YANK SCALLY enters his bedroom studio, leading in Bill Nickson and Astles, who are visiting for the first time. “Yeh, I probably should have cleaned up,” he tells them as they perch among the clutter, “but I feel like it’s more authentic.” It is mid-afternoon, but you can’t tell in the darkened room. The windows are covered by sheets pinned to the frames, and the only other light source is the computer screen. His hosting strategy is unique. They sit around smoking for some time, while Yank Scally prank calls an American record store on speakerphone, demanding that they check their stockroom for Under The Boardwalk by Bruce Willis. Snickering as they hang up, he is suddenly contrite: “Nah, nah, I’m getting side-tracked. D’you wanna make some tunes?”
No one can believe the time when the guitars are put away; suddenly, the day is gone. “Time doesn’t exist in this room, does it?” asks Dan. Bill agrees: “The Yank Scally experience. It gives me more context for the music.” Over the last year this dim, smoky room has been the site of a secret creative explosion. Yank Scally has been crafting his most concentrated work to date. A whole host of collaborators have passed through the labyrinthine hallways of the building he lives in to record with him. His first full-length project, There’s Not Enough Hours In The Day, features 10 other artists across its 14 tracks. These range from local rappers, singers and instrumentalists, to international producers. In this project, Yank Scally brings together artists from very different worlds, intermingling them naturally with his extravagant synth creations.
There’s Not Enough Hours In The Day is a collective achievement, which also tells a story of the creative community in this city. “’Cos I’m kind of a hermit and I don’t really like drinking, I tend to just invite people round here,” he explains. “I’ve had like all kinds of people here, from people who’ve never done anything before to fully-fledged artists.” Seasoned rappers Bang On!, MC Nelson and Remy Jude all squinted to write their album verses under the dim light emanating from his screens. Martha Goddard of the Hushtones, WOR Music, Josephine Yeoman and George Styers lent him their voices and musical ideas. He even secretly recorded me reading my poetry to him one night and mixed it into Red Sky At Night, the six-minute ambient interlude at the centre of the album. This is one of two tracks featuring international producers; he describes &&, the Algerian producer who finished it off, and Dad’s Computer who features on Morning, as his “internet friends”. The album art was drawn by friend lil witch, and vectorised by another, Gemma. His wizard robes were sewn by a friend’s mum.
The album was recorded, mixed and mastered in this bedroom, in a studio also obtained through a collectivist effort. “I’ve got one monitor and one speaker that was given to me by a friend who went to India, I’ve got keyboards that people have lent me. The computer was my grandad’s. Like, none of it is mine.” He has no soundproofing, and as the occupants of his neighbouring bedrooms came to learn, he doesn’t use headphones. He mastered his own album on this set-up, trusting his own ears above all others, with no regard to how things are usually done.
This uncompromising nature caught Bido Lito!’s attention last year, when out of a sea of wordy, bombastic press releases came a SoundCloud link with a single line: “hello. im from toxteth”. “I don’t really have a lot to say anyway, so the only thing I’ve got to show is music,” he tells me. Back then, Yank Scally’s SoundCloud held hundreds of songs. There were disco beats; pop songs; harsh noise; artist studies with titles like Burial Copy; a donk version of Dido’s White Flag. Some of the songs had hundreds of plays, but most had less than a hundred. We were amazed to only just be hearing about someone so prolific, and so audibly talented. “I had no idea about press kits or any of that stuff,” he explains. As part of the Merseyrail Sound Station artist development programme, he got to present his ‘press kit’ to a panel of industry experts, and to his shock they were just as intrigued. “I didn’t realise, by accident, it meant more that I’d put less.”
When it comes to the words he uses, Yank Scally is a minimalist. “I can’t explain it. There’s just a set amount of lyrics that I’ll ever use. I don’t like the way some words sound.” He mentions musicians who take the same approach: “Say, like, James Blake, Arthur Russell, Daft Punk. If you deconstruct their lyrics, each word is quite purposeful and they use so few.” Although he studies a vast range of genres, he is most attracted to musical outliers, like Moondog, the eccentric New York drifter. “I like musicians who have, like, a stylised way of doing things. With dance music, the drop’s always about turning it up. You get that ‘oooh’ off the drop, and that only lasts for a certain amount of time, so I’m trying to figure out how to constantly drop it over and over again.” He describes the wonder he felt as a teen watching Justice on stage with their huge light-up cross, and hearing Daft Punk release experimental albums after their hit debut. A decade on, he is creating his own stylised electronic music which defies genre and his own fantastical persona. “My friend Mike called me an audiomancer, which then led me on to wizard-type thinking.” (Mike, who has wandered into the room, interjects: “I have no idea how you do it, la, I just see fucking green squares.”) After shooting his music video for Up All Night in costume, he insisted on keeping it on while he walked around town, gleeful at the turning heads. “I’ve become my own hero. For a long time now, I haven’t really been listening to a lot of other people’s music,” he confesses. “I’ve only been making my own.”
The penultimate song on There’s Not Enough Hours In The Day, Sunday, begins with an auto-tuned prank call to another American record store. The employee quickly loses his patience: “Is this the healing crystals guy? Seriously dude, I don’t have time for this.” As his delighted peals of laughter echo away, the melancholy, McCartney-esque organ chords swell into a sing-along anthem of hope for all of the beautiful, imperfect ones: “Spent all day in bed again/but I’ll try again tomorrow.”
