In the vast realm of progressive and experimental rock music, few bands capture the essence of emotional storytelling and sonic exploration quite like Yndi Halda. With their intricate compositions and evocative soundscapes, Yndi Halda has garnered a devoted following around the world. In this exclusive article, we had the privilege last year by sitting down with guitarist and vocalist James Vella, one of the co-founders of the band, for an interview. We delve into the band's creative process, their musical influences, and the stories behind their mesmerising compositions. Join us as we uncover the artistic vision and musical journey of Yndi Halda through the words of James Vella, offering a unique glimpse into the world of this extraordinary band.
F: Thank you so much for sitting down with me, its a privilege to do so. So, Yndi Halda is old Norse and means it's Enjoy Eternal Bliss, Is that correct?
J: That's right. That's the translation. The line itself, it's a line of a poem, the creation myth of the ancient Norse religion, which is named Odin's Raven Magic. It's a really interesting story when you dig into it. There was a point at which we read the poem, saw the line, (and at that point we were an unnamed band) and then called our first song Yndi Halda. We eventually realised that we liked it enough to call the band that.
F: So you had the music before you, you had any idea of what the identity of the band was going to be?
J: Well, we were kids. None of this was calculated. We were still taking guitar lessons when we first met and started playing together. We were 11 year olds. So, you know, there wasn't any there wasn't any plan, schedule, strategy in place at all. It was just kids playing music together.
F: So when you first got together would someone would be on the guitar, someone would be on drums? How did that structure come about?
J: That's a really difficult question, you know. It happened so slowly and accidentally. There wasn't really any conscious decision behind that. There was definitely a point when we were maybe 18, and still at school, and we were willing to take it seriously at that point. We had played local youth centres and that was the extent of our performing experience. We at least knew that we wanted to take it seriously. And then following that, leaving school, going away to university, and moving away from each other, it was then that we came up with the idea to make some recordings. When we then had the recordings, it became “let's see if we can release the recordings”. And then when, when we had released the recordings, it was, “let's see if we can tour and see the world and play these songs to people”.
F: So you found the progression natural?
J: Yes, it was a natural evolution. As teenagers, every new step was exciting... Just being in a band was exciting and then releasing our first record was even more exciting. For me especially, working within the music industry for many years, that allowed me a little more insight into what kind of direction we wanted to do. Becoming a little more tactical with our ambitions and our intentions. But it's never really relied on that. The band has never relied on “career” marker points.
F: It was always just you kids playing together? I would have to say that your earlier music is beyond what I would expect from kids to develop. So, is it fair of me to say, the sound is quite classically inclined (because you do use a lot of classical elements within first album Enjoy Internal Bliss), as well as under summer.
J: I think that's absolutely fair and I think that likely derives from that. My mother is a classical musician so I had that all around me growing up. We also, four of us studied music too, so I think that easily adds to that sentiment. We at least had the influence around us at that point. And, Ollie our drummer - his older brothers, they are 8 or 9 years older than us, they made the difference, honestly. They were a big reason why kids jamming together ended up becoming a viable touring, releasing band - the influence that we received from family members 10 years older than us. When we were 11 and 12 years old even, we were listening to bands like Stereolab, Tortoise and Labradford. Ollie's older brothers were making us mixtapes, so the musical education we received from them was transformative. As 11 and 12 year olds, Ollie and I bonded on the first day of the first year of secondary school when we were the only two kids there who were listening to Pavement. And this closeness, I think it's the reason why, you know, we are 20 years into the band.
F: I'd say you're still super young in comparison to some bands and you've actually had a long musical career in terms of the development the sound of Yndi Halda, Do you look back and thing 'Wow, we have done so much'?
J: Yeah, and I think about what we did over our teen years and compare that with what we do now. When we came across, over our teens, bands like Nirvana, Smashing Pumpkins and Radiohead, we started to do covers of them. From there, the to that sort of linear progression of becoming slightly more challenging in terms of musical nuance and musical abilities is super nostalgic. That occurred from ages like 12 to 15. I I have said, it's just pure dumb luck that it has transpired that way.
F: find it so inspirational at the level of dedication people have to their music, I personally don’t understand it from the perspective of being able to play, but I can respect it in terms of listening to it and appreciating the sound, which, with Yndi Halda comes super naturally to me. Your fan base are really dedicated to you and thats so nice to see. Do you think you guys have a specific sound? A lot of people group you into Post-Rock.
J: It's always really difficult to understand the sound from within because we are not full-time musicians and our day jobs and real lives take up the most of our waking hours. You know, we still see it as a group of pals that hang out and play music together. We always want to offer a meaningful emotional experience to the people that attend those shows or listening to those records. We wouldn't necessarily say we are Post-Rock but we certainly use elements found within that genre and others. We don't mind it when people put us into that group, but I would say we are more experimental, without putting a category on our music. We do our thing, and if our thing happens to transcend through the years to our years of listeners, then that's really cool.
F: I really appreciate how the band hasn't turned to the capitalistic nature that some artists kind strive for. It seems you've kept it quite pure and have gained such a beloved following, considering you've only produced two albums.
