Yellow Days talks synaesthesia, craft and life in lockdown

Fresh off of signing to Columbia Records, the Surrey-raised musician is gearing up to release major-label debut 'A Day in a Yellow Beat'.

Yellow Days is an old, soulful voice trapped in 21-year old George van de Broek’s body. At 16 he wrote his first EP Harmless Melodiesin his parent’s garden shed, where he cultivated a bitter-sweet generation-defining sound, characteristic of young love, heartache, depression, drugs, opportunity and innocence. It is no surprise that his song “Gap in the Clouds” scored the trailer for the second season of Donald Glover’s Atlanta.

Despite being a self-assured neophobe who loves Ray Charles and Marvin Gaye, Yellow Days is a youth project. His Columbia Records debut album, A Day in a Yellow Beat, pushes boundaries, warping into his own funky technicolour sound. Described as a “blues singer on acid”, George’s bassy voice rattles through you, transporting you to a hazy summer’s day, not dissimilar from when we meet on FaceTime in lockdown. Having spent two years out of the game, he chats between puffs of smoke about honing his new sound, having synesthesia and why he won’t be hosting a live-stream.


Your first single from the album “Treat You Right” is jazzy and upbeat. How does this new sound resonate with your life right now, compared to when you made your earlier music?

When I made the last record I was 18. I feel a bit of love from people, I’ve done some tours and I am in a happier, clearer place in my life. A lot of my earlier music was very much dealing with inner demons whereas the last few years have been full of laughter, hope and happiness. Tyler [the Creator] touched on it when he did Cherry Bomb, he said ‘I’m happy now’. The question is, do people like me happy? You do get some people who miss the sad boy vibes.


Your music is known for making people feel a certain way, it tends to move people. How do you want people to feel when they listen to the new album?

You may hear the kinds of things that I go through that you do too. As opposed to exploring the feeling of sadness, it is more exploring the feeling of breaking out of it, structuring a way to a better path. A lot of the lyrics reference breaking out of a funk or a daydream. The title A Day in a Yellow Beat represents a day when everything made sense.

The music video for “Treat You Right” was created during lockdown with yourself, the director and producers all working remotely thousands of miles apart to create the video, is that right?

Yeah, just before lockdown my brother stopped by and we did a shoot in my living room with a greenscreen. There’s a super talented young man called Mowgly Lee in America, we filmed some stuff and sent it his way. He’s a proper maverick, he came up with these amazing miniature sets and lil’ rockets, the whole thing was super Wallace and Gromit. He’s a real gangster with that stuff. There’s normally quite a lot of cats on the set, but this was just me and my bro. I definitely put some elbow grease into that one. It was hardcore but we got it and the video slaps so, worth it.


You were due to play at All Points East this year. Since many events have been cancelled, artists are turning to live streams to perform. How do you feel about live streams as a replacement for live shows?

The audio quality isn’t there yet for me, personally. People can get some shit going that’s really high quality, but everything has to be pre-recorded if you ask me, it’s about longevity. It is hard for any team right now – but it’s got to sound good too. It’s hard to create content especially for such a unique situation and a lot of the time it comes off a bit odd. When it is quarantine-based there is a larger narrative that isn’t focused on the illness itself, a really big issue that everyone is facing around the world so it isn’t something to just throw into a conversation. In my mind, it makes more sense to say something that is less of a hot topic.


You experience synesthesia. When and how did you find out?

Ever since I started making music. I created something from scratch, my own composition, I was sitting there listening to it and started to see colours in my head when I closed my eyes. It’s slightly mad. When I listen to any track I always have a sense that there is a colour that symbolises it well, if it had to be visually represented it would be that. I know that “Treat You Right” is this orangey colour. If people find that interesting that’s cool, but it is just something that happens in my brain. It’s cool because a lot of other musicians and artists have it, but it is the odd intricacies of how your brain scatters concepts and joins them because it feels right. Non-conformist thinking really, I don’t have to say why it is right, it just is. Like art in general, it just feels right to me.

You were born in Manchester, but shortly afterwards moved to Haslemere in Surrey. Where are your parents from?

My mum is from Yorkshire, my dad grew up in Gravesend and he’s Dutch. A complete mismatch really, I grew up with loads of different accents in the house but was raised down south. I did a lot of travelling since my music started so my voice gets more and more confusing. When you’re young and travel constantly you start to lose any sort of cultural identity, your voice goes completely bizarre.


How has that affected your music?

My voice has definitely changed in the last few years. I have ironed out the young 16-year-old singer who didn’t smoke too much and didn’t do enough vocal exercises. Now I am aiming for Marvin [Gaye], Curtis [Mayfield] and different timbres than before when I really just wanted to just fucking howl it. I wanted to do Ray [Charles], howl like a wolf and really bark the song. I find the intricacies of what Marvin and others do really inspiring. For me, funk and R&B soul is where musicianship and coolness meet. Getting into jazz fusion and R&B soul took years and was a challenge in itself. I am self-taught and can’t read musical theory, so I had to sharpen up on my playing and learn.


What has been the best part of lockdown life for you?

Having the time to practice playing the piano.


Who have you been listening to lately?

I have been listening to Wendell Harrison chronically. He is this old ‘70s cat and a bit of an overlooked talent. His album Organic Dream has been a big influence.


Yellow Days’ forthcoming LP A Day In A Yellow Beat is out on 7th August. When he’s not making music or chatting to journalists over FaceTime, you can find him on Instagram

20 May 2020