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Yaatri - Lucid (Feature Interview)

Ben chats to Indian/American guitarist and composer Liam Narain DeTar, who leads the Leeds-based quintet Yaatri. They release their debut album 'Lucid' today, a mesmerising piece of work that takes influences from the rhythms of India, immersiveness of electronic music, and energy of rock and roll

Read on to get an insight into Yaatri's vision for the record, visual aesthetics, Liam and the band's background, and the Leeds scene.

The word 'lucid' provokes ideas of things being clear, coherent, or bright and luminous, but Yaatri's album title evokes the feeling that they will deliver plenty of dreamy sensations to you. And from the first track 'Creation', the ethereal and gentle movements Yaatri are known for start to engross you.

Zuheb Ahmed Khan's tabla is repetitive but moves fluidly with B-âhwe's vocals, and Felix Bertulis-Webb's synths come through as Liam's guitar licks feed into this beautiful composition. The inevitable rise in dynamics and passion come through and begin the journey of Lucid magnificently.

Yaatri have gained a reputation for being among the most forward-thinking creative forces in the North of England. Combining psychedelic soundscapes, intricate arrangements and musicianship beyond their years, their music is emotionally transportive and capable of taking listeners to a higher spiritual place.

It's a mixture of ambient jazz that combines delicate touches from their instrumentation weaved into thought-out melodies, and then evolves into heavy grooves with huge crescendos.

'Where Did I Go' has an autumnal, spookiness to it and incorporates acid folk elements to the sound. This theme follows on in 'In The Clouds Pt. 1' and the different stans intricately placed into the different sections create a continuous wave of textures to move along to. 'Pt. 2' forms an extended outro that hits the spot with so much menace and ferocity. 'Pool of Reflection' feels like a Portico Quartet song remixed with elements of Mammal Hands and GoGo Penguin, a short but captivating interlude.

There is a daintiness to 'Vipassana' and the saxophone feature from Tom Kettleton uplifts wonderfully. The vocal scatting form B-âhwe here matches the rhythms exceptionally well, and the craft of everyone playing together here makes this the standout tune. 'Clarity' rounds off the album, starting as a lullaby on the keys before moving to another stratosphere that causes you to float in and out of consciousness.

There is so much serenity and power mixed in throughout the whole album and it really builds well upon their EP and single releases over the last few years that have made them a staple in the Leeds scene. Read below to find out more about Lucid record and hear from Liam.

This is your debut album 'Lucid', what is the vision for the record?

With Lucid we didn't necessarily have that much of a plan. I think we obviously knew the songs that we were gonna record and we spent a lot of time arranging them and making sure we were happy with them before we went in. In terms of a story, we didn't necessarily have that much of an overall plan there. But in retrospect when it was done, we found a very clear kind of narrative and story arc which was a very nice little accidental discovery, or maybe something that we meant to do subconsciously, I don't really know.

But it kind of starts out with a tune called 'Creation' which the music is heavily influenced by Indian classical music and the lyrics are taken from a Hindu story of creation. And following that it kind of loosely tells the tale of a character just going through life. There are moments of internal conflict, moments of being torn between a decision or between worlds and going inside yourself. Self realisation and peace I think are the main themes that emerged throughout it. When you listen to it with that in mind, you can kind of hear how each song tells a little piece of that story.

Your music has a very dreamy quality to it, moving from more intense parts to sections where you're pushed into atmospheric sounds. 'Vipassana' is one of my favourites for this, is there any special background to that song?

Yeah, that is a tune written by the band's keys player, Felix Bertulis-Webb. I heard him play it firstly when we all went to Leeds College of Music and we have to do a recital at the end of the year, and I heard him play it with a completely different band. And I remember hearing it then and being like, this would be really cool if we played that too, it was great. So we stole it and we spent a lot of time translating it into a Yaatri vibe.

This one specifically talks about being kind of torn between worlds or discussing that duality. It moves between two different fields and time signatures and a few different vibes. It's got a very clear arc to it in the way that a lot of our tunes do. They build up to a big point of tension and there's a massive release with the gorgeous chord at the end that always gets me. It rounds off the whole album really well.