J: Exactly, two records and eight songs. Eight songs, of which half we've forgotten! There are some peers of ours, bands like Mono - we started around the same sort of time and they're only a little bit older than us and yet they've put out loads of records and they just keep doing and it's so impressive. They keep gaining new ground and hitting new listeners and the trajectory is still upwards. I would definitely say that continuing to release music at that kind of rate is probably something Yndi Halda would have done if the circumstances had allowed for it. Because we all have really busy day jobs and really busy real lives, we don't actually really hang out all that often at all. We see each other once or twice a year at best. We live hours away from each other and so the pace of releasing records hasn't been easy.
F: Well, it's still awesome what you have all created, even if you don't know how to play like half of the songs or you've forgotten them! Can we talk about the first album (At this point they had just re-released it for their 15th anniversary), this is absolutely one of my fave albums of all time.
J: Thanks, we're really, really pleased with that. I am glad you're enjoying it!
F: What's the overarching theme of this album?
J: I wouldn't say there was a theme, it was more about the soundtracking of our immediate environment. You know, that is for us, probably the most important creative facet of the band is that we all grew up in deep countryside. We all derive a great deal of energy and inspiration and real love for the environment that we grew up in. That record especially was recorded in a barn on farmland at the top of the hill. Throughout the recording process, we just opened these huge double doors and looked out onto this really unfathomably glorious view of rolling green with the sea sparkling out in the distance. We just want to make a soundtrack to that. That's been probably the central crucial creative foundation stone of everything that we do. We have described it before as not eternal bliss, but pastoral bliss.
F: Oh, I like it. Pastoral bliss. Um, I'm really glad that you shared that story. You know, when I first listened to the album years ago, I was in a place where im from in Manchester called Fletcher Moss Botanical Gardens. And I sat underneath the big pine tree and looked out, whilst listening to your album, and it was just perfection. The sunlight was streaking through the canopy, the wind was still, and the weather was perfect and it honestly brought a tear to my eye. It was at that moment I said to myself - This music is meant for this kind of environment, no matter the season.
J: Yeah, I agree. That nailed it. Yeah. It's so pure and innocent and that was something that we're very conscious of, especially in the recording process. At that point we really didn't have any intention of producing the pristine, polished recorded product. We wanted it to be a kind of snapshot in time of where the band creatively sits in that moment. If you can hear a piano pedal squeak or something, you can hear that in the recording because ...that's real. It is the real sound of six of six musicians just expressing where they are creatively at that moment in time.
F: Touching on that - six musicians? How was it in terms of the creative process with so many of you?
J: The difficult thing, I think, is adhering to everyone's creative wishes. We all have veto power and that's another reason why the band moves so slowly. All six of us need to be happy with everything that we're doing and, if we're not happy, then we just don't do that thing. That is both creatively and practically. In terms of the songwriting process Jack and I are the guitar players, he and I are the chief songwriters as well, so in terms of presenting initial ideas. We come to the group with our writings and conversational ideas and arrange them songs together. There have been many points in that process where one of the six we'll say “I'm really not feeling this and I don't think we should do it”, and at that point we do need to reassess. And so, in that respect, yeah, it's difficult, as I say, to adhere to everyone's creative wishes and to pass through the evaluation gates of everybody. But we have a great deal of trust in each other, and each other's detection for crap music and crap riffs. It is quite fair and diplomatic.
F: It's almost like an emotive journey, I can see how that can be draining on the, for an entire band, let alone six people.
J: Absolutely, yeah! We'll have like a whiteboard up in the writing space which will be filled in and rubbed out a hundred times over before we get to a point where it makes sense. We need to be happy with the music that we're writing because otherwise what's the point?
F: Exactly, at least you're making the right decisions! With the next album that the band released Under Summer, so that's like a decade, gap right? Did you initially want to create another album after the first, or was that spur of the chance?
J: No, we, we had written under Summer by 2009, roughly. We spent three years touring Enjoy Eternal Bliss, and in theory we could have just turned around really quickly, and we could have put out five records in this time. But circumstances, people. We moved away from each other. We didn't get very much time together. I think we suffered a little bit of a crisis of confidence in entering real life. Your twenties are tough. Your early twenties are really, really hard. You're kind of just thrown out into a world that you don't really understand. Like when Roadrunner runs off the end of the cliff and his legs are still moving, you have that sense of all of this energy burned, without any firm ground beneath you. I think we're all fairly sensitive young men and I think that that hit us quite hard and it took those additional few years for us to reach a point of creative comfort with the music. It took us some time for us to reach a point of practical comfort with our real emotion in our real lives.
F: With this kind of emotional development, do you think that transmitted into Under Summer?
J: Yeah, I do. I think it is really, really apparent that we were not yet 20 when we wrote and recorded, Enjoy Eternal Bliss and then hitting 30 when we wrote, recorded, and completed Under Summer, you can really hear the difference in musical abilities as well as emotional capacity.
F: I would definitely say Under Summer is more relaxed in terms of sound and construction.
J: Yeah, I think that's probably true.
F: It's a lot more relaxed, more dragged out, you know, less jumping to, and fro . It really reminds of a soft wave in the sea. For example, one of the songs called Together Those Leaves is like that.
