- Paul Beaty
- Nate Cook and his Yawpers cohorts: 'I pick characters that I don't necessarily have anything to do with.'
'Hey, I'm sorry I missed your call," apologizes Nate Cook with a laugh. "I didn't hear the phone; I was vacuuming." The Yawpers frontman concedes that activity is "not very rock 'n' roll," but he's still happy to get a brief domestic break from his band's heavy touring schedule.
It's a brief respite, though: The Yawpers will quickly hit the road again, crisscrossing the country before landing back — again briefly — in their hometown to play a set at Denver's Underground Music Festival.
The rock-friendly trio manages to breathe life into the acoustic-instruments-and-drums format, in part by writing better songs than most, and in part by using not one but two acoustic guitars. "We're trying to play what we like," says Cook. "And a lot of what we like is The Cramps, Bruce Springsteen and R.L. Burnside. So just by virtue of what we enjoy, our music is a kind of punk/blues/Americana thing."
After a pair of self-released albums — 2012's Capon Crusade and the 2013 all-covers set Good Songs/Shitty Versions — The Yawpers signed last year with hip independent label Bloodshot Records. Cook acknowledges that signing has changed things for the band. "It does offer a bit of credibility, but primarily — and I struggle to use the word 'exposure' — I think our reach has grown so much. And that's really allowed us to make a go at a career of it."
As the band's songwriter, Cook had ambitious goals for the songs that would make up last October's American Man. Each song would take on the perspective of someone from a specific American walk of life. The titles fit the approach: "9 to 5," "Beale Street," "Walter." "Every song is supposed to be a kind of narrative independent of the other songs," Cook explains. "They each weave into their own fabric of what the American experience is like."
Cook pauses and laughs self-deprecatingly. "I kinda failed at that; a lot of the songs ended up being autobiographical. But that's what I attempted to do. I pick characters that I don't necessarily have anything to do with, and try to look at the American experience through their lives."
Cook and his bandmates — slide guitarist Jess Parmet and drummer Noah Shomberg — still honor their basic musical concepts: "We have a formula," he admits, "And we really don't stray too far from it." But in the studio, The Yawpers do include subtle shadings of Hammond organ and other instruments.
"A painter gets tired of using black and white, eventually," Cook says. "Sometimes on our records, it's fun to fool around with some different palettes and different sounds."
But onstage, The Yawpers stick with their two-acoustic-guitars-and-a-drum-kit setup. And that's what their hometown audience will see after the band makes the eight-hour drive home from the previous night's gig in Omaha. The group, which is listed seventh on the festival's poster, will be among the more than 400 national and local artists performing over the course of the four-day event.
Given time, there are numerous other bands on the UMS bill that Cook would love to catch. "If I had the opportunity, I'd really want to see Thee Oh Sees. And Dragondeer; they're a great local band. There are a lot of great local bands I'd love to see. But," he laughs, "We'll barely make our sound check. So we'll see whoever is on after us."