It seems like every write-up about Charlotte band Yardwork employs, in some way, shape, or form, the word "positive." Look. We just did it right there.
Honestly, it's a pretty accurate descriptor. The band, led by songwriters Thomas Berkau and Bo White, plays a magnificent sort of math rock, kind of like a faster, louder, more complex Pedro the Lion, or maybe a much poppier TV on the Radio. Listening to their latest release, the Slamdunks EP, it's easy to imagine oneself politely moshing at one of their shows, in an utterly positive way.
"The band joke is that many of the lyrics are actually solemn or anxiety-ridden," Berkau says. "We're still feeling pretty positive, not ashamed to say it, but I don't think that was ever our defining characteristic." But the positivity is certainly in the delivery, and how that makes the audience at a Yardwork show feel. It helps that the band always tries to express itself to a maximum. "We'd like to be known for that openness, if anything," Berkau adds.
Recently, the band downsized to just one drummer, Taylor Knox, after spending years playing with two. That helped add to the energy that Yardwork is known for. "Our remaining drummer can be eerily good at sounding like two drummers, so we didn't look for a replacement," Berkau explains.
The rest of Yardwork, including bassist and guitarist Chris Thomas and multi-instrumentalist Andy Thewlis, mostly come from a punk and hardcore background, but writing "happier" music is not all that different. And they try to bring that same kind of relentless energy to their current live shows.
The biggest change for Yardwork is the venues they now play, and who makes up their audience. Instead of performing for basement and house parties like they used to, they've moved on to more traditional stages — and, therefore, more traditional audiences. "For what it's worth, this is the first band we've had that any of our parents actively listen to and enjoy," Berkau says.
On Slamdunks, Berkau says that the band wanted to get across a sense of urgency they felt was missing from their first full length album, Brotherer. "Brotherer has good points, lots of crescendos, but the process of creating that record took two years," he says. "Scrutinizing anything for too long can mellow out unexpected rough spots that might be interesting in the end."
And the music still catches on with the crowd, who's been known to sing along whether they know the words or not. "We can whip them into a frenzy when the feeling is right," he says. That's easier to do at a house show, where Yardwork will perform when the opportunity arises. "The bigger venues absolutely feel bigger," Berkau adds. "Sometimes you push as hard as you can into the space with questionable return. Sometimes you catch the wave at the right time and everyone tumbles along with you."
This year, the band plans to play more shows, and there will be a new full length record out by mid-year, plus some additional singles or EPs. "And finding as many opportunities to enjoy it all as possible," Berkau adds. Now that's a positive outlook if we've ever heard one.