Interview/ Music: Yaatri

Interview/Music: Yaatri

Get acquainted with Leeds/London based jazz crossover quintet called Yaatri.

Led by guitarist and composer Liam DeTar the band consists of Bethany Herrington on vocals, Felix Bertulis-Webb on keyboard, Jona Tromp on drums and Joe Wilkes on bass, the quintet are all students or alumni of the Leeds College of Music.

Their incredible debut track ‘Waiting on the Sun’ from the bands’ untitled forthcoming EP dropped at the weekend, to coincide with their appearance at Marsden Jazz Festival.

Born through a sonic exploration of DeTar’s cultural duality, the track fuses melodic ideas from Indian Classical music with western harmony over a soundscape which effectively juxtaposes openness with metric sophistication. Wordless sung melodies followed by Herrington’s lyrical exploration of the longing for peace of mind enables Yaatri’s sound to feel at home in the world of contemporary jazz as well as more conventional song-based genres. The single also features Zuheb Ahmed Khan, one of India’s most respected young tabla players.

‘Waiting on the Sun’ is utterly delightful and unequivocally beautiful, and we can’t wait to hear the rest of the EP. Enjoy it in all its glory above!

To mark the release of the single, we talk to Liam about all things Yaatri!

So, how did you all meet and what is the origin of the band’s name?

We all met through our studies at the Leeds College of Music, four of us just finished our undergraduate studies, and our bassist is in his final year. I’ve known Jona and Felix (on drums and keys respectively) since my very first week in Leeds, I met Beth (our vocalist) when we were placed in an ensemble together in our second year, and met Joe when I recruited him to play bass in a quartet with Jona and Felix for my second year recital. We all came together in September of 2018 for the group study module of the third year of the jazz course at LCoM, with the goal of exploring composition and ensemble skills as a group.

The word “Yaatri” means “traveller” in Hindi. I’m half Indian and half American but have never lived in either place. I grew up in Germany, Nepal, Austria, Sri Lanka, Morocco, Malta, and Belgium before I moved to the UK to attend University. The majority of Yaatri’s music so far has come from me, and I think one of the reasons people find it so different and interesting is because of the wealth of cultural and musical experience I can attribute to my international upbringing. Most of the songs on the upcoming EP came from me trying to figure out what my musical voice sounds like, which is obviously an ongoing and never-ending process. Especially with “Waiting on the Sun”, I tried to write something which explores my cultural duality by fusing together Western music, such as contemporary jazz, rock, and western harmony, with elements of Indian music such scales, drones, melodic ideas, and instrumentation. That being said, I can by no means take all the credit. Yaatri definitely wouldn’t be what it is without everyone’s individual musical identities and ideas which contribute immensely to our unique sound.

Your music is a mix of different genres. How do you find the balance between the jazz, rock and Indian elements in your music?

Yaatri was formed as a band to collectively explore composition and performance within a “jazz” context – whatever that meant to us – as part of our jazz studies at LCoM, so we always knew whatever we did would largely be informed the the contemporary jazz we’re inspired by. I think I can speak for everyone in the band when I say we’re all in relatively early stages of the ongoing process of figuring out who we are musically and what we want to sound like, so the balance between the different elements in our music is partially due to the unintentional result of our various musical influences and inspirations coming together; for example I’ve simply spent too much time listening to Led Zeppelin as a teenager to not sound at least a little bit rock-y. The Indian element of the music was more of a conscious decision on my part. I wanted to incorporate and explore the sounds of Indian music that I’d heard through growing up in a half-Indian household and our annual trips to India. I spent the summer of 2018 in New Delhi learning about Indian music from tabla player Zuheb Ahmed Khan (who is featured on our single), and he inspired me to take my interest further and apply specific ideas from Indian music into my own compositions.

Interview/ Music: Yaatri.

Can you tell us about the story behind your debut single, ‘Waiting on the Sun’?

The very first idea for this song emerged through a jam Felix, Jona and I had in late spring of 2018, in the form of the riff which opens the song and rhythmic cell which serves as the foundation of the piece. I spent the following summer in India listening to a lot of Indian Classical music which inspired me to write a melody over this rhythm using an Indian scale called “Raag Desh” that I’ve always found particularly striking and to include a bass drone throughout the majority of the piece. When Yaatri formed the following September, this is the first song we attempted to play together. I remember it being a challenge as we were trying to figure out what we wanted the band to sound like, what the piece was supposed to sound like, and what everyone’s musical roles were within the context of this band at the same time. To me, this song captures and fuses two big pieces of my cultural identity, and marks a pivotal moment of time in my musical growth and development. This is an important song for our band as its the first tune that came together and felt right; it made us feel like we were onto something and had stumbled upon something different and special.

