Ya Herd? #18 – Yung Sham

“Impromptu Fantasies” is the newest release from Yung Sham, the project of Philadelphia-based musician, Elijah Sheppard (out April 1 on Fish People Birds). Like in his previous albums (which are all available on Bandcamp), Elijah and crew continue to masterfully merge sound across genres.

On the single “Incel” (video available here), the lead guitar lays a whimsical backdrop for Elijah’s wide-ranging vocals and Molly Germer’s accompaniment on violin; at one point, the song evolves into a highly replayable mix of cartoonish and haunting keys, a barking dog, and panned breathing which especially shines thanks to help from Sean Reilly (mixing) and Bill Henderson (mastering), who create a soundscape which requires your best pair of headphones.

There is a theme of nostalgia throughout Elijah’s work. Songs like “Dreams” and “I don’t really go by anything” mix guitar and synth sounds from classic rock, while others, like “Guitar Song” invoke memories of an old-time town fair that you’re not sure you’ve ever been to, similar to Dan Bejar of Destroyer. “Ambien Song” wraps you up in a way reminiscent of Spencer Radcliffe’s instrumental work as Blithe Field, while another personal favorite, “Adderal song”, creates a similar feel, this time with Elijah’s vocals.

For this Ya Herd?, we spoke with Elijah about writing and recording “Impromptu Fantasies” as well as his early work and favorite touring memories. Check out our Q & A below.

Thanks for taking the time to speak with us and congrats on the release of your new album. I’ve been a fan of your music ever since I came across a video a few years ago of you playing “Two Birds” on a rooftop (?) and was blown away, so it is great to get a chance to hear more about your songwriting and new release. To get us started, can you tell us more about how that track and how that video came to be?

That was done at a friend’s house. We went out on the roof, recorded the song with a tape player, then added a sepia filter to the video on iMovie and voila!

How did you get hooked up with Fish People Birds for the “Impromptu Fantasies” release?

I met Isaac who runs Fish People Birds during a show at my house a while back. He lives far away so we didn’t talk again until earlier this year when I hit him up about making a cassette of the new record.

I’m not sure if anonymity is the right word, but songs like “I don’t really go by anything” and “Adderal song” evoke comfort around feeling small in a world that can feel really overwhelming at times. What do these songs mean to you? 

Your interpretation makes a lot of sense to me. Most of the songs have to do with feelings of confusion and powerlessness in one way or another but the overall statement is positive. 

You’ve worked with different musicians on your albums and continue that trend on “Impromptu Fantasies”. Songwriting can be so deeply personal and there is lots of diversity in how people approach collaboration. What was it like for you on the new record and have you found a way that works best for you over time?

On Impromptu Fantasies I played and recorded everything except for violin and a couple of vocal parts. Those were all sent to me over email. After I put everything together, Sean Reilly mixed the songs at Studio North. I’ve never made an album like this before but it made the most sense because of quarantine. On my first three releases there were other people who helped me to record and perform the songs. Having absolute control over the music definitely changed it in certain ways because I had more time to experiment. My own technical limitations were a part of that too. Not sure what I’m going to do next but it will be different.

One of the things I like most about your music is how you merge creative sounds that might otherwise be dissonant, like the stereo-panned breaths and dog barking on “Incel”. Those moments are some of my favorite on the new album. How do you decide when a sound “fits?” into a song?

I improvise until something cool happens then I record that or I find a sound somewhere else (like the breathing). What takes more time is figuring out exactly where to put it. 

In songs like “World of Color” and “tapeworm diet”, you play around with vocal and guitar pitch and it really adds a lot of fun and nuance to your tracks. How do you approach recording?

The chorus of Tapeworm Diet was recorded on tape and all of World of Color was too. I like when a recording has character and using analog technology is good for that. My approach on a creative level is to let the music evolve naturally. There’s a lot of beauty in the idiosyncrasies of sound.

Cover art for Yung Sham’s “World of Color” (2019)

What did you use to record the album with? Are there any microphones or pre-amps that you’ve relied on throughout your recordings?

I used Garage Band at the beginning then switched over to Logic and later the whole album was mixed in Pro Tools. Each song was recorded through an interface that I plugged mics and a keyboard into. 

Your music spans and mixes genres in such a cohesive way. What type of music did you grow upon on? Are there periods in your life that are defined by any certain artists or albums?

Thank you! My dad is into all kinds of old folk and blues music and my mom is open to anything but especially likes hits from the 80s. So that was basically my music education as a kid. When I got a little older Weezer and Green Day were my favorite bands. I used to listen to the Blue Album every night before I went to sleep haha.

I can definitely hear The Beatles influence in your work. As someone who is just getting into their solo music, is there anything you could recommend?

All Things Must Pass is awesome and most of John’s solo work is great. Recently I’ve been listening to his last album Double Fantasy. There’s a lot of cool Yoko songs on it especially Yes, Im Your Angel. Paul has great stuff too like RAM and the song Let Me Roll It. 

What are some of the favorite shows you played before? What about shows you’ve been to?

I did a tour in the UK and Europe at the end of 2019 which was a lot of fun. Met some really nice people there and every show was different and cool. Others that stand out to me are one in my old house’s backyard with Emily Yacina, Merce Lemon, and Rachel Levy and at a restaurant in Delaware where I got free soda refills and mussels. As far as shows I didn’t play, seeing Ween is the most memorable for me.

What bands are you listening to these days? Any bands you’d like to shout out?

New stuff: Your Welcome, @, Knifeplay, Euphoria Again, John Myrtle, Mavis the Dog. Old stuff: Mozart, The Beatles, Silver Jews, Judee Sill.

What’s next for Yung Sham?

I’m going to focus on writing as much as possible and maybe start playing some outdoor or virtual shows if I can. Any updates on that will mostly be on Instagram @yungshamband. Thanks Andrew!

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