Yank Scally’s persona and musical practice bears the marks of its origins, a young boy hell-bent on having fun against all the odds. Our school systems don’t encourage experimentation, or recognise strengths which lie outside of academic diligence. Even art and music teachers end up enforcing joyless parameters of achievement by necessity, and access to extracurricular resources is limited for some. The art industries are overflowing with those who grew up with tutors and musical instruments. Electronic music is the great equaliser, because all you really need to make it is a computer, and maybe some pirating capabilities. He remembers being 12, googling “how to make music like daft punk” on his grandad’s computer. “I think I actually tried one called Cakewalk first and it was disgusting, then I opened up Fruity Loops. It comes with a demo track, which is really intuitive. To be honest, for a long time I had no idea what I was doing, and I would refuse to watch guides because they were boring. I’d rather just press buttons and see where it goes.” Music allowed him the creative freedom to experiment outside of the rigidity of academia.
“I was just messing around with Fruity Loops for ages, and then after years, people were like, ‘Hey, you’re actually getting pretty good at this’.” He built a low-budget recording studio in his room. “Thinking back now, the set-up was wrong, but somehow I got it to work. The room would be constantly full of my mates, and it got to the point where I had so many visitors that I’d just sort of make tunes in the background while everyone was just chilling.” Yank Scally relishes his ability to make beats in the most minimal of environments; the independence is freeing. “A guitarist or something would have to go to a studio and record. I could just make disco beats on my computer.”
After dropping out of college, his experimentation intensified and became more focused. “The way I’ve always done my musical studies is, you know, like how a painter does a collection, that’s how I do it. I make an idea first, and do a series like that. Sometimes three or four, and sometimes actual hundreds.” He uploaded songs and deleted them when he felt like it. “I really like the delete function. People don’t use that enough. Y’know, it’s the internet, the button’s right there. But it’s not always as easy, as I’ve come to figure out. People actually grow, like, a connection to a song and you just turn around and delete it – it’s kind of unfair, because you’re playing God at that point.” It took a while for him to sense the existence of his audience from the confines of his room.
Unlike most Liverpool acts, he never cut his teeth on the gig circuit; his rehearsal room is his studio and online was his stage. “Up until 2016-2017, there was a large period where I was isolated and I just sort of forgot about everyone else.” Journalists and blogs would feature his songs and include him in playlists, only to find the track gone without a trace, with links leading nowhere. “My music was kind of separate, like I wasn’t making music to impress anyone or, anything like that. And I’m still not, but people exist in the equation now. There was an awkward stage, where it was like, people can’t actually like my music, ’cos I don’t like it, so I had to change that, d’yknow?” He started to sing on his own tracks: “I got tired of waiting for the right environment and timing, and the opportunity to have a singer in my room.” He stopped studying other people’s music, and started combining the styles he had mastered to create his own. They began to have an autobiographical quality to them, like sonic diary entries. He wrote a song about feeling down, and one about loving smoking, using heavy guitar riffs mixed with drum and bass.
As summer approached, something shifted. He began making uplifting, melancholy synth soundscapes with repetitive, minimalistic lyrics. His SoundCloud reached what he calls a “critical mass”, and he deleted everything. Most of the songs he wrote after this point appear on his new album. Going For A Drive, the only Yank Scally song on Spotify (currently), was the first of this group: “It was my first true song. It was a huge step up, ’cos I was, like, opening the book on my life or whatever. I wrote it just before the summer. I was feeling like I was just coming out of a long sadness.” The song captures something about the savage beauty of the world after surviving a rough patch and reawakening to it. “Feeling so alive, sleeping all day… going scatty, smoking biff”, he sings in a cycle. The rest of the album is just as personal. “There was a girl I met a long time ago, and we got into a bit of a thing over the phone.” She reappeared suddenly in the summer after a long silence, “And, yeh, from that came Delete, Up All Night and Magic Spells.” These songs take us through the despair of digital separation, losing sleep on the phone, and being cursed with infatuation. They are also certified bangers.
At some points, Yank Scally felt like God’s lightning rod. “A few months ago, I felt like, enlightened. I was making all these tunes, and they were just coming out of me and that. I feel like it was just… [he makes a whooshing sound and extends his arm] Like, I wasn’t really having any part in doing that, and at some points it was almost scary, like I’m not even joking. I guess I’ve very little self-esteem, so being able to do that… I’m not saying I’m pure amazing or anything, but at that point I knew I was putting out good music daily, hourly. And it was just weird to have this duality of, like, being so tired and stuff all the time, and then being this all-powerful producer wizard.” We hear this contradiction on the refrain of Bulletproof Wizard, an uplifting bop featuring WOR and Remy Jude which he describes as his theme tune: “Bulletproof wizard – not enough hours in the day!”
As an artist, he is free of a certain egotistical angst for recognition; it’s about doing what he loves. His ambition is to remain in a constant state of transformation, to never stop deleting: “As I get closer to solidifying myself as an artist, I feel trapped and it’s boring. You sort of feel like a cliché, it’s like when you meet your hero or whatever.” His plans for the next year are monumental. “I wanna release 12 albums, each with its own sound. I have a project’s worth of stuff in me every month, for definite, and if I can keep up the pace I can probably go faster. I feel like it can’t get old.” He wants to collaborate with filmmakers, game designers and to buy a factory for himself and all his friends. “Right now, I’m using the bare minimum to do the most that I can. And I can’t wait for the day that I can, like, shop. Synth shopping would be like me getting a makeover, basically, and you would hear it the next day.” Yank Scally might not care much for applause, but he is pushing to have it all. “So, I can really go out there and do something big.”
Cover Image: Adam Thompson @adamthompsoncreative
Illustration by lil witch
Words and images: Niloo Sharifi
There’s Not Enough Hours In The Day is out from 1st March. Catch Yank Scally live at the Bido Lito! Social on 28th March at Shipping Forecast.