Photo and words by Stephanie Nardi
I should have known by how unseasonably warm it was the day I met up with the boys of Yam Haus that something was in the air and, like the weather, ordinary was not going to be able to be used to describe the afternoon.
We met along the main drag of St. Anthony Main, and for those who aren’t familiar, it’s a quaint area in Minneapolis with a cobblestone main street and historic buildings housing cafes and restaurants all set to the backdrop of the Mississippi River. Seems like it would be a pretty low key location to have an interview right? If you thought yes, then you would be just as wrong as I was. Huge wind gusts, rogue leaves, loud construction equipment and falling rocks kept us on our toes the entire interview. Oh, and did I mention the old man? Live concerts might not be a thing in 2020, but we got serenaded by a sweet old man and his wife to the tune of You Are My Sunshine, This Land Is Your Land, and God Bless America. In 2020, I’ll take what I can get.
The guys were troopers through it all though, and in spite of everything, this might be one of my favorite interviews. Lars Pruitt (lead vocals/guitar), Zach Beinlich (bass), Jake Felstow (drums), Seth Blum (lead guitar) and I sat at a table outside Aster Cafe while their manager Oprah filmed it all for their vlog. So if you’re wondering, yes, all the madness described above was caught on camera and has the potential to surface on their Youtube channel. These four have such an easy way about them that it made this feel less like an interview, and more like we were old friends catching up. Their genuine love for what they do was apparent from the get-go, and I’m sure you’ll be able to feel it too.
Yam Haus was slated to go on tour this summer with a show at the Palace Theater to kick it all off, but like many other artists, those plans were derailed due to the pandemic. With more free time than they had originally planned on having, they pivoted their focus and used this time to write and record new music.
When I sat down with them, they were just coming off a long weekend trip to Nashville where they had their first session working with a producer out there. With only four or five days to record, one might think it would be challenging to be creative on that sort of timeline, but I was surprised to find that wasn’t the case. They all agreed they never felt any pressure going into or during the weekend, and Zach shared that “every time we’ve written it’s been with unlimited time, so the fact we were there and only had four days it pushed us to be focused. It was a good challenge”.
Lars also noted they weren’t showing up to the session empty handed. “We already had a few songs he wanted to work on, and we were just blowing them up and trying new things on them”. Since they typically record from their house, being in a more traditional recording studio was a fun change for them — although it did bring on having to adjust their typical work hours to align with their producer’s hours. Hello 4 am wake up call! It was a fun experience for them albeit not a very rockstar one as Lars jokes “it would be nine pm and we were like, ‘alright we gotta go to bed!”.
When asked if they’d ever wished they lived in a bigger music hub like Nashville or LA or even New York, all four of them revealed they couldn’t really see themselves anywhere else but here. While Zach noted the year round warmth from LA would be nice, he also praised the music scene Minneapolis has fostered and the people who come to shows. “People are much more friendly and ready to listen to music here”. The fact our conversation was interrupted by the old man I mentioned earlier to play yet another song when Zach made this point, was proof in itself. The perks of being in a bigger music hub definitely has its appeal, but for them, so does living in a smaller town. As Lars puts it, “I’m really happy with the small town vibes and traveling there as much as I’d like and then being able to retreat to my small town existence”.
Living and growing up in a small midwest town, Hudson to be exact, fosters a different set of values, and influences how the group operates and how they approach their business. Right off the bat, their name is indicative of this. It’s an acronym for You Are Me and represents one of their core values of treating everyone how you would want to be treated. Lars shared, “we stick together. I would say there’s some loyalty vibes that I like. We’re in it for the long haul”.
Lars also stated that family and the importance of that aspect of their life is a big part of their group and a major reason why they’ve stayed where they’re at. “We like our families, we’re not running away from them to do this, which is a huge blessing and a privilege”. Jake added on to this stating, “it is cool being surrounded by people you know . . . we can still come to the city and play a show . . . but at the same time we’re surrounded by family that is supportive. It’s the best of both worlds”.
With bigger success like selling out the main room and getting a headlining slot at the Palace Theater, it’d be easy to start to get a big ego about it all. So what keeps them grounded? “My bank account” quipped Zach, and the rest were quick to agree amid laughs. Joking aside, their families and faith are major players when it comes to keeping these four in check.
“There’s definitely a huge faith component to it all. We don’t wear it as the face of Yam Haus, but I think it’s definitely at the core” noted Jake. Focusing on kindness and the lack of emphasis on material possessions addressed in the Christian faith has been instrumental to not losing sight of what’s most important in the pursuit of success as a band. “You see a lot of this vagabond lifestyle and being kind to people, and I feel like that’s what I want to do” stated Lars. “I feel like as an altruistic attempt at how I want to live my life, that helps me remember I’ll be killing it if I can say I’m really making a difference for somebody”.
The most unexpected thing that’s kept them grounded though, has been the pandemic. It’s a harsh reality that, even if you’re doing all the right things, it can be taken away or put on hold. “We were playing the right shows, meeting the right people, and doing everything in our power to make things happen, and then it all got taken away” stated Zach.
This drastic change in the industry that came with Covid forced them to revisit why they started in the first place, and why they’re still doing it. It had to run deeper than the thrill, no pun intended, of being on stage, in front of a crowd. “All four of us fell in love with music when we were young . . . so it’s cool to remember that we’re not making music to make a big release and make a big splash, but because we all fell in love with it”.
Having this as the foundation for why they started allows them to be inspired to write and do more with their music. “I think what also helps [keep us grounded] is the chase of
making better music” stated Seth. “You listen to your own music and think it’s cool but then you hear other people’s records and music that inspires you and you realize there’s actually so much to do still”. This level of humility and willingness to continue to grow as artists has served them well and will continue to in the future.
