Naomi Punk is a wild and original band out of Olympia, Washington, where its members live and play music together at a ranch also named Naomi. To follow their 2012 debut LP, The Feeling, Naomi Punk spent the past few years working on a double album, Yellow. We’re so pleased to introduce two tracks from Yellow, “Cookie” and “Cardboard,” before the record’s release on Captured Tracks (August 4).
Travis Coster, who plays guitar and sings in Naomi Punk, spoke with his friend Andrew Savage of Parquet Courts about the long, super-considered process of writing the record. To further illustrate, Travis made a beautiful flowchart of the thoughts behind the songs, which you can enjoy above. For more Naomi Punk, visit their website and go find them on their forthcoming tour—we’ve listed the dates beneath Travis and Andrew’s talk.
—Amy Rose Spiegel, Editor-in-Chief, Talkhouse Music
Andrew Savage (Parquet Courts): When did you start writing the songs for Yellow?
Travis Coster (Naomi Punk): We were in the van a lot in 2014 and 2015. We decided to call it Yellow and talked about it being a double LP before we started making anything. It was a weird conversation that never really stops between us. We put on some techno and talk for days about music as a magic language, and how you use it, like playing live shows versus listening to music on your headphones with your eyes closed.
Color can be interpreted in so many different ways. Picasso had his rose and blue periods—you guys are having your yellow era.
When we started conceptualizing it, we listened to Red by Taylor Swift. I bought The White Album for the band. I’ve collected yellow clothes for a couple of years now. It kind of started off as a joke… It’s ambitious to make a double album centered on a theme, but I like it as a device. You can riff on that formula to explore in a structured way, expose new things in yourself, and find a voice.
Nowadays, when I hear you, and other Olympia bands, like Milk Music, G.L.O.S.S., and stuff on K Records, it doesn’t all sound the same, but there is a common denominator—there’s something in the water. What do you think that is?
Places are powerful. I’ve been living out in a ranch for three years, penning barn animals and shit, driving through the country, listening to music. It’s shaped my outlook and what my whole life actually looks like.
People go to Olympia because of Evergreen State College, but also because of the music and art scene’s story. There’s a certain kind of person who goes there looking for a place to belong.
People move here, find this wild, hardcore scene, and dive in. It’s cool that there’s a structure and history for that. Because it’s a small scene, there’s a lot of opportunity to experiment outside a capitalist mode of music. In cities, I come across bands that—I’m not judging, but they’re trying to play with bigger bands at bigger shows. People in Olympia will have a band for one house show, and no one’s paying attention to it outside that scene. There are so many young kids moving here and starting bands, and people moving away, and there are these interesting adaptations of the landscape. In a town this size, that’s pretty cool.
You’re communing with music. Nature is a huge aspect of it. There’s so much wilderness. I go backpacking a lot—getting into the woods with yourself or your friends feels amazing. Connecting with that influences how I think of music as a part of nature, and letting music be totally free or weird. It’s spiritual. Being on a bigger label—that’s outside that context. I have felt pressure to build a bridge to people, but I also just need to live my own life. Obviously, we put a lot of work into Yellow: It’s our meditation and our art. I’m just interested in doing the music.
Artists are indebted to the place that they come from. The people you came up with, the bands you played with, the people at your shows—they define who you are. It can become muddy once you’re touring and a label in New York is putting out your record.
It’s not possible to separate my experience here from my music. I feel like I’m surfing the matrix after coming back from tour. It’s pretty trippy. People live at a different pace. No one works in the entertainment industry. My friends are, like, flower farmers.
You’re not trying to be twee—you actually have friends who are flower farmers, where I can’t name a single flower-farmer friend.
I don’t usually like talking about that—I’m like, Oh, man, how am I presenting my art to people? Olympia’s reputation has been oversimplified in tedious coverage of punk music. That happens so much: You have to explain something to people in a really short period of time, embracing a bunch of tropes.
It’s been at least two years since you’ve been making this. Did you rewrite certain songs, or were there songs that were discarded? Given that time period, the music must have evolved.
Originally, we wrote out 30 numbers, for 30 tracks, and sketched it out like a movie. I’m into soundtracks and how they flow—even if you don’t watch the screen. I felt like that would be an interesting way to test the little music languages that we’ve developed.
