Right Time, Right Place; An Interview with Shane Butler and Caity Shaffer of Olden Yolk

Initially conceived in 2012, Shane Butler’s one-man project Olden Yolk was all about establishing dystopian folk feel to the songs he wrote.  Since then, the project has slowly matured into something quite exhilarating.  That is mostly in part to the musician teaming up with multi-instrumentalist Caity Shaffer.  Listening to the New York-based ensemble’s first full-length album, there is an overwhelming feeling of melancholy that covers the songs.  Heavy on the haziness and tranquility, Butler and Shaffer’s vocals intertwine together in a pacifying manner.
We recently caught up with Butler and Shaffer to chat a little more about the new album, how they met, and the evolution of Olden Yolk.
How did the two of you get together?
Caity: We met serendipitously through a mutual friend. I was living in Texas, and Shane was in town from New York to play a show. I was having a terrible day, but by the end of it, I met him, and we had this instant connection. We wrote to each other for months until I moved to New York.
Shane: Caity said it well — except she forgot to mention it was a Harvest Moon when we met! Serendipity was following us. When Caity landed in New York it wasn’t long until we started working on music together.
When did it become clear that the chemistry between you two musically needed to be explored?
Shane: Caity sent me a song pretty quickly after we met and I was blown away. I loved her writing style and her voice. I had no idea that we would eventually start writing together, but I think secretly I kind of hoped we would. When she moved to NYC many months later, it was supernatural to start working together musically. I was working on some songs at the time and Caity started helping me with them and bringing songs she was working on to the table. They all fit together really well — so it just made sense. I think both of us cherish being in a shared project where we can utilize multiple voices, vocal layers, and musical styles. We both push each other to expand upon each song and contribute to whatever is happening. It’s amazing to work with someone who is constantly inspiring you and pushing you to refine your craft.
Caity: Yeah, it was a gradual process of realizing that we admired the same artists and each other’s songwriting. Making music together seemed like the most exciting next step. It was all timing. Like Shane said, we kept pushing each other outside of our supposed limits.
Butler-you were going about Olden Yolk as essentially an outlet to release some work that was designed to be one-off works.  What made you decided to evolve the project into something more?
Well, a bunch of different things. First off, I think for a while I have been hoping to build a music project where I could have more input into the design, videos, art, etc.… I am a visual artist as well as a musician — so this stuff is pretty important to me. Secondly, the group I have been writing/touring with for about eight years decided we were going to take a hiatus. We had been non-stop for a long time, and I think everyone was getting to the point of really wanting to do other things. Thirdly, and probably most importantly was meeting Caity. Meeting someone who shared such similar intentions musically, philosophically, and aesthetically has been a huge inspiration.
Shaffer-what projects were you working on before setting your focus on Olden Yolk?
I was predominantly writing (poems, short stories, grants, etc.) and helping with a kind of DIY literary arts class. Always working on songs. I had accumulated dozens of them from past years, so at the time I was editing, and choosing which to move forward with. I was also playing in Molly Burch’s band with some of my best buds.
Where was the recording done for the full-length?
Gary’s Electric & The Black Lodge as well as some things being home-recorded. All in New York.
When it comes to the writing process, is the songs put together collaboratively?
Shane: Yes. Absolutely. It’s always different for each song how that happens — but each one of us has contributed to every piece on the album in some way.
I read the songs on the full-length are essentially odes to city living.  What is it that inspired you two so much?
Caity: We both grew up here. Even though I’ve lived elsewhere for many years, moving back to the Northeast felt long overdue. I missed the grit, grime, history, trash, yelling in the streets, etc. In Texas, I would read Baudelaire when I was homesick because his descriptions of Paris reminded me so much of New York and Philly. Rediscovering the area was an unexpectedly beautiful experience.