(Direct quote from Beth, our vocalist and lyricist about her lyrics on Waiting on the Sun):

“Waiting on the Sun” is about those moments where you’ve become lost in the mental pressures of modern society and find yourself completely wrapped up in the stress of day to day with no visible way out. We forget that the answers to these problems are always the most simple, reminding yourself of what is around you and getting in touch with the littlest of things, things which are so apparent when you’re having a good day. The warmth of a ray of sun coming through the window you are sat by, or a deep breath which we take for granted every day. So busy typing on your computer or stressing over some message you need to reply to, you don’t take a second to appreciate the strange warmth you’re receiving sat by that window. On a cold, dark, miserable winters day, a single, blinding ray of light is warming your side, which could have been all you needed that day to guide you back to sense of rest.

Tell us about the upcoming EP?

The EP (which has yet to be named) is made up of five tracks written in mid/late 2018 through which we explored our collective and individual musical identities in the few months following the bands formation. Two of the tracks are without lyrics and structurally reminiscent of the typical make-up of a tune written within a contemporary jazz idiom, while the other three are more through-composed, structurally complex, and song-like. One of my favourite things about the EP is that each song sounds vastly different from next, and yet they all share a collective identity within the soundworld we’ve created for ourselves. The bulk of it was recorded in one day at the beautiful Nave studios in Leeds in mid-March, with overdubbed synths, guitars, vocals, and percussion recorded over the next few months at the studios at LCoM. Andy Hawkins was our recording engineer at the Nave, and after he expressed his appreciation for our music, I asked him to mix the EP as well. Three of the tracks feature my friend Zuheb Ahmed Khan, one of India’s finest young tabla players, whose parts were recorded at Island City Studios in Bombay. All the artwork and animation for the EP was done by my younger sister Anneke DeTar who is a first-year animation student at the Leeds Arts University.

Zuheb Ahmed Khan

Congrats on being selected for Jazz North Introduces. Can you tell us a bit more about the scheme?

Thank you, we feel honoured to have selected for this great opportunity. The main aspect of the Jazz North Introduces scheme is the showcase performances. Jazz North is partnered with six jazz festivals in the North of England – Lancaster, Marsden, Liverpool, Gateshead, Durham and Manchester – and we’re given performance slots at each of these festivals. They subsidize the fees offered by these festivals which helps ensure that everyone in the band is compensated fairly for their performance, which is very refreshing if you’ve been playing for little to no money in Leeds for the last couple of years. Jazz North also offers additional support in the form of a photoshoot and filmed interview to add to our EPK, a filmed performance at one of the aforementioned festivals, and they help promote us among their network of contacts throughout Northern England.

Tell us about the jazz scene in Leeds? We’re big fans of Jasmine and Necktr, any other bands or artist we should check out?

Shortly after finishing our studies early this summer we performed at Salémango, a two-day festival put together by an independent jazz label in Leeds called Tight Lines. As everyone performing is part of the tight-knit musical community we have in Leeds I had seen almost every band perform before, but seeing them all in the same place made me appreciate the wealth of talent and breadth of innovative, forward-thinking music we have in Leeds. The scene and community that we’re lucky to be a part of us is very young and made up of musicians who are in early stages of their careers, which means Leeds is full of great new ideas and a DIY spirit that means there’s always something new going on. It’s the type of scene where everyone knows everyone, and now that we’ve been heavily involved for a few years it really feels like a community.

Some of my favourite bands in Leeds right now are Book, Project Hilts and B-ahwe. Book is a “spooky” trio that plays their heavy take on contemporary jazz which appeals to the rocker and metric nerd in me, and their balance between complex compositions and outrageous improvisation always blows me away. Project Hilts is a nine-piece jazz/grime group that don’t compromise on the jazz; their music is infectiously energetic, and all nine of them are incredible in their own right. B-ahwe is our vocalist Beth’s project, who play a mix of jazz, hip-hop and soul with a bit of a darker edge to it these days. One of the most interesting things about this band is the dense vocal line-up which is currently made up of four great singers. B-ahwe’s latest single “Closer” came out just days ago and there’s a big beautiful EP on the way.

What are your plans for the rest of 2019? 

Our main focus for the next few months are our releases – we have another single coming out in November, and the rest of the EP will be released in early January. Another priority is writing and rehearsing some material for our performance at Manchester Jazz Festival’s Hothouse showcase in November, with the goal of academically exploring aspects of Indian Classical music which interest us as a group. We currently have a lot of unrecorded music that I’d like to begin to turn into an album this winter. Finally, I’ve been fantasizing about a tour in the Spring that I intend to turn into a reality very soon.

Big thanks to Liam!

CF Smith

Write for Music Is My Sanctuary & Stereofox.

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