The Yawpers: Going through changes

Frontman Nate Cook on upcoming album, lineup changes and why the group is no longer a 'Boulder band'

Nate Cook, left, and James Hale of the Yawpers
Photo courtesy of Nate Cook

A slew of changes has rocked Nate Cook’s world this past year.

His band, The Yawpers — rock ’n’ roll with a country twinge, starring two acoustic guitars and a drum set — is letting their record deal with Boulder label Adventure Records expire, and the band has leapt over to Colorado SpokesBUZZ, becoming the first non-Fort Collins band to sign with the FoCo-based nonprofit/label. The band is planning to record an album sometime in the near future, tentatively titled Cold War Core, and is taking a page out of Sound City and forgoing fancy digital technology for tape. (The band is weighing a couple of local studios with analog capability and hasn’t decided on one yet.)

“With analog, it’s lossless. What you hear is the actual sound. … People talk about it too much. But there’s that warmth that you get with analog, and there’s that rich low end, which is really important to us since we don’t have a bass.”

Some musical changes are taking place as well. The band is back to just a trio: The short-lived addition of harmonica player Dave Romano ended when Romano ripped his MCL in half while snowboarding and had to retreat to the East Coast for rehab.

“We’re on the road so much, it was hard to justify keeping him on board,” Cook says.

But Cook sounds like he is embracing the lineup change as a back-to-basics breath of fresh air. He and fellow guitarist Jesse Parmet have added some effects pedals to fill out their sound (Parmet uses around 13 pedals, Cook says), and he welcomes how the structure gets his creative juices flowing.

“We started as a trio and we kind of wanted to go back,” Cook says. “I think if you work within the confines of a situation, the more difficult a situation is, the more you can kind of be creative with it. Same with tape and going back to a three-person [lineup]. Those are things that actually help the creative process in a way; you don’t have to depend on more stuff. With that, we’ve expanded our sonic setup with the pedals and all that sort of shit. Plus, we get paid more.”

There’s more positive news, too.

“I got hitched,” Cook says, smiling and pointing to the band on his finger.

“She was a French actress that was over here, and was a Yawpers fan,” Cook says. “I love the shit out of her; she loves me. There was no reason to wait.”

New record deal, new wife, new lineup: Change seems to be good for The Yawpers. The band plays more than 200 gigs a year around the country, and Cook hasn’t had to work any other job for a year now. The Yawpers are very much a full-time job.

Not many bands have busted out of Boulder’s music scene onto the national scene during the past few years, and The Yawpers are one of the few to do so and make a career out of it. But calling the Yawpers a “Boulder band” might soon be a malapropism. Cook and his new wife have just moved to Denver, and he reacts strongly when asked if the band should be identified with the People’s Republic or the Mile High City.

“We don’t want to be called a Boulder band anymore,” Cook says immediately. “I mean, we don’t mind being called a Boulder band. It’s just, [in] Denver … there’s a lot more going on there with the music scene. So we’re kind of trying to move into that. Two of our guys still live up here. So you can call us a Boulder band if you want.”

The Yawpers: drummer James Hale, guitarist Jesse Parmet and singer/guitarist Nate Cook | Photo by Kirsten Cohen

Perhaps his annoyance with the Boulder music scene had to do with the fact that The Yawpers are a little more rock ’n’ roll than the town could stomach? After all, many bands with distorted guitars report having trouble finding spaces to perform publicly around Boulder. The Yawpers never seemed to have that trouble, though.

“It’s not difficult to find a gig; it’s difficult to find an audience, or at least a repeat audience,” Cook says. “We sell more tickets in Tulsa, [Okla.]; Kansas City; Manhattan; Lincoln, Neb.; Lawrence, Kan.; Santa Fe, N.M.; Fort Collins; Denver; and Aspen than we do in Boulder, and we were based here forever. We sell more tickets in North Carolina, in Wilmington, than we do in Boulder. No doubt about it. It’s not a joke. This town — if you can’t take ecstasy and dance to it like that, there’s not a huge market here.

“Fort Collins, on the other hand, is basically the same size as Boulder, basically a college town, but they have this much more blue-collared element where they want to go out, get fucking drunk and listen to rock ’n’ roll music. Boulder plays it a little safer, I feel like. If they’re going to get their Birkenstocks scuffed, they don’t wanna go to the show.”

“When we play say, Conor O’Neill’s here, the line will be out the fucking door for three hours. For hours, it will be out the door and people will be fucking fighting and getting blowjobs in the bathroom and breaking glasses, and God help us if we could sell one CD. You know what I mean? I don’t know how to describe it. I don’t know what the mentality is, but it’s like, OK, you guys played for us, thanks, and now we’re gonna go. Thanks.

“I feel like every night playing in Boulder is like a one-night stand. You get to fuck the crowd one night, and you both go home and never see each other again.”

And in Denver? Cook says that people seem to be much more appreciative of local music and the people who create it, and he speaks highly of Denver’s musical community as well.

“I wanted to be somewhere that was more conducive to being an artist,” Cook says. “I had two musician friends in eight years here. I’ve lived in Denver for two weeks, and I have 30.”

Only the future will tell what will come of The Yawpers’ new home base. For now, Cook is still exploring the aesthetic frontier he and Parmet have created. Not many rock bands eschew the bass and go for two acoustic guitars, and Cook feels like he hasn’t exhausted the possibilities yet.

The Black Keys made five albums as a primarily guitar-drums duo before switching to a full band and expressing sentiments that they had exhausted the format.

“Sure, if it ever happens we’ll stop doing it,” Cook says. “I’m not doing it because it’s trendy; I’m doing it because I feel it’s what best serves my art at this time. … I honestly think it’s the way we need to do it. Sonically, we’ve carved out a little niche for ourselves that we’re still exploring. Once it gets boring, then we’ll stop. And it just hasn’t yet, for us.”