Shane: Well, I moved to NYC when I was 14 years old, and it had a huge impact on me. I grew up skateboarding and have always been inspired by architecture and by the ways cities are laid out. I’ve also always been drawn to the raw nature of what happens when you put millions of different people from different parts of the world in a giant concrete jungle together. I think when you live in such a dense city you have deep relationship elements that are very raw and visceral and those that are more soothing and beautiful. It’s kind of how the city works; this constant dichotomy between the beautiful and the object. I’ve always personally been attracted to that blending of the dissonant and the harmonic and to musicians/artists that use this. A lot of the music I grew up loving were from bands who lived in these sorts of environments to the point where you could hear it in the music. (i.e., Sonic Youth, Velvet Underground, Brigitte Fontaine, La Monte Young, Patti Smith, Black Dice, etc…)
With Dan Drohan and Jesse DeFrancesco coming to help flesh out the songs, did you two see the influence of the songs sway differently?
Shane: Both of them are great players and have added a lot over the course of these songs. Excited to see how that grows as the band goes along. It’s such a great stage of the songwriting process once the songs are arranged and laid out, and we can get in a room all together to let loose and see what else comes out.
Caity: Yes, for the better. Jesse added some memorable guitar lines, and Dan brought a sort of infectious energy.
What is the significance of the sculptures on the cover of the album?
Caity: Years ago, I worked at a bookstore in Philadelphia. The manager of the store was a mentor-type figure to me. One day, during a shift, he showed me some photographs he had taken as a child–the image on our album cover was among those photographs. This one just stuck. The figures in the photograph are sculptures made by his best friend and owner of the bookstore, Larry Robin, in the image of his first love.
Shane: I feel like the sculptures spoke to both of them for the cover of our first album. The figures themselves have such an incredible innocence and mystery exuding from them simultaneously. Kind of in the same way a debut album does — there is a total innocence in what is being created because it’s just the first thing you’re doing. There is no place to look back to — and there is not a clear idea of where it will go. They reminded me of that feeling and the universality of that feeling. When Larry told us the story of them it sealed the deal; such a beautiful story.
Having the chance to work together for a period of time now, what would you have been the most important thing you have learned about yourselves?
Caity: By now we’re in a flow–we know what our strengths are in different areas. I feel grateful to have such a trustworthy and good-hearted collaborator and best friend. I think about that every day.
Shane: Couldn’t agree more with what Caity said.
I saw some shows are lined up in the upcoming future.  Are there plans for more touring coming up?
Shane: Yes. We will be touring all year. Here are our upcoming dates as of now:
March 23 // Mannheim, DE // Kulturbrücken Jungbusch
March 24 // Cologne, DE // Dynamite
March 26 // Bristol, UK // Hy-Brasil
March 27 // Margate, UK // Tom Thumb Theatre
March 28 // London, UK // Rough Trade East (In-store)
March 29 // London, UK // Cafe Oto w/ Tony, Caro, & John
March 30 // Antwerp, BE // Oude Badhuis
March 31 // Caen, FR // Portobello Rock Club
April 1 // Paris, FR // Espace B
April 2 // Limoges, FR // Le Phare
April 4 // Amsterdam, NL // Paradiso
April 5 // Gent, BE // Trefpunt
April 6 // Mechelen, BE // Zapoi
4/27 // Winooski, VT // The Monkey House
4/28 // Portland, ME // The Apohadion Theater
4/29 // Rollinsford, NH // Sue’s
5/1 // Montreal, QC // Casa del Popolo
5/2 // Toronto, ON // The Smiling Buddha
5/3 // Cleveland, OH // Happy Dog
5/4 // Chicago, IL // The Hideout
5/5 // Milwaukee, WI // Milwaukee Psych Fest
5/6 // Minneapolis, MN // Bryant Lake Bowl
5/8 // Bloomington, IN // The Blockhouse
5/9 // Nashville, TN // The High Watt
5/10 // Raleigh, NC // Neptune’s Parlor
5/11 // Washington, DC // DC9
5/18 // Philadelphia, PA // Everybody Hits
5/19 // New York, NY // Mercury Lounge

Olden Yolk’s debut full-length is out now via Trouble In Mind Records.
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