Another EP, another lineup change for Yourself and the Air

Chicago’s Yourself and the Air has been a band for five years, during which time it has released four EPs of breezy, atmospheric (pun intended) guitar-driven rock. Unfortunately, each of those releases has been followed by a lineup change in the band. “It seems like every time we get a group of songs together and get ready to record, somebody takes off,” frontman Erick Crosby says from his home in Chicago.

The latest casualty was guitarist Nicholas Sinclair, who checked into rehab at a time when things were looking up for the band, following keyboardist Jeff Papendorf’s return after an absence of several years. “He [Sinclair] went a little overboard,” Crosby says. “It was a rough time. We nearly broke up. We weren’t sure how to handle it.”

Speaking of rough times: Yourself and the Air’s latest, Who’s Who in the Zoo, was recorded in Crosby’s parents’ foreclosed house. After Crosby’s parents moved out, the band was able to get the electricity reconnected and spent a month recording without the restrictions of studio time. The result is a more luxurious sound with laid-back tempos alongside the usual chiming guitars and shimmering melodies. There’s a gray pallor lingering over these bright songs that calls to mind the Northwestern indie-rock canon: Minus the Bear, Built to Spill, Modest Mouse.

But Who’s Who wasn’t even meant to be released in the form it eventually was — the band saw the recordings as demos. When Sinclair went off to rehab, “We didn’t really know what to do with the songs, so we just gave the demo out to a couple of people,” Crosby says. Eventually the songs found their way to Lujo Records, which offered to put them out and pay for the recording. The band had been approached by labels in the past, but the overtures amounted to little more than a slap on the back and an invitation to send over material the next time they hit the studio. In May, Lujo Records released Who’s Who; since then, the band has been contorting itself to fit the new, full-bodied songs into its set.

“We’ve manipulated the songs so we could play them with three of us. It’s kind of overwhelming, which is cool, but we want to get to the point where we’re playing songs written for three guys,” Crosby says. “This stuff we’re writing now — it’s almost gone backwards. We’re making things a little simpler.”

The current iteration of Yourself and the Air has been working feverishly on songs, and Crosby is excited about recapturing the immediacy and energy of the band’s earlier albums. “I think for some of it [Who’s Who], we were overthinking it,” Crosby says. “If I spend more than even two days writing a song, then I tend to feel like it probably shouldn’t be written.”

But recording the new songs may have to wait. The band is considering a move to — take a guess — Portland, Oregon, at the end of the summer. “I think we’ve all always felt pointed in that direction as far as our personalities,” he says. “We all go backpacking and enjoy the outdoors and the ocean. And all the bands we listened to when we were growing up came from that area. And whenever we visit, it seems a good place to be.”

A scrappy band — Crosby cops to snagging free continental breakfasts from hotels where the band didn’t stay, freshening up in pools and picking change out of mall fountains — Yourself and the Air is hoping that recent changes might be a springboard to something more sustainable. “For so long, the band was just for fun, but now we’re getting to a point where it’s like, ‘What are we doing?'” Crosby says. “We’re taking things more seriously. We want to see if we can make this a career.”

Categories: Music