Chat: Yumi Zouma

Gerard Marcus

By this point, you've probably heard of Yumi Zouma. The Kiwi dream-pop darlings have enjoyed what more or less amounts to overnight international success, driven at least partially by some well-timed blog coverage and shared billings with fellow New Zealander Lorde and Aussie Chet Faker. With members now scattered around the US, Europe, and their home country, the group seems to be taking its newly-minted notoriety in typically casual stride.

We caught up with Christie Simpson, Charlie Ryder, Sam Perry, and Josh Burgess after March 14th's TOPS // Beverly show at Baby's All Right in Brooklyn. The band talked about writing songs with people halfway around the world, pot-dealing limo drivers, and the surreality of touring with pop stars.

Josh Burgess: iPhone 6. Too big. Discuss?

Charlie Ryder: Yeah, it is too big. You see, the problem is you can’t reach the top of the screen with your thumb.

ThrdCoast: That is true.

CR: It’s terrible! It’s terrible. If you try one out it’s the worst thing ever. It will give you arthritis, I promise you.

JB: Just briefly. Do you remember when all the kids were texting and there was like all these news stories? There was one in New Zealand that was like, “Texting might be the bubonic plague of our generation.” The bubonic plague killed I think, like, 50 million people. [all laugh]. Texting will, like, funk up your spelling and maybe ruin your thumbs.

CR: I feel like it would improve your thumbs. Like, you would get really buff thumbs. And because everyone plays PlayStation as well, our thumbs are going to get as big as our hands.

TC: I mean, let’s be honest, at least one person has died from texting.

CR: Really?

TC: Definitely.

All: Ah! Because of texting and driving.

Sam Perry: My mom got a ticket for texting and driving a couple weeks ago.

All: Aww, Nicole!

SP: Cost her some money.

CR: It’s so dangerous! I texted and drove once and nearly crashed.

SP: She also crashed while texting and driving.

CR: Really!

Christie Simpson: Oh my god!

SP: It was minor.

CS: Your mom’s a badass.

SP: To be fair, my mom’s a pretty crazy driver.

CR: Okay okay okay. Next question.

TC: Actually, first question, I haven’t asked anything. It’s a simple one. How did Yumi Zouma get started?

JB: You know, just writing. Charlie and I have written songs together for about five or six years.

CR: And one day Josh sent me some demos and then we had some friends sing on them.

JB: It was “A Long Walk Home for Parted Lovers,” that was the first song we ever did.

CR: We weren’t really a band back then. Josh was in New York and was just like, “I wrote this guitar line, what do you think of it?”

TC: So you guys were in New York?

CR: Josh was.

TC: And where were you, Charlie?

CR: I was either in New Zealand or Paris. I think probably New Zealand at the time.

JB: Charlie and I used to live in Christchurch in New Zealand. I moved to New York about three years ago, and Charlie moved to Europe two years ago, and we just wrote music sending emails and that’s where it started.

TC: So you and Charlie were the core that expanded into the full band you have now?

JB: Yeah, but I mean, the weird thing is we only ever did one song at a time for like a year. So it kind of just, like, plodded along.

CR: Well, we were never a band. We did “A Long Walk Home for Parted Lovers” and sent it to Cascine, and they were like, “Oh this is great! We should release an EP. Send us all the other songs you have.” And we were like… sure?

TC: How did you guys get in contact with Cascine? Or did they find you?

CR: We emailed them. We emailed Jeff Braton. I just said, “Hello! …listen to this song! Love, Yumi Zouma.” And that was it.

TC: You guys have always had a female singer though. How did that happen?

CR: Well we wanted a female singer because Josh use to sing in our old band… we’re not going to tell you the name of it.

TC: Bang! Bang! Eche! It’s incredible what you can find on the internet.

CR: Oh no! Really?

TC: You’d be amazed.

CR: Well, actually Josh and I have been in two different bands together. And Sam and I have been in other bands before as well. So there’s a big network in the history of Yumi Zouma. But I don’t know, we just wanted a female singer because we were sick of having male vocals.

CS: And because ladies are the best.

TC: Ladies are the best.

CS: Ladies are great.

TC: So since you guys are such an international group, what’s the recording process like? How do you decide when to get together to record?

CR: We don’t get together to record. We’ve done it once in February of last year and it was terrible. We are not good in the same place together.

TC: How do you know when a song is finished?

CR: I feel like we always know when a song is finished? We’ve never been undecided about whether we needed to continue working on a song. Well, except for like the songs that we don’t put on the records.

JB: I’m pretty lazy as well so I usually let Charlie finish.

[All Laugh]

JB: I’m not lazy, I just have a very low attention span so I can’t work. Charlie’s really good at sewing it up.

TC: Are you guys going to do another EP after this, or are you going to go for a full album? Do you know?

JB: We’re going to do a triple album. 28 tracks. All of the best hits from the 70s, 80s, 90s and today.

TC: I hear there’s a market for that kind of thing.

JB: We realized there’s more money in curating compilations. So we’re just announcing that we’re doing Now: That’s What I Call Music 78.

CR: No, there are way more than 78. There are hundreds of Now: That’s What I Call Musics.

JB: Did you know New Zealand had the first ever one? Do you know what they are?

TC: Of course.

JB: Okay. So it made it to America.

TC: I think it’s international?

JB: Number 1 was dope. It started with Chumbawamba.

[Josh and Charlie break into a rendition of “Tubthumping”]

JB: And there was this amazing cover that Cake did of “I Will Survive.”

