Everyone searches for their place, but along the way it’s easy to forget that the real essence of living is to engage in it, to not only experience it but embrace the chaos and uncertainty and elation and pain and everything in between. As Jack Kerouac so poignantly and simply put it, it’s the ragged and ecstatic joy of pure being. It’s this desire to experience and live all life has to offer that so brilliantly pervades Brisbane’s Yves Klein Blue debut album, fittingly called “Ragged & Ecstatic”.
“That summed up the whole experience; everything that’s on the album is about being alive and finding out about the world and your place in it,” frontman Michael Tomlinson explains. “It was the dilemma taking up a lot of my thoughts during the past couple of years: What is this place and where do I fit in? What do I have to do? And the highs and the lows – that’s what life is.”
The past couple of years have seen Yves Klein Blue (“Eve Kline Blue”) walk a path of highs. From the moment schoolmates Tomlinson and guitarist Charles Sale bonded over a love of music and realised their aspirations stretched far beyond their jam room, their path was set. Adding drummer Chris Banham and bassist Sean Cook, the quartet quickly and organically crafted their own sound that swam against the tide of the music scene around them. And with their 2008 debut EP “Draw Attention To Themselves” and single ‘Polka’ leading the way, the band’s skewed and playful pop hooks, refreshing rhythms and Tomlinson’s way with words, Yves Klein Blue sounded fresh but timeless, classicism mixed with youthful vigour. Incredibly, the four were barely out of their teens.
“We all like certain styles of music, but it’s impossible to be everything to everyone,” says Sale. “As difficult as it may be to have a universal-reaching appeal, we want as many people to appreciate, or at least respond, to our music. We try to make music that more people want to enjoy. And you might not want to take a risk with it, but it creates a good result.”
“We’re a band that’s influenced by not only new music but a lot of great older bands and classic recordings,” Cook says. “And there’s a certain vibe and feeling that wells up when you listen to those records. We talked about making our first record years ago – and I think Michael’s been thinking about his first record since he was an embryo.”
But first they had their own story on the road to write, as they built a reputation for energetic and resonating live performances that showcased their self-belief and talent. Relentless touring at home and abroad set them in good steed for their debut album and, in hindsight, also went a long way to inspiring it.
So with eight months of preparation under their belts, Yves Klein Blue ventured into the industrial wasteland of North Hollywood, piled into in a two-room flat and spent three months at Fairfax Studios pulling to pieces what they’d spent so long assembling. This unexpected and uncertain turn would prove to be masterful – even if it meant sleepless nights for Tomlinson, desperately scribbling new words in the bathroom at 4am, the only space in the flat that could be lit without disturbing the others.
“When we got to the studio we were confident,” Tomlinson says. “Then we tore apart every song we had and started again. That was a month ranging from total elation to total self-loathing.”
Recording with Kevin Augunas (Cold War Kids), Yves Klein Blue learnt fast to objectively view their work. With a less-is-more approach to varied arrangements and an energised live-sounding set-up ensured Tomlinson’s impassioned and witty lyricism came to the fore.
“We went over there wanting to do a live album, but Kevin made us realise the potential of what we could do with the songs,” Banham says. “We had a massive room where there was no reverb and the walls were padded, so you could put an amp in the middle of the space, mic it up, and it’d just capture a natural sound, a live vibe.”
“Kevin was the man that said: ‘Is this good enough?’ That was his challenge,” Tomlinson says. “And the challenge issued was the extra five per cent, which was the difference between what we thought was great and something beyond what we thought we could ever do. The five per cent between good and excellent is so important. So the challenge he issued was a big factor on the record.”
Great is a word that understates “Ragged & Ecstatic”, an album that subtly and cleverly captures the exuberance and experience of life, but in a way that’s as universal as it is personal. The end of the long journey was at Brisbane’s Airlock Studios and then Sydney’s Big Jesus Burger Studios with Scott Horscroft (The Presets, The Panics, Sleepy Jackson), where final touches to the mix were made.
This passion and uncompromising vision also makes “Ragged & Ecstatic” a lot of fun. With an off-the-cuff, energetic and live feel to the set, it veers from the buoyant, bright and swaggering single ‘Getting Wise’ and irresistible ‘Make Up Your Mind’, to the cheeky and joyous ska of ‘Summer Sheets’ and Dylan-esque generational anthem ‘About The Future’. Wonderfully original melodies ingrain, sentiments resonate and the feeling and splashes of colour carried by Tomlinson’s turns of phrase are illuminating.
“I didn’t want to have any throwaway lines; nothing that could discredit the intention of the lyric and nothing that would be unqualified,” the singer says.
Not unlike the book from which the words came, “Ragged & Ecstatic” is a wild, irresistible ride that, in the end, manages to hold a mirror up to your own place in this old world.