The whole outro talks about coming out of that moment of being torn between things, having figured out whatever the problem was or not. It's about looking inside yourself to figure something out and kind of understanding what it is you need to do or just being at peace with whatever was the issue or conflict.

How long ago were these tracks written, and has your approach to writing songs changed since then?

The oldest song on this album was written in the winter of 2018. Then the main live recording of the band all together in the studio was in December 2019. A lot of the arranging is from me and Felix, going through the music and the detail for hours agonising over little tiny details and parts. A lot of that happened over the year before we went to record. But I think this album is when we kind of really figured out what it is that we're about and what it is we have to say.

With our first EP, it's just a lot more jazz minded, a bit more stripped back and more focused on just the ensemble playing. Lucid is a bit more focused on the arranging and detail, and we've kind of taken a lot of that to heart and are writing a lot more music with that kind of approach.

The core of all the tunes start from a similar place, whether that's like a rhythmic idea I've learned from Zuheb Ahmed Khan, the tabla player, or like a specific scale I want to experiment with. Or it can be a specific song by artists that I love that I want to shamelessly rip off, it always comes from a very specific place and then kind of spirals out from there into something completely different.

Your artwork and live videos always seem so warm and it reflects your music very well. How important are the visual aesthetics to combine with your music?

I think that's become increasingly clear that it is a huge part of our whole thing. I think the visuals kind of lend themselves and bring out the whole dreamlike quality. There's a kind of psychedelic influence we've been told before that our music has as it's like an acid trip. My sister, Anneke, does all the artwork. Obviously being brought up in a similar way growing up all around the world, her art has influences in the way that draws parallels to the influences in our music. I don't think our music would be the same without these visuals.

Which artists or records have inspired the writing on this album when you were in the process of the writing and recording sessions?

I think it's kind of a hard thing to do, especially a year or so after you've made the album to think back to what I was listening to back then? But for Lucid, people like Dhafer Youssef I've been absolutely just in love with his music for the past couple of years. Maria Chiara Argiró's recent album was a big influence when it came out. House of Waters has been a big compositional influence, those New York guys are amazing.

We were set up to support them and we couldn't believe it because we spent so much time listening to their music. Then because of COVID, their whole tour got pulled for the third time which is awful. But we hope to see them soon because it'd be amazing to watch them live anyways. I'm also influenced by old rock music as I grew up listening to The Beatles and Led Zeppelin and I think that shines through in some capacity for sure.

You've had loads of amazing press from Jazz FM, BBC Radio 1, 6 and Introducing, Amazing Radio, Selector Radio, Bandcamp Weekly, and Soho Radio plus more from loads of publications like Rolling Stone Magazine India. How does it feel to get that recognition?

It's felt amazing. I think one thing we've been very lucky to have from pretty much day one almost was people around us and organisations giving us the thumbs up and supporting us in various capacities. That's been either through funding, advice or mentorship. To have people at that level and calibre saying what you guys are doing is great and keep doing it, is obviously an invaluable asset. Musicians in a saturated place like Leeds, it's very easy to feel lost or you're still figuring it all out. I think that's all been invaluable and just kind of keeping us inspired.

You just got onto the Launchpad scheme as well with Music:Leeds, and you've been a recipient of other programmes such as Manchester Jazz Festival’s Hothouse, Jazz North Introduces, Leeds College of Music Artist Development Program and the Peter Whittingham Jazz Award - what kind of what invaluable stuff have you learned from those experiences?

One thing that these things are really good at is giving you mentorship and support from people that they think will kind of be a valuable part of your journey. I think the first mentor I had was with Manchester Jazz Festival and they put me in contact with Amy who used to do all the stuff for Serious live events and book the London jazz festivals and had worked with Snarky Puppy, Esperanza Spalding and Robert Glasper. They introduced me to Chris Potter, which was terrifying! And the insight that people like that can offer you into just how to communicate with the press and how to present yourself and the right way to do things has just been really helpful.