CR: Oh, yeah. That was a good song.

CS: Do you guys like Unknown Mortal Orchestra?

CR + JB: Yeah.

JB: Everyone likes them. A woman today was like, “You’re from New Zealand? Do you know Unknown Mortal Orchestra?”

TC: Is that a common question?

JB: Yeah, I guess. Not many people from New Zealand know other people from New Zealand, so…

CR: If you like Unknown Mortal Orchestra you should listen to The Mint Chicks. Do you know The Mint Chicks? It was this band before Unknown Mortal Orchestra with his brother Kody Nielson.

TC: I’ll check it out. I was just wondering, since you guys are so far apart, do you have other projects you work on outside of Yumi Zouma?

JB: I’ve got a novella I chip away at.

[All laugh]

CR: He tried to start a restaurant.

JB: I tried to start a restaurant.

SP: Interior design.

JB: Interior design. I have a job.

CS: I have two jobs and I make jewelry.

TC: Where can we find your jewelry?

CS: Um? I haven’t made a Facebook page yet but you could follow me on Instagram for updates. My username is “typewrite,” so it’s real easy.

TC: Switching gears. Yesterday was your first sold-out show, correct?

CR: Well, I was thinking about that. Darkroom was sold out. Our first ever show in Christchurch.

CS: I was there!

CR: She was there.

CS: I was there but I wasn’t singing.

CR: And we’ve sold out other venues in New Zealand.

CS: In New Zealand we sell out all the time.

[All laugh]

TC: So your first sold-out show in New York City, then?

All: Yeah.

CS: Remember our limo driver tried to sell us marijuana after the show today?

TC: Welcome to New York. You took a limo from your secret show?

CR: It was a condition on playing at Billy’s other venue. Because we were like, “we want to go see TOPS.”

TC: How was the venue?

CR: It was cool. I’ve never been there before. It’s really small.

CS: It was crazy. Surreal.

TC: How did they book a secret show with you guys?

CR: We were going to play with TOPS… last night?

CS: No, it was going to be tonight.

CR: And then they moved it or something?

TC: You mean the bill was going to be Yumi Zouma and TOPS?

CR: Yeah, I think so.

CR: We did that in… I think Toronto. We played with them in Toronto last year.

TC: That must have been a good bill.

CR: Yeah. But this time they couldn’t do it. Or we couldn’t do it. I don’t know? So we played at the other venue.

CS: And they got us a limo.

CR: Yeah, we were like, “We’ll play your other venue if you get us to see the TOPS show.” But it was the most insane limo you’ve ever seen. I was expecting, like, a really fancy, nice limo. I’ve never been in a limo before, we don’t really have limos in New Zealand.

TC: Was it stretched?

CR: It was stretched but only a little. I was expecting this really flashy white thing and it was like this crumpled heap.

CS: Wires were falling out. Tape was holding up the sky light.

CR: And the driver was like “You guys want some weed?”

[All laugh]

CR: And everyone was like, uh… no.

SP: He also played some really gangsta music.

TC: I’m glad you got to have that experience.

CS: It was good. A story for the grandchildren.

TC: Before we finish I was wondering, how was it opening for Lorde?

CR: It was very surreal.

TC: What about Chet Faker?

CR: Chet Faker was a little more chill. It was still pretty big. Chet Faker was June last year and it was like 18 sold-out shows in Australia for 2000 people a night. And it was our second show ever. The first show of that tour.

SP: And our first show was, like, two nights beforehand.

CR: And our first rehearsal was a week before that.

SP: Our first show we were practicing frantically on the day-of, saying, “We don’t know the songs. How the fuck are we going to play the show?”

CR: We booked the Chet Faker tour and were like, “Okay, we’ve never practiced before.” So we all flew to New Zealand the week before and tried to learn the songs and everything. Because when we write the songs we don’t really learn the parts because we play them, record them and never do them again.

TC: Right.

CR: So we had to learn everything and figure out how to play everything on all the gear.

TC: How do you guys divvy up the parts?

CR: We just pick and choose our favorite parts.

TC: Kind of a coin-flip situation?

CR: Usually it’s more, who wrote what? Who knows how to play this?

TC: That makes sense.

CR: We also wanted to swap around as much as we could.

SP: The parts have changed members so many times that we all kind of know a bit of everyone else’s.

CR: Yeah, because we play as a three piece a lot since I live in Paris and Josh lives here. Sometimes we swap in and out.

TC: And Lorde?

CR: Oh yeah, yeah. So Chet Faker was really daunting because it was our first show, but it was still an indie show. Lorde was… insane. Like, sold-out arenas.

TC: How did that come to be?

CR: Sam Perry.

SP: I’ve known Lorde for quite a while.

CR: Liaison to the stars.

SP: I asked her to endorse my artist visa for the states and she was like, “Yeah, sure. Do you wanna open for me?” And I said, “All right, I’ll ask the guys. Cool.”

TC: Not a bad way to get booked for a tour.

All: [Laughing] Yeah.

CR: It was super weird. Just like, young... people. Because the arenas were, I don’t know, 10,000 people.

SP: I think our biggest crowd was 9,000.

CR: Yeah. In Auckland. Which is just so weird.

TC: Once you hit that many it doesn’t really make a difference though, right?

CR: Yeah, it’s difficult because of all the lights on the stage. You don’t really know what’s out there. It’s kind of scary.

SP: But the catering is awesome! She had the best food.