During the opening track 'Finished', Winston Yellen, aka Night Beds, sings over an eerie, seemingly backmasked piano phrase that gets overwhelmed by warm strings and subtle Auto-Tune touches to Yellen's vocals. The six-minute song is a risky choice to open the album but it perfectly sums up Yellen's audacity in approaching unfamiliar territory for his music.
Where Night Beds succeeded early in its career was a record in 2013 with Country Sleep, a generously lush and intimate collection of tracks that's one of the most sincere and gripping alt-country/singer-songwriter albums in recent memory.
For someone like Yellen, however, he's barely concerned with genre boundaries.
Fueled by new music he's accumulated over the years, he's consciously elevated himself above the usual singer-songwriter role, working with a makeshift team of 25 musicians while trying his hand at production (it wasn't easy). For someone who doesn't consider himself a professional musician, taking up odd jobs to support his art, his dedication has also led him to a comfortable spot on the roster of established indie label Dead Oceans.
Citing Yeezus, post-dubstep artist Burial and jazz pianist Bill Evans as inspiration, Ivywild is Night Beds' startling exploration into alternative R&B, dripping with cinematic gloom and futuristic beats.
His newest 16-track effort may occasionally suffer from its overwrought running length, but it's an admirable turn in Yellen's career that promises even greater things as he continues making music. We speak to him about his progression as an artist, the greatness of Beach House's Victoria Legrand and what rock music means to him.
There's been a huge shift in your sound. Could you tell us a bit how you've progressed your ambitions from Country Sleep to Ivywild?
I just was bored with what we were doing. I feel like it was really natural turn for me once we got in the studio and starting playing around with samplers and drum machines with no time constraints or rules as what we ought to be doing. It also was just an obvious shift for us to do to what our aural intake was. We were listening to a bunch of Jai Paul, GZA, and Michael Jackson.
Did the constraints of genre tags propel you to try new sounds?
I have never thought about genres, let alone them inhibit what we want to do artistically. Quite the opposite, we are inspired by all mediums: music/dance/visual art/film/architecture.
What do you feel is consistent about Night Beds that ties Ivywild with your previous works?
Despite the change of form, the sincerity/emotive value remains the same in our approach with the writing, production and performance.
Do you think R&B is at its new artistic state of triumph or do you feel there's a lot more that can be achieved?
I’m very pleased with where we are heading. Everyone questioned whether or not we could make a record like this. I feel accomplished in finishing another record but we’re just barely beginning to hit our stride. The possibilities are truly endless for us and everyone for that matter.
Yellen and his band performing 'Ramona', a track off his 2013 record Country Sleep.
What was the most difficult part when trying new sounds for Ivywild?
Drum programming. It's hard as hell.
You've mentioned Victoria Legrand as an inspiration when it comes to singing. What is it about her voice that enthralls you?
It's just the way she delivers the goods straight to your f*cking soul. It’s like I know where’s she headed with her melodic patterns. There are very few/if any modern singers out there I would dare put in front of her. Billie Holiday and Stevie Knicks are my Queens though. Marvin and Michael are my Kings.
What's one thing about Kanye West that inspires you?
I could write my dissertation on Kanye but I’ll spare you. I think he’s everything he says he is and more. Mr. West, Scott Walker and Death Grips got me a through a major depression last April.
What does rock music mean to you?
Nothing really. It used to mean "balls" or "courage" when expressing something deeply intense and personal. Now it means nothing to me. Maybe that will change.
TOP 5 INFLUENTIAL ALBUMS
Self-Titled | Beach House
heard this in 2006 off Gorilla vs Bear. Changed the way I heard/approached music. It’s strange and eerie but so melancholic and romantic.
Devotion | Beach House
Heard this in 2008. Might be my favorite record of all time. 'Astronaut' still makes me tear up. I drove to see them for the first time at Al’s Bar in Lexington, Kentucky. There were 50 people crammed in there. I remember I sobbed like a bitch and (Beach House member) Alex put his arm around me. He probably thought I was insane.
Late Registration | Kanye West
Everyone needs to stop what they’re doing and go watch Late Orchestration. Kanye going off with Jon Brion’s devastating string arrangements in Abbey Road. Need I say more?
Voodoo | D’Angelo
The man is one of the few living legends we have. This record taught me so much about how to be f*cking funky. I remember being on vacation with my family in Mexico a couple years ago and listening to this on my headphones, while looking out over the sea sipping a daiquiri or two. Transcendent musical experience.
There's a Riot Goin' On | Sly Stone
Mysterious in its origins and the music itself is so beautiful and strange. I read something about how Columbia sent Miles Davis to check up on Sly, while he was recording at this house he had rented in Beverly Hills. He said he had never seen more women, drugs and violent dogs in one place.