J: Yeah, we say Together Those Leaves embodies what we gain from our relationship with our environment that we live in and that feeling that can get us over any hurdles, you know, "together those leaves said the truth is fleeting" is kind of the core lyric of the track and it gives us a fleeting feeling. The reason that it's fleeting is down to what we have around us, this immense beauty and immense wonder and immense, um...value of life in the leaves. That's what the leaves are. That's what the birds are and the spiders are that I sing about in that song. Yeah. So that's what they're doing, it is that they are offering to us a safe reality that transcends all of the petty challenges that we experience in our lives.
F: And the next song golden Threads? Feels super nostalgic.
J: Again, it's a love song to nature about natural environment and the love of adventure. The song is about going out, exploring, and as kids going out exploring. There are little subtle references to that musically. "The guiding light will carry us home again", that's the core lyric in that song. There is a beacon and the beacon is the thing that we all know within us.
F: That is super sweet! so lovely for them to be a part of the creative process. You released a song called 'A Sun-Coloured Shaker' two years after Under Summer. How come you decided to do it as a solo EP rather than another album?
J: Well, creatively, it's part of Under Summer. They are cousins, they are siblings. There were ideas that were all bubbling around the same time as Under Summer's recording but were not formed enough for it to be on the same record. They are too much alike to be separated. Obviously, they came out a couple of years apart, but ultimately they are to be taken as one. The way we describe it is that Under Summer traces the passage of a single day from morning until night, then Sun Shaker is the night-time that follows.
F: That's very poetic. I agree. They are very similar, but i would say A Sun-Coloured Shaker has that darker side to it and I feel that that's why, a lot of people do kind of put you into that genre of post rock for that reason. In terms of genre, how come you don't want to be put into a box?
J: Yeah, good question. I guess I probably, a big thing is that we are, we are all really greedy music listeners and we don't really have any desire to be in one place for a long time. I totally understand why people say that, and I have no issue with it. If people call us a post rock band, then cool. But I want to say, if a jazz band sets out to be a jazz band, then they've earned the right to be called a jazz band by, by aiming to be one. We at no point said, sat down and wrote down on a piece of paper, this is what we're gonna be - A Post-Rock band. I mean, we are really into very sad music and that's kind of a really uniting factor. A lot of Post-Rock is sad, but not all sad music is Post-Rock.
F: In terms of new music - You re-released your first album, for its 15th year anniversary - anything new on the way?
J: We wanted it to be a celebration of the anniversary. It had been out of print for a while and what better opportunity to put it back into print than to celebrate. It was also to address some of the design elements of the first iteration of the record that we felt needed an upgrade.
F: If you were to say to someone who had never listened to the bands music, would you say Enjoy Eternal Bliss is a good entry point?
J: Yeah, 'A Sun-Coloured Shaker' is probably my favourite piece of music we've ever written, but I think in terms of sort of rounded listening experience perhaps Under Summer as it shows our most recent transition of our sound. I personally don't think I would listen to any music that sounds like Enjoy Eternal Bliss anymore, I think we were, we were 17 when we wrote it, and 19 when we recorded it.
F: Would you want to do another tour, perhaps merging both albums together?
J: Yeah, we would, we are just very slowly writing new material, but you know, it's on traditional yndi halda pace. It requires a lot of energy to get us all together in one place. The last time we're all together was a year ago [A year before this interview]. Hopefully folks won't hold that against us.
F: I don't think so, they want the best from you! take as much time as you need. Would you say that's a big factor in terms of the new creativity that you're putting down on paper at the moment, at yndi halda pace, as you say?
J: 100%, we have all experienced a great deal in the past decade. All of us as humanity have experienced a great deal in that period. There is definitely a lot more desire to write vocal music now, obviously we've been doing that more and more anyway, but I think probably even more so with the next set of songs we write.
F: It'll be interesting to see more lyrical songs from Yndi Halda, I personally feel that element was kind of missing from Enjoy eternal Bliss - felt like that was more landscape based, you know what I mean?
J: Yeah, it did. Even in Under Summer, some of the vocal lines were kind of intended to be a little bit more textual, rather than central to the music.
F: Even if it is gonna be another decade, all us fans, including myself will be right there to enjoy your creation! right there. As soon as it's released.
F: I've just got one final question for you, really, James. Just what are you listening to at the moment?
J: That's really tough, man. What I'm gonna do is I'm gonna load up my iTunes. I work in music, so I'm forever drowning in it really. I've worked in music for 15 years and I've been collecting music since I was a teenager. I've been listening to Ryuichi Sakamoto. I'm a big fan of Sakamoto. Erykah Badu too - I mean who doesn’ love her.
F: Lovely, well thank you so much for sitting down with me and sharing some stories and background to Yndi Halda!
Even though they are not touring or releasing any music in the foreseeable future, they are still in the process of. Fans of Yndi Halda are fans for one reason, their incredibly moving music touches all who listens to them. I implore you to listen if you haven't before and if you have, well, you might as well go back and listen again - for each time you do, you come away with more emotional integrity than you'd expect.
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