Can you tell me a bit more about your background? I have seen you have spent time recently visiting family back home in New Delhi and I saw a video of you playing on an old family Steinway Grand Series B piano built in 1928, how has your upbringing affected your musical journey?

My dad is American and my mum is Indian, but I have not lived in either place. I kind of grew up all over the place as I was born in Germany. I've lived in Bonn and Frankfurt in Germany, Kathmandu in Nepal, Vienna in Austria, Colombo in Sri Lanka, Rabat in Morocco, Malta, Brussels in Belgium and Leeds. Leeds is now the longest time I have lived somewhere by a significant margin. It's been an immense privilege to be able to see so many places and learn so much from so many different cultures and just take in so much.

I think more than more than you realise it just becomes an immense part of who you are. So the Indian influence is something that I kind of decided I wanted to explore in some capacity when I went to Leeds College of Music. But I'm not pretending in any way to be any sort of expert in Indian music as I completely respect the fact that people who study Indian classical music like Zuheb Ahmed, have been working hard and practising 10 hours a day since the age of three, and they will not stop till the day they die.

So obviously, nothing compared to that. I think the sounds have been something that had been around me from a young age and were just something that I wanted to be proactive in exploring. So a lot of the older tunes and a couple on this album like 'Gold' for example, are completely born from just a rhythm that I was taught on the tabla when I had lessons from Zuheb Ahmed in New Delhi.

You've been in Leeds for quite a while now and some of the friends and musicians you studied with at Leeds College of Music have left the city now, and there's a new crop of young musicians coming through the scene now. How have you seen the Leeds scene evolve since you moved here?

I think at least from my perspective or from the perspective of the people in my cohort, before COVID it was kind of our age group and with the people in college, it felt largely like everything we were at for gigs was our scene. And now that COVID has happened and we're a few years older, it's been interesting to be on this side of the equation where you see Leeds as quite a young scene. The number and calibre of musicians that are coming out of places in this city are phenomenal and it's a great place for people to find their feet, try out a lot of things, and figure out what it is they're doing.

It feels like quite a young scene and we have this thing where every year, we lose a lot of good people to the big smoke. And I think the fact that a lot of places in Leeds are dominated by kind of younger bands, which is a good thing, means that it sometimes feels like as soon as anyone is a little bit older, they dip. But something I hope becomes a little bit more well known in the coming years about Leeds is the fact that actually, there are tons of people that are sticking around and making incredible music up here. I've been talking a lot to the guy who produced our album, Sam Hobbs. He's made a wealth of music up here with Leeds and Yorkshire based musicians making incredible forward-thinking stuff that you couldn't get anywhere else.

And one thing that he talks about a lot when he compares the scene to London, it's like if you name any of the players over there, they all kind of point at each other and say, I also play in this and that. It's very clear that it's just one big scene, and while we do have that in Leeds, it's maybe not as clear from an outside perspective. So I think we're hoping that this kind of amazing network of musicians that we have sticking around up here making credible stuff just becomes more well known as a whole unit and as a scene. Leeds is definitely getting a little bit more recognition.

It's amazing to see that you've got such a big tour lined up as well for the album. How has it been the last couple of years in terms of not playing live, not being able to create music with people in the same room? Does it feel satisfying getting back to that point of more normality now?

I think up until even a few weeks ago, I was kind of like "here's a tour that might not happen but you know, I'm going to announce it anyway and hope that it goes ahead". But now it's becoming clearer and clearer as we get closer that it's going to happen. The 10 dates that we have over the next kind of six weeks or so, it's definitely more gigs than we've had in the last two years combined which feels incredible to be back into it and we're very lucky. I know a lot of places around the world, such as India, have a lot of catching up to do and they're still nowhere near being back to that level of normalcy.

So it's really amazing to be getting back to more normal gigs as a few of them we had in lockdown were livestreams, which is just not the same vibe. We were very lucky to have those and they kind of gave us something to do for a little while, and we're very thankful. But it's just not the same at all. So we're very excited that it is actually going to happen!


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