We rented the top floor of K Records for half a year because we were recording out of the Naomi Ranch—we lived out there, and it got to a point where we wanted to play nonstop. You can do that out in the country at night, but we had roommates, and you get distracted in your own home. We stopped playing shows, moved all of our gear, and recorded everything when we were [at K], which led to a lot of surprising stuff. [Naomi Punk’s guitarist] Neil [Gregerson] remixed clips of us jamming, and we’d be like, “Let’s write that into a song.” Experimenting with different processes was fun. It let us be more liberal, like, “That’s insane-sounding; we had no idea that was going to sound like that.” It was in the spirit of keeping the music wild and free from designing in a predetermined mode, like a punk band saying, “We’re going to have five songs on the demo, this is our guitar tone, and we’re just going to cruise with it.”
It’s an experiment in and of itself when you decide the rules or conventions of a certain style don’t have to apply.
It made me want to be more vulnerable lyrically—to let my words be my words to a greater degree, not trying to create some saccharine vibe or be overly intellectual. With two albums, you have so much space and time to move around through the material. You can zoom in on vibes.
So many people lose the adventure in music, and there are so many competing interests for how music is created and how it’s used. I felt like opening up the process to experience music like I do colloquially, like in my house, making music on a four-track or a computer. Writing something and just dancing to it. Because we’ve played in bands together for so long, and grew up together, we’ll jam, and I’ll feel like we’re having a conversation with our instruments. We want to do art on our own terms.
You have to be in control of your art and what you’re doing. If you feel out of control of something so personal and dear to you, or when you feel like you’ve relinquished control to music media or industry, that’s when it becomes depressing. You have to always keep yourself in check and make sure no one else is controlling what you’re doing because that spoils it.
Rock and roll is such a product of the growth of neoliberalism becoming a new capitalism in the 20th century. Rock has become a lot more stabilized. Especially making a double album, when we showed the record to our label, they were like, “Do you have three introductory tracks?” They weren’t saying “you can’t do this,” but people click on a track, are like, “eh,” and skip to another. I’m like, “Well, good for them—but we feel like this is a pinnacle moment where we’re having discussions through the music.” I can’t put myself in the position of someone who is a consumer of music and is an armchair critic of “sound” or “the development of the band.” It’s exciting that it’s going to be on vinyl and that someone can experience that.
Like, if you go to a PC Worship show, you’re banned if you have any expectations going in. Is Justin [Frye] going to be playing an oud? Is Bongo Dan going to be there? Are there going to be any songs I recognize? You guys have toured with them. Parquet Courts has toured with them. Every time I watched them, for three weeks, they never played the same set because there’s no sense of convention or making people comfortable about what they think they’re getting themselves into.
They’ve been inspiring, even just as friends. We toured with them in 2015 and it was one of the most magical tours. When we got back, we were hitting it pretty hard on Yellow. I was making a four-tracks songs with acoustic guitar, piano, and synthesizers, and Neil was making weird loops on the computer and doing digital synthesis. That was informed by us reconnecting with that magic of following your path in a new way. I could talk about that for a long time. I don’t know—music is so magical. I’m honored and grateful to have grown up in a place which afforded me tools to grow and learn with music as its own investigative mode.
8/5/17 – Olympia, WA – The Capitol Theater*
8/7/17 – Portland, OR – Mississippi Studios
8/8/17 – Vancouver, BC – The Cobalt
8/9/17 – Seattle, WA – Fred Wildlife Refuge
9/12/17 – Boston, MA – Lily Pad
9/13/17 – Montreal, QC – Pop Montreal @ La Vitrola
9/14/17 – Toronto, ON – Night Owl Festival @ The Baby G
9/18/17 – Chicago, IL – The Hideout
9/19/17 – Madison, Wi – The Frequency
9/20/17 – St. Paul , MN – Turf Club
9/22/17 – Sioux Falls, SD – Total Drag Records
9/23/17 – Omaha, NE – O’Leavers
9/24/17 – Columbia, MO – Cafe Berlin
9/25/17 – Norman, OK – Opolis
9/27/17 – Dallas, TX – Transit Bike Co
9/28/17 – Austin, TX – The Mohawk (Inside)
10/1/17 – Tallahassee, FL – The Wilbury
10/2/17 – Atlanta, GA – 529
10/3/17 – Nashville, TN – Drkmttr
10/4/17 – Lexington, KY – Al’s Bar
10/5/17 – Pittsburgh, PA – Mr. Roboto
10/6/17 – Washington, DC – Comet Ping Pong
10/7/17 – Philadelphia, PA – The Sound Hole
10/9/17 – Brooklyn, NY – Brooklyn Bazaar
*Olympia Hardcore w/ Iron Lung, GAG