There’s a refreshing simplicity to the way Yenkee conducts himself. A popular live act who feels he’s still only uncovering his sound, he uses the most straightforward of recording setups, modelling his approach on classic rock tracks he’s long loved.
That means single-track bedroom recordings, leaning on his own ability to craft a song over any elaborate techniques in post-production, a strategy that’s seen him develop a following substantial enough to sell out numerous shows around Ireland. New single ‘Shiver Shake’ – a mixed-feelings ode to Cork, rather than a coronavirus reference – is a great demonstration of what it’s all about.
I caught up with the man known as Graham Cooney to his friends to talk it all over…
Congrats on the new single – odd timing to be releasing a song called ‘Shiver Shake’! What were you basing it on in pre-pandemic times?
Shiver Shake was just based on an unsettled feeling I’ve had, and I think a lot of people have had, for the past few years. Something hasn’t really felt right in the world. It’s probably just me growing up and growing older or something. It’s a positive song though I think. I tried to also allude to the things that have gotten me through it – friends, family and love.
I understand the song was in part about falling out of love with Cork – did anything change afterwards – can you re- fall in love through music?
I do love Cork, and always will, but the city you grow up in can be like a parent. It’ll be difficult to leave it when I do, but it’s inevitable. I think the battle between the part of my brain that wants to stay where I grew up and the part that wants to get up and leave it has always been something that works its way into my tunes.
I’ve heard a lot of your influences relate back to 60s and 70s rock. Anyone in particular that feeds into your style?
The first artist I became obsessed with as a young fella was Johnny Cash. Something about his persona drew me into him. His music taught me to keep it simple, too. Simplicity is very important to the music I make. The Kinks, John Martyn, Jonathan Richman, Randy Newman – they’re all huge influences.
How much of your time busking do you think we still hear in your music?
Busking definitely gave me the courage to sing in front of people. So, without it, I don’t think I ever would have been able to play shows. I’m not sure how much you can hear of it in the recordings though. Maybe none. I feel like my love for writing and recording developed completely independently.
Your recording set up sounds interesting. What do you use, and what’s the thinking behind it?
My setup is very basic. I have a few mics and a mixing desk that I was given by my friend Brian. I started recording with just one mic and an audio interface when I was 16 and to be honest, it hasn’t changed a lot. I like having a very minimal setup. Tape has also played a part in my sound. I have a reel to reel tape deck that I used to always use to write and record but I find myself using it less and less these days. Hopefully, someday I’ll make a million dollars and get myself some lovely new gear.
Have you had the chance to use the shutdown to go in deep with the bedroom recording?
I’m still having to go out and work, unfortunately, but I’ve definitely had more free time than usual to record and be productive. The more free time I’ve had the more I’ve realised that getting up at noon and lazing around my home studio recording pop songs is what I want to do for the rest of my life.
You did an online session early in the shutdown. How did you find that compared to your normal performances?
I really really enjoyed doing that live stream! It was really nice being able to sit in my room in a pair of joggers and play songs for people. The videos I saw on Instagram of people chilling at home, drinking wine and watching the live stream were heartwarming. There was something very sweet about it all and I, for once, got a bit emotional afterwards. I’ll definitely be doing it again.
What are you like as a live act in a more everyday situation?
We’ve chopped and changed our live show a bit. The most people we’ve ever had on stage is seven, maybe eight. But there’s always at least five. We’ve been unbelievably lucky with the shows we’ve been able to play. We have a great group of friends who come out to see us even if it means they have to travel for a few hours. We’ve sold out a good chunk of our shows, and it’s mind-boggling. We try to keep our shows upbeat and lively and fun and a little bit loose.
What’s been your favourite moment as a musician so far?
There’s been loads! The last show we played in Dublin was definitely a highlight. I looked up at one stage and the whole room was packed with people. The lights came up at the end of our last song and it was one of those moments I’d see in like a live video of bands I’d watch when I was small. Just rows and rows of people clapping and smiling and having fun. It was very cool.
You’ve been at this since you were 15 – how has your sound and style evolved?
I’ve only started to find my sound and my voice as a writer very recently. A lot of what I was doing was very derivative, which in a way helped me to learn how to make music that I liked. My sound would vary from song to song. Over time I’ve gotten better at making things sound more coherent and, really, more like me.