Interview with Yakuza: Action And Consequence

Having in the past released albums on heavyweight metal labels like Century Media and Prosthetic Records, Chicago outfit Yakuza now make their home on the smaller and remarkably influential imprint Profound Lore, home of likewise progressively-minded acts such as YOB and Cobalt. Yakuza’s fifth album, Of Seismic Consequence, takes elements of prog, grind, doom and jazz and melds them in a concoction that, over the course of their tenure together, has become uniquely the band’s own. There is no other band out there that sounds like Yakuza, and Yakuza sounds like no other band.

What separates Of Seismic Consequence most immediately from the rest of their catalog and its most recent predecessor, 2007’s Transmutations, is the melody. Vocalist/saxophonist Bruce Lamont, gathering experience and confidence in other bands and solo projects, has brought to Yakuza his labor’s rewards, and the songs are that much stronger for it, drummer/percussionist Jim Staffel, guitarist/vocalist Matt McClelland and bassist Ivan Cruz having likewise stepped up their game to create an album where the music and lyrics both prove as intellectually stimulating and emotionally evocative as the title itself.

And about that title: It was the first thing I wanted to discuss with Lamont in our recent interview.

Give me some background on the meaning of the album title. Is there a narrative or a theme running through the songs that the title Of Seismic Consequence represents?

Yeah, a variety of themes. It seems there are a similar number of coincidences occurring the past couple of years, loose interpretations of end of the world scenarios. Just with the whole Mayan calendar thing, 2012 and all that, amongst a lot of recent environmental catastrophes and whatnot, it all seems to be happening within the last couple of years, more so now than ever before, and there’s all these warnings within history saying we’re in this period where something’s going to occur. So a lot of the lyric themes and topics revolve around that, but I was thinking more of it as metaphorical, in a sense, more where we’re entering into an age of epic transformation, into something beyond ourselves. Something I don’t think we can fully comprehend yet. Something is going to occur in this lifetime that’s gonna be a big change, in history.

Something bigger than even, say, the cultural shift in the 1960s. I think that was a burp in regards to what is going to happen with evolution. I can’t really pinpoint it either, there’s just hints of what that may consist of. The advancement of technology, the way the earth has been reacting to us and what we’ve done in the last 100 years. All that combined. That’s what was running through all our minds collectively as a band when writing the music, when working with the lyrical themes and everything like that. That title, which Jim texted me one night, very late, and said, Of Seismic Consequence, and I said, ‘Perfect. Perfect. Yes.’ That’s where it comes from.

What do you think it is about the present that’s different from past eras that would allow these events or this cataclysmic thing to occur?

Good question. It just seems like everything’s happening all at once, or it’s building up to something. It’s a culmination of things. Like I said, it’s environmental, it’s social, it’s political, it’s everything. Technology. All these things are coming to a point, and I think something’s gonna happen. I’m leaning more towards a positive transformation, as opposed to something terribly wrong and negative and catastrophic. We’re already seeing, in the grand scheme of things, catastrophes. I obviously don’t consider the Gulf Oil Spill a small catastrophe—because it’s not, it’s very big—but on a worldly scale, there’s this belief that maybe half of some sort of landmass is going to fall into the sea and millions of people are going to die. I’m not quite of that mindset. I think all of this that’s happening now is going to come to a head and with that, we’re going to either move onto some sort of enlightenment thing. I’m not trying to get into some spiritual thing, but something beyond ourselves may occur sooner than later.

It’s funny, I was watching tv the other night and they were talking about selling million-dollar luxury bunkers to people. Colbert had it on, and there’s a company selling these things.

I read about that about six months ago. I laughed. I was like, ‘Come on…’ Especially in the last 100 years, this happened a number of times, whether it was a world war or some kind of crisis, people take advantage of this kind of situation and try and dupe morons into buying this sort of stuff. Come on. Million-dollar bunkers. Give me a fucking break. You’ve got a million dollars to waste on that shit, you should be out doing something good for your community or something like that. Don’t piss it away on your, ‘Oh save me and my children, I’ll put us all in this bunker and we’ll be safe. It’s gonna be great!’ You’re gonna run out of food eventually, you fucking asshole. If it’s really gonna go down like that, you’re gonna die too, you’re just gonna die a little later than everyone else (laughs). Print that or not, I don’t care. I’m just saying, you have that kind of money, don’t be so selfish, pump that stuff back into your community and do something for everybody, including yourself. That’s just me. I don’t have a million dollars (laughs).

What inspired ‘Good Riddance (Knuckle Walkers)’? Was that that same mindset?

Oh yeah. Chaos. People are just out for themselves, and aren’t really gonna give a fuck about anyone else. You know, we have riots, people just end up becoming animals, resorting back to their true selves. I think rational thought is going out the window in major situations like that, for a lot of people. So I wrote about knuckle draggers, pillage and pirate with ape-like fury, and they’re not kidding around.

What about the development of your vocals and the change in approach on this record? It is strikingly different.

Last couple years I’ve been doing some different projects outside Yakuza. I have this band with Sanford Parker called Circle Of Animals that’ll be out on Relapse later this year. It’s sort of like our nod to Chicago industrial music, but I actually sing quite a lot on that record too. We started recording that right after Transmutations. We started working on that in 2008, and at the same time I was also doing solo stuff, where I do a lot more singing. I was just experimenting with different vocal stylings, Native American chanting, working as much of the dynamic range as humanly possible. Throat singing to Rob Halford-y kind of stuff. With all that, I started to take it into consideration with Yakuza stuff, and there’s some tasty melodies on that album that the band was writing, and I just wanted to complement them. I just felt compelled to sing more than anything else. Like I said, you kind of let the music speak to you, then react or complement or whatever.

Has the band’s approach to songwriting changed at all? There seems like so much progression from one album to the next. Does the process ever change, or is it just what you guys are coming up with?

What we’re coming up with. The process isn’t very different. We still write the way we write. It’s become a little easier. We’ve been a band for 10 years, we’re pretty comfortable with each other as far as what’s going to work, what’s not going to work. It’s pretty effortless. We just take our time, don’t rush anything. No reason to.

Is it any different for you working with Sanford in Yakuza as opposed to these different projects?

Not really. Working with him as a songwriting partner —he’s so easy to work with him on every level it’s ridiculous, and he’s one of my best friends too. As a songwriting partner, it’s ridiculous. He’s like buttah! Like buttah! Really easy. I play with Minsk sometimes too, and we toured together, and literally, we’ll be on tour together for three weeks and not once even raise a voice at each other. We hang out all the time. So working with him, the band, we trust him implicitly. He breaks up a lot of ties when voting on things—not that that happens very often, because like I said, we pretty much have things worked out ahead of time—but his opinion is as valid as any band member’s opinion. That’s why we work with him. We feel that comfortable.

Yakuza’s Of Seismic Consequence is available now on Profound Lore.

JJ Koczan thinks the world has already ended, to no one’s enlightenment. He’s okay with it though.