Few artists find a committed fanbase without having ever played live, but in 2014, Yumi Zouma endeared themselves to listeners before their first band practice. Following a four-song EP that immediately caught people’s attention, the act’s inbox filled with requests from publicists and booking agents, long before they saw themselves as a real band. Everything they’d created had been online, passing files back and forth between Christchurch, Paris and New York. Thrust into the spotlight, their first live performances were in sold-out Australian theaters supporting Chet Faker, after which they headed back to New Zealand to open for Lorde on her post-Grammy winning homecoming tour.
Buoyed by the response to EP I and much positive coverage of lead single ‘The Brae’, which Pitchfork described as “an effortless cascade of echoing riffs and enchanting harmonies converging into a mirage of dream-pop purity,” the band released a second EP and went to work on Yoncalla – their wistful full-length debut.
With Yoncalla, Yumi Zouma took their first steps towards becoming a proper band, collaborating and completing songs together on the road. The result was both cathartic and confessional, winning praise from critics for being “beautiful but curiously detached,” and “pop that shimmers and grabs you when you’re least expecting it to.” In addition to the album’s three singles, tracks ‘Yesterday’ and ‘Text From Sweden’ became fan favorites, helping the Yumis sell out shows in Tokyo, London, Paris and New York. The Yoncalla campaign saw the band tour extensively and begin to hone a live show that’s become one of their vital assets.
A year later, the members of Yumi Zouma settled on a plan to head home for the New Zealand summer and record their sophomore album, Willowbank, their latest offering. To complete what would become their first significant work written and recorded entirely in their home country, they rented a studio in Christchurch’s semi-demolished CBD, on one of the few remaining blocks that still characterizes the city from before it was destroyed by a series of earthquakes.
Guitarist, keyboard player and vocalist Josh Burgess says, “it was as though there was a brief pause in all of our lives and we finally felt like a band from New Zealand. We were on home turf and creating from a place that felt fundamentally natural.” That sensation was further underscored by Willowbank’s recording sessions falling over the cherished holiday season, during which the Yumis were surrounded by family.
Burgess credits some of the small, often mundane Kiwi traditions of the time for influencing their mindset. “New Zealand has a distinct feel from Christmas to the end of January. Things shut down. It has a calming presence, it’s very peaceful.” That sense of holiday can be heard on lead single ‘December’ where the melodies float and stir themselves into a series of swelling refrains that culminate in horns and handclaps. Similarly on ‘Half Hour’, a pensive ballad that’s imbued with pulsing choruses that seem to signal a spiritual shift taking place in its creators.
When you know it’s there, the feeling of rootedness is undeniable on Willowbank. Being connected to their origins on the bottom of the earth allowed the band’s members, Christie Simpson, Charlie Ryder, Josh Burgess and Sam Perry to craft another essential chapter in the Yumi Zouma storybook. Willowbank is set for launch on October 6, 2017 by the band’s longtime label home Cascine, and will be complemented by a worldwide tour this fall.