It seemed appropriate, given that May was NZ Music Month, to celebrate the release of a New Zealand band’s debut album. It also felt right, given we live in the age of the internet, to choose a band that was formed by distance, not proximity – or even New Zealandness.
It’s difficult to claim ownership of something as ethereal as Yumi Zouma, whose earliest tracks were crafted in the night-time hours via email, across seas, by friends who all lived in different cities: Paris, New York and Christchurch. Yumi Zouma was signed at night as well, after guitarist Charlie Ryder sent their first track to a few industry people and it was picked up immediately by indie label Cascine.
Their success has been steady, even meteoric, ever since. They were asked to support Chet Faker on his Australian tour before they’d even played a song together in one place, and not long afterwards they supported Lorde on her tour of New Zealand, playing to sold-out arenas.
In March 2015, Ryder said in an interview: ‘We don’t get together to record. We did it once in February of last year and it was terrible. We are not good in the same room together.’
That’s not to say they aren’t pals, but as Ryder more recently explained ‘it can be scary to present raw ideas to friends’. Yumi Zouma simply needed time to get used to each other, time to become a band. Their story is strange and intriguing because they found success before that happened.
Yumi Zouma’s first album, Yoncalla, out this May, was the beginning of a different process for the band, one that saw all four writing music together for the first time, during breaks from touring in Paris and New York. Vocalist Christie Simpson explains: ‘I think it was different this time around because an album is a more significant body of work, a bigger thing – and us being together and working on it collaboratively meant everything was so much more cohesive.’
A Guardian review of the band’s first EP in 2014 described their dream-pop tracks as sounding ‘placeless. It could have come from anywhere, and yet it was made everywhere.’ Despite their new, and more traditional, songwriting process, this placeless feeling still infuses Yumi Zouma’s new album. Even the name Yoncalla – a town in Oregon they saw on a road sign while touring last year – suggests a casual disregard for place. It’s one of the things I like most about them; I think the lack of an anchor is what makes Yumi Zouma sound so dream-like, as if it’s music from a future where borders have ceased to exist.
Christie Simpson likes the ‘dream-pop’ label they’ve been branded with since the beginning. ‘I think our style is intimate,’ she says, ‘like a conversation between close friends.’ With track names like ‘Text from Sweden’, ‘Better When I’m By Your Side’ and ‘Hemisphere’, it seems like that conversation between close friends is one that’s deepened by distance.
As they embark on a year of touring New Zealand, Japan, Europe and the States to promote Yoncalla, I’m interested to see how the placeless, modern quality of that conversation evolves. To me, Yumi Zouma is a band that makes music for a generation with a planet-sized concept of home, and that’s an exciting, unifying prospect, but it does make it difficult for me to claim any kind of parochial ownership of them, even during NZ Music Month.
Yoncalla is out now. Have a listen.
By Courteney Peters
This content originally appeared in The Seasonal #03 AUTUMN, in stores now.