Meet Aussie Alt-Pop Producer Yeo, Who's Been Heralded as the Male BANKS

Plus listen to a mixtape he put together for us.

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10 November 2014, 10:00am

It seems like Yeo's name has been bouncing around the internet for ages. Over a year ago, he dropped "Girl," an electronic slow jam that earned him the title, The Boy version of BANKS. He followed that up with "Kobe," a shimmery synth-pop track that quickly racked up thousands of streams of SoundCloud and landed him on a bunch of end-of-year ones-to-watch lists. But long before that—2006, to be specific—he started quietly putting out subtlely stirring indie gems that earned him a small but feverish group of fans who have stuck around since.

A few weeks ago, Yeo released "Secret Powers," a heartbreaking synth-heavy duet with German singer Yule Post that might be his biggest release yet. An ode to the 80s power ballad, it's a stunner about longing and long-distance relationships that will simultaneously rip your heart out and make you bob your head a paradox that runs throughout Yeo's discography.

He has a versatile, but consistently haunting, vocal range that makes you feel things you didn't know you could, but Yeo's real point of pride is his production wizardry. In addition to writing and singing every note, the solo artist plays just about every instrument you can think of, using his computer to create a harmonious sound that could pass for a six-piece band. With a full-length album (finally!) on the way, standalone single "Secret Powers" is Yeo's "handshake and wave for the year. It's like, 'Hey guys, just hang out for awhile.'"

The 27-year-old Aussie hopped on Skype—at 8 AM on a Saturday morning, no less—from his Melbourne apartment to talk about his latest release, his appreciation for country music and hip-hop alike, and what it's like to balance touring with a full-time career. When his highly-anticipated LP drops, he really ought to consider quitting his day job.

When did this whole music thing start for you?
I started making music when I was at university, so probably about 10 years ago now. I learned piano at a very young age. You know, classic Asian parents. I hated it when I was young but by the end of high school, I realized I wasn't really good at anything else.

So your hand was forced...
I studied music technology at university and that got me started on production. Over the years, I've played in a lot of different bands and I've played lots of different styles, which is way my music is quite varied. Right now, I'm really focused on improving my production in terms of innovation. I'm looking to keep pushing that angle as opposed to becoming, say, an instrumentalist like a jazz pianist.

Do you produce for other artists, too?
I have before. It's all very small local acts, because my name's not out there that much right now. In the near future, I think it'll become something that become more of an income source for me.

Were you the frontman in the previous bands?
I always sang backing vocals, at least. The most recent band I was in was called Big Smoke, which was like 70s rock 'n' roll outfit like The Band and Bob Dylan, that kind of stuff. I co-wrote, and there are a couple of songs I sang lead, but mostly I'd be on backing vocals and piano. I've been in metal bands. I've done reggae, I've done pop-punk, I've done really good indie noise-punk bands like Pavement. It's been so much fun, having done so many different things.

How'd you decide to go solo?
I still debate with myself whether I should continue the solo thing on a regular basis, but I'm a control freak and I like having the ultimate say of what goes and what stays. I like knowing that all of this is me. It's a very self-gratifying thing. It's something to be proud of, like, "Guys, check this out, I did everything on this track! I did all the drums, I played the bass, I played the keys, I sang, I even sang the backing harmonies." And if they're like, "Oh, I didn't know that's all you," then that's cool.

The songs sound very dancey and happy, but the lyrics are usually pretty dark. "Always Open," for example, is kind of a heartbreaker.
"Always Open" comes from a very dark place. It's talking basically about the industry, and when your friends let you down and you're expected to be this forgiving person. I don't know how deep you want to go...

You can go as deep as you want.
A lot of my music is like that, I'm just being cathartic and exercising some demons. I'm being emotional, and I'm using the music to pull myself out of that dark place.

You're working on your next full-length right now. When can we expect it?
I'm about two-thirds of the way through. I don't want to put a date on it, but I would love for it to be out early next year. I took a five-year hiatus from music that was involuntary—I was just trying to work out my life, which included trying to find some kind of backup career. But I really missed music so much, and even though I hate the music industry and I hate the way the model works, it's not shitty enough to unbalance my love for music. I've tried so much to do something else but I keep coming back to it. So after taking five years off, I can't wait to get it out there. For me, it's just a thing that makes me happy.

Can you explain @snackswithyeo, your social media handle? How'd you choose that? Snacks are obviously awesome, but...
It could have been anything, right? I chose that one because I liked the idea that bands and artists start with a name, and it doesn't really make sense at first, but then they find some success and it couldn't be anything else. For example, do you know a band called Silverchair.

Of course!
Their website is chairpage.com. It's so weird. They started as a total DIY nothing band. And they haven't changed the website. And to me, that's great.

That is great. And snacks are great. What are your favorites?
I'm a really big fan of Japan, so...have you ever had green tea Kit Kats? They're the best. So good. Really addictive. I like Skittles. For some reason I'm just talking about candy. Hmm. I really like Jubes. On that note, Turkish Delights also. And I love chips. Chips are great.

Your Skype handle, which I will not reveal here, is a clever reference to a rapper. Are you big into hip-hop?
I'm a massive hip-hop fan—Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg, all that 90s era of hip-hop. Tribe Called Quest, Common. I also think Outkast is really sick. In terms of the new guys, you've got Kendrick Lamar, who's absolutely killing it. I really like Odd Future, that whole crew. I know they've blown up so big, but it's for a reason.

What other music do you listen to?
I really love country and folk—that's one that always hits people from left field. I also listen to some jazz, and a lot of indie rock 'n' roll. As far as producers go, there's this fella called Mr. Carmack who's been really blowing my mind. Same with Jay Paul. So futuristic and weird. I've been digging back into the old 90s and early 2000s stuff and putting together mix tapes of stuff like "Pony" by Ginuwine and that whole era of R&B. We just had D'Angelo here and he was sick. He's put on a bit of weight but he's still got the goods.

Check out his exclusive mix tape just for us. "Pony" by Ginuwine obviously made the cut, and so did a bunch of other killer throwback tracks.

Tracklist
MFP Beat - Theme For Movement
Purity Ring - Fineshrine
Active Child - Hanging On
Estelle - Free
R Kelly - Ignition (Remix)
Timbaland feat. Dr Dre, Missy Elliot and Justin Timberlake - Bounce
Mr Carmack - J (Penthouse Penthouse Remix)
Usher - Confessions Pt. II
Destiny's Child - Say My Name
Ginuwine - Pony
Jamie Foxx feat. Ludacris - Unpredictable
Jonwayne feat. Scoop De'Ville - The Come Up
LDRU - The Tropics
Dr Dre - Forgot About Dre
Usher x Diplo - Climax
Fractures - Twisted
Styalz Fuego x Stuck Note - Wait Up
Snarky Puppy - Binky

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