre and Albert Camus. Like the poet who gave them their name, The Yawpers eagerly embrace all the highs and lows of American life. Half of The Yawpers' songs are about getting fucked up, and the other half are about deep existential crises. "The initial idea when we were forming was trying to mix highbrow ideas with really idiot-proof lowbrow music," Cook says. "Mixing the trash with the high-art shit."
Led by Cook's own barbaric yawp, The Yawpers sing the body electric. Within them runs the same blood as The Black Keys, Nashville Pussy, and The Reverend Horton Heat. Their greasy rock 'n' roll is laced with alt-country grit, and it's not a bit tamed.
Stripped down to its bare necessities, Cook and Jesse Parmet play heavily distorted acoustic guitars while drummer Noah Shomberg plays a trap kit. The Yawpers are simple and direct, but without sacrificing volume or heaviness. For instance, Cook and Parmet play acoustic guitars because they have a tendency to fill up low-end frequencies better than an electric guitar. It's why they use open tunings — often open D — so prominently.
"We've learned to adapt to be able to make a full sound with a pretty spartan setup," Cook says. "In fact, I think limitations can be kind of freeing. They keep you focused. If you're a musician or an artist of any kind, you should be able to work with the tools you have and be creative within the confines of [those limitations] and find a way to make it work for you."