Electric Wizards; An interview with Sara Taylor and Ryan William George of Youth Code

Youth Code

Youth Code (photo by Rick Rodney)

In 2013, the likelihood of an industrial band shaking up the musical landscape isn’t terribly likely.  Even those who swore by and worshipped at the altar of Trent Reznor, Skinny Puppy, and KMFDM in the ’90s are likely to have weaned themselves from that kind of listening habit years ago.  That is unless they’ve heard wrath-inducing Los Angeles duo Youth Code, whose self-titled debut unleashes bitter outbursts of destruction that are as danceable as they are whiplash inducing.

Following the  Wax Trax blueprint, but coming from a place of hardcore angst, Youth Code have a sound and style that are all their own.  Their full-length, which was released by Dais earlier this year, rides in the wake of their elusive demo tape and redefined single on Angry Love Productions (who before them released Psychic TV records almost exclusively).

Ghettoblaster recently caught up with Sara Taylor and Ryan William George to discuss everything from eating Vietnamese food next to Xiu Xiu’s Jamie Stewart, to trying to avoid being Hatebreed.  This is what they told us.

I actually first heard about you through Scott Niemet, who used to be in The Lack (on Troubleman Unlimited), which is appropriate since he’s a hardcore dude who was in an industrial band. Are you familiar with him or the band?

Sara Taylor: Yeah oddly enough our friend Mehran in Portland (writer’s note: whom I discovered later was the editor of Light Up The Sky online zine in the early ’00s) put us together a couple CDs of their material. Pretty cool stuff. I don’t know those dudes at all, but the music is rad. From what I know they’re not a band anymore?

Ryan William George: I just became friends with Scott through Instagram of all places. Our pal, Mehran gave us a copy of the record and I posted it, because it fucking rules, and Scott was like “Yo! That’s my band!” Ha ha.

Jamie Stewart of Xiu Xiu also recently mentioned that Youth Code are his favorite LA band.  Are you familiar with his work?  Have you interacted with him at all?

S: I like Xiu Xiu. It is emotionally honest and gut wrenching. Very personal stuff done in all different fashions. I’ve never met Jamie but we’ve been in brief contact here and there about potentially doing some stuff together. Fingers crossed that it happens!

R: I correspond with Freddy over email from time to time and I think that’s how Jamie caught wind of us. But I absolutely love Xiu Xiu and Former Ghosts. How sick would a Former Ghosts, Xiu Xiu, The Lack and Y.C. tour be?! Ha ha. Sara and I actually ate right next to Jamie at this Vietnamese place by our apartment a few months ago. It was before all of this so we didn’t say hi, just kinda giggled that the guy who made the video with the girl puking was sitting next to us.

It is my understanding that you guys have a punk/hardcore pedigree.  How have those earlier experiences prepared you for Youth Code?

S: Nothing could’ve prepared me for this really. It’s my first time in a band. I’ve been on tour a lot in my life, so the trials of touring aren’t very difficult for me. I think the way that punk and hardcore influenced and shaped who I am are pertinent, but this band was about breaking down a personal wall I had that restricted me from doing anything public. Ryan was the only thing that helped me with putting myself out there and the only thing to help prepare me for doing a band.

R: If anything, it just made it more difficult. It was really hard to let go of myself without a wall of drums and guitar amps and a bunch of dudes behind me. It really strips you down to this vulnerable, emotional level where it’s just you, her and a table of electronics. Now you have to fucking let all this rage out with nothing to hide behind.  In the end, I think it makes it 100 percent more visceral and raw because it’s so stripped down. But it was pretty scary in the beginning.

It’s been a great experiment on just how far you can push aggressive music. For me personally, I know there’s been countless bands before us. But this is new territory for me.

Have you read the Al Jorgensen autobiography?  If so, what did you think about his discussions of the marriage of punk, metal and electronic music?

S: Haven’t read it. I have quite a few books to get to, so I might have to add this to the list.

R: I haven’t read it either. I just want to know how the fuck he hooked up with Ian MacKaye for Pailhead. We did watch “Fix” the other night and that was horribly depressing.

You had to have been blown away to have been invited by Psychic TV’s label to put out your music on Angry Love Productions.  How did that relationship happen?

S: I had met Edley while I was on tour with a band three or four years ago. We instantly hit it off and I would see him quite frequently while I was on tour and even spend time with him if I had some down time after a tour in the NY area. When this project happened, I casually asked if Angry Love would ever be interested in putting out material from other bands outside of PTV. When he found out Ryan and I were doing a project he was super fucking supportive and of course was excited to be able to help out with whatever we were doing. It is an amazing honor to be on Angry Love and hopefully we can have some other project lined up with them again in the future.

R: It’s great. It’s just like working with Dais. We get to work with our friends. It rules.

How has Dais Records been supportive in helping you realize your artistic goals with the LP?

S: Dais records is just comprised of two completely amazing dudes who love supporting art in the first place. Ryan and Gibby don’t look at each artist as a way to make money, they specifically only want music that they enjoy to be able to be released to the world. They let us do whatever we want as long as we were happy with the record. They gave us complete freedom with the artwork, vinyl color scheme and whatever else went into releasing this LP. I Love those dudes and couldn’t think of a better home elsewhere.

R:  Working with Dais is perfect. All they want is to put out music that fits their aesthetic and make it look good. It’s an absolute honor to be part of something that i think will be looked at as another Factory or Creation. They have put out and continue to put out some amazing, challenging records.

Were there specific messages you were hoping to convey with the LP, or does the larger goal have more to do with catharsis and feeling?

