British band Yndi Halda will be performing this month during the first edition of Rock the City. Ramona Depares catches up with guitarist James Vella.
How did Yndi Halda get together?
We’ve been playing music together since we were 11 years old; it has been a very long relationship. We chose the name Yndi Halda when we were around 15, and eventually recorded our first album as 19-year-olds. It feels like a long time ago, now.
Your band name is a story in itself – can you tell us about its Norse meaning and why you picked it?
We took the name from an ancient Norse poem named Odin’s Raven Magic. We attended a musical performance of the poem by Icelandic composer Hilmar Orn Hilmarsson, in which the audience was given a copy of the text as part of the programme notes.
There was this one line – “yndi halda” – which translates to “enjoy eternal bliss”. We didn’t need any second thought or deliberation: we knew it was perfect for our band. It’s been with us since then.
You are often pegged as post-rock, but you’ve gone on record saying that you don’t always necessarily fit a genre. How would you describe your music to someone who has never heard it?
I always find this an immensely difficult question to answer. I know we share elements of post-rock – long songs; instrumental sections; sad, slow movements juxtaposed with louder parts…
But, for me personally, it’s crucial that the music we write is not put into such a narrow bracket. I think our overarching sensibility and the themes we like to express are very different from ‘post-rock’.
But this still leaves me with an inability to describe what we do have. I’d mention our orchestral interests, our love of vocal harmony, our pursuit of pop music’s perfect song-writing, but I still can’t decide on a genre.
Where do you get your inspiration from?
Mostly, anywhere but music. We write to expression of sentiment, and when we write music we speak about moods, themes and feels before anything else.
We take plenty from novels, films, nature and so on, and that goes into the greater picture of composition, but we always prefer to let inspiration in passively and to allow it to emerge in the form it needs to.
We’re all slightly obsessional record collectors so, of course, take inspiration from other musicians. But we’re careful to make sure influences aren’t too close to the surface as we write.
Your debut album was followed by a 10-year hiatus. What is the story behind that?
Not much of a story, I’m afraid. We’re all very busy people, and we live fairly far away from each other. After we left school and moved away from our home town in South East Kent, we rarely found time to get into a rehearsal space or a studio and work on music together. We busied ourselves with writing or solo projects or other creative work, but always had the band at the back of our minds.
We toured our first record a lot, which also swallowed up a lot of our free time after its release. We’re in the same position now, having released new music fairly recently, but having very little time to write the next one.
Did it help or hinder?
A bit of both. In one sense it allowed us to really hone the material, but in another we may have lost the fans who wanted us to follow up on Enjoy Eternal Bliss quickly.
It meant we stayed in a similar place in terms of profile from one record to the next, whereas another band would ordinarily hope to build and develop. But that’s fine for us. We’re in this to make music and, as long as we’re doing that – whatever the timeline – we’re happy.
How did your sound evolve in that decade?
Inevitably, it changed a lot. We were not yet 20 when we recorded our first album, and all nearing 30 when we released the second. That’s a huge time of change in a person, and of course this would be reflected in our creative expression. You could point to the greater use of vocals as an easy reference point.
We always prefer to let inspiration in passively and to allow it to emerge in the form it needs to
Your latest EP, A Sun-Coloured Shaker, was released earlier this year and consists of one, long track. How has it been received?
We’ve been so pleased with the reaction! We’ve been playing the new track live a lot, especially on our last US tour in February of this year, and it’s been a lot of fun to fit it into the set. I think people are happy with and understanding of this notion of accompanying and expanding our last album Under Summer with the partner piece. We’re also really proud of the song. It’s the first time I’ve felt happy publishing lyrics to a YH song.
You seem to have a bit of a sun and summer theme going on – would you say this optimism is reflected in your music?
That theme has been central to our last two records, the album Under Summer and its accompanying EP A Sun-Coloured Shaker. A principle theme for this record cycle is the life-giving quality of the sun. The simplicity of its beauty, even in an environment as chaotic and confusing as our own.
This thought is as important to us personally as it is to the band musically. We named the records after this – it is an optimism, but it’s also an acknowledgement of the darkness.
Can you walk us through your creative process?
Often one of us will start a piece of music alone on a single instrument – guitar or piano usually – and bring it to the rest of the band. That piece is then disassembled and rebuilt by all six of us together in a room, which generally yields a result totally unlike the original ideas. The only exception to this I can think of is Together Those Leaves, from our Under Summer album. I wrote much of this song on my own, and then the rest of the band created their own lines for it. It’s my favourite Yndi Halda song, maybe for this reason.
You’ve played a lot of big venues – any particular highlights?
I enjoy every show we play. The opportunity to share music I love, with my best friends, to an audience that wants to hear us is a rare and beautiful thing. I wouldn’t trade it for anything.
But some shows stick in the memory. A year or so ago we played in Barcelona, where the concert promoter is a close friend of ours, someone we’ve worked with for many years.
A few days before the show, the promoter’s father passed away. He told me about this, and I told him in private that we would dedicate our performance to his father’s memory. It felt so moving to perform our songs with this new greater meaning and to offer our humble creative endeavour to our friend.
Is this your first time performing in Malta and what do you expect?
It’s our first time in Malta as a band. For me, it’s hugely significant. I’m Maltese and, though I live in the UK, I spend a great deal of time in Malta, but I’ve never performed music there. For me it feels like a homecoming, something that I’ve wished to do for many, many years but have never had opportunity before now. I’m so excited to show my bandmates around, and to share our music with my friends and my family in Malta.
Yndi Halda perform as part of Rock the City Festival on September 29 at the Valletta Campus. Tickets are available online.