S: I think it just has to do a lot with catharsis and feeling. Writing lyrics is hard because you have to play this weird dance around with what you say… at least in my way of writing lyrics. Because if I were to just take the general approach of what I wanted to say the entire record would’ve read “fuck you for this,” ” I hate you,” and ” this is bullshit”.  But I’m not in Hatebreed, ha ha, I’m in an industrial band.

R: I think Sara’s answer just about covers it.

What parts of the LP are you most happy with, and what would you do over?

S: I’m pretty much happy with the whole record. Given the way that we work, and putting our timing on the shoulders of Jeff (Swearengin… who mixed and mastered the LP) I think it came out beautifully. Ryan and I work best under tension. SO even if we were given a shit ton of time to record a record, we would come up with bits and pieces and things that we wanted to work on up until the crunch time of the record.

When DAIS said the record was due we had maybe six songs fully written and ready to go, three of which had been written and ready to go for quite some time before hand.  We just sent Jeff music to mix while we did vocals on one track, and then when we would have the vocals done for one we would work on the music for another and just push everything to the last minute. Maybe what I would do over is a whole life’s worth of procrastinating and just relearn how to take time with projects ha ha.

R: I don’t like the b-side. I won’t listen to it. “No Animal Escapes” is cool, but I’m not into the rest of it. I think it has more to do with the order that the songs are in than me not liking the actual songs. I’m more excited about what’s next. I’ve learned a lot and acquired new synthesizers since the record was recorded (it’s been done since the end of May). Plus writing and recording is like my favorite. You get to hole up in a room and be creative and weird for a couple weeks, shut out the world. It rules. Sara and I spend a lot of time discussing what sounds we like and what we want to do with songs so when we sit down to write, we just straight crush. We know what we’re going for. There’s going to be a lot more melody on this next record but not in the traditional singy songy way.

Has it been difficult to recreate the sounds of the record during your live performances? 

S: No, because we use hardware to write on.  So we basically write the way a normal band would. If we are laying sounds with different synthesizers, we put the additional lines on a sampler so that we can trigger them live.

R:  Yeah, we make sure we can play our songs before we record. So it’s super easy. Samplers are a big part of YC. Not just for helping with live, but artistically too. Like stacking bass sounds form various synths to make one bass sound that is unique. Using every day sounds from the street to create rhythms. Sky’s the limit really. There’s that song everybody needs a 303, or something? Why? They all sound the same, like a god damn Roland 303 that’s on every fucking techno record ever.  I think everybody needs a sampler.

Your sound has allowed you to perform with a variety of kinds of artists, from DJs to bands.  Do you believe your unwillingness to adhere to the rules of a single genre have worked to your advantage?

S: I think it has worked to our advantage, but at the same time we couldn’t do anything different than what we are doing. We’re too rough to only play with future pop/ oontz/ cyber goth bands…. we’re too techno to play with only hardcore bands… we’re too weird to only play with indie bands….. It’s like we’re constantly just trying to play as much as possible and not think about whether or not it adheres to what we’re doing necessarily, because nothing really does. I also like the diversity of just getting up and doing our thing for whomever. If we’ve turned them on to something they like, rad.  If not; oh well. Diversity in music appreciation is crucial.

R:  I love being the odd man out on a bill. I appreciate the challenge and as difficult as it can be, I think it does pay off.

Youth Code live (Photo by Rick Rodney)

Youth Code live (Photo by Rick Rodney)

How was the tour with Night Sins?  What were the prominent takeaways for you in terms of lessons learned or experiences you were able to have while doing that?

S: The tour with Night Sins was one of the best, if not THE best tour of my entire life. It was the two of us, Kyle (who does Night Sins on his own) and his friend Andrew (who plays in a fucking awesome band called Salvation with Kyle as well). The four of us lived in a minivan and just cruised the U.S. laughing and having fun city to city. If we encountered anything that bummed us out, the four of us all dealt with it together. It was sort of like  Griswold family vacation though, that even in the parts that were troublesome,  we found humor in them.

The biggest lesson I learned for myself personally is to NEVER let anyone try to give you shit or give you anything less than exactly what you want. It’s so easy to be passive and just let venue people slack off because they don’t feel like putting in the extra work to accommodate you.  But in the end it’s your show that gets viewed as a bummer, not the promoter or sound guy. Be very vocal at all times and stand your ground.

R:  I came away knowing that I actually like touring. I thought I was going to hate it. I really like being at home and having my privacy. I don’t like leaving the house very much. So yeah, I thought it was going to be the worst month of my life. I can’t wait to get on the road again.

I assume that part of your goal is to encourage dancing.  Or maybe it is unintentional.  Are you pleased with the reaction of your fans to the material and how they responded to it in a live environment?

S: I don’t think that we have a goal really. I’ve been very stoked to see that this band has gotten a reaction at all to be honest. We went from two people doing a band as a dare to being something that people really appreciate.  And for that I am eternally grateful. This is a fun ride for sure and I can’t thank people enough for supporting us and letting us continue to be creative.

R: Yeah, we don’t really make dance music in the traditional club sense. People kinda just like, push pit when we play ha ha.  I don’t know…I’m sorta embarrassed answering this ha ha. Yes. We like when people freak out at our shows. It’s cool.

When can we expect you back on the road?

S: We can’t announce the full details yet, but we’re hoping to do a North American run in mid-February opening for a really cool band that I don’t think a lot of people would expect us to tour with. So hopefully then, and trying to be on the road for a while…most of 2014 I hope!

R: We’re just kind of riding along with some bands that are bigger than us for a while. It’s going to rule.

(Visit Youth Code online here: http://youthcodeforever.tumblr.com/, and https://www.facebook.com/youthcodeforever.)

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