These four started making music for the love of it, and that love stemmed from growing up with it. For each of them, it was a unique memory they can vividly recall. Lars was the first to answer, and for him it was being at one of his mom’s concerts who was in a rock band when he was a toddler.
“I remember being held by my dad and being really tired, kind of having a hissy fit because I was so tired, and sleeping on my dad even though it was so loud. I don’t know if that’s a positive experience, but the idea that someone could go try and make music for a living was always in my head as a thing you could do because of my mom”.
While those moments at his mom’s shows were the most memorable, he also recalls his sister roping him into being the backup dancer in her dance routines she would make up to Christina Aguilera songs; something Jake admitted to doing with his sister as well. Talk about great brothers!
Aside from being a backup dancer, Jake’s primary love for music is directly linked to his parents.
“We had a cottage, and I just remember my parents loving music . . . and playing something on the radio from morning to night. Always. There was never a moment when there wasn’t music playing . . . I just remember learning so much music and falling in love with always hearing it, so I just carried that with me ever since”.
For Zach his love of music is tied to his love for the drums, and the memory attached to that was prefaced by him saying it sounded like a cheesy, made up story. “I always wanted to play the drums growing up, but my parents wouldn’t give me a drum set. So, I used the paint cans in my dad’s workroom. I’d set up the paint cans like they were a drum set, and I would use the stir sticks and would act like I was playing the drums on there”. He eventually graduated from paint cans to drum sets from JcPenney, but they never lasted long. “I give a lot of credit to my parents because getting your kid that’s 10 years old a drum set is no joke.”
Curious as to why he plays bass now if drums were his first love, I asked, and to that Zach said it was mainly out of necessity to switch instruments. When they were first getting started, nobody was the bass player because according to him “no one wants to play bass because it’s not cool” to which Lars chimed in stating “Zach’s the best looking, so it’s best for him to play the least flashy instrument, so it balances everything out”. This had the group cracking up and led to quips about how they were basically bred by a music label.
All jokes aside, having a bassist who’s played drums is an advantage for the group since they’re both rhythm section instruments. “When I’m playing bass I know how to make it sound good with what Jake’s doing on the drums”. This lends itself to a more cohesive, sound that’s just a little easier to access.
We circled back to Seth for his childhood memory of music and for him, his piano teacher when he was eight played a big role. “Every time she would play something and I would try and mimic it, I would basically make up my own thing . . . I remember I kept thinking I was making mistakes, but she was so cool and said that what I was doing was great and that she liked it. It was a moment where I realized you can do what you want with instruments and not follow a script”.
Music was woven into the fabric of their childhood and clearly had an impact on them to remember these moments all these years later. The idea of pursuing a career in music full-time was something that was always there, even if it wasn’t in the forefront. In high school, It took a backseat to dreams of becoming pro athletes, something that looked like playing for the Detroit Pistons for Jake and playing in the NHL for Zach and Lars; something they’re still holding out hope for. “Never say never on the NHL” remarked Lars amid laughs from the table while they reminisced on dreams from a different time.
With dashed athletic dreams, they circled back to something that had become a sort of old friend. “I think [music] was always the dream” notes Lars. “at one point we just had to give ourselves permission to admit that that’s what we wanted to do”. Something Zach noted wasn’t necessarily easy to do growing up in a small town on bands like The Beatles and Radiohead. The catalyst for him was seeing the success Bon Iver was having as a fellow musician hailing from the small town of Eau Claire, Wisconsin. “I always thought if you wanted to be a musician you had to be from England or LA. He was the first time where I realized you can be from Hudson Wisconsin and still be a musician and do it full time. That’s when I was like ‘we can do this’, anyone can do it”. And with that, the four of them jumped head first into pursuing their music career full-time, and they haven’t looked back since.
Their first album Stargazer was mainly the brainchild of Lars with most of the songs having been written before the band even came together. He held the reins on this project, but knew he didn’t want that to be the case going forward. “I don’t want to be in a band where the lead singer dominates the creative process and the other members are just being dragged on stage to learn the parts . . . that’s not really a very rewarding experience for anybody”. So, with Stargazer behind them, the group looked toward a new era in music for them, which naturally came to be with their song The Thrill. The level of collaboration that was realized during the creation of this song led them into a discussion about the creative process and how they’re learning, and loving, the ability to create together.
Being creative is a vulnerable act and, while it’s easy to be self conscious, it’s something that has to be pushed past. It’s allowing the space to lay out every idea, no matter how bad, to find those great ideas and surrendering yourself to that process. “Every good artist will say [they] wrote 50 bad songs before [they] wrote one good one” remarked Zach.
Great ideas don’t always come easily and by having other people working through the same thing, it let’s them lean on each other when they’re stuck. “I think that’s the perk of being in a band . . . as soon as I hit a wall or I don’t really know what I want to do, there’s three other people who are doing the same thing”. Something that may not be inspiring to one of them could spark an idea in the other and allow them to keep moving forward with a fresh outlook.
This illuminated the fact for them that it’s about the collective good of the group rather than any one person’s ego. “We all want to make the best songs, and we have enough pride to step in and share ideas, but we also have enough humility to be honest if something is better than [our] idea . . . it’s a never ending dialogue” stated Lars.
With everything so up in the air regarding the music industry right now, it’s hard to know what the next few months will look like for the guys, but they promised they would keep releasing music. In fact, their latest single Pop Game was just released today.
The final cut of the song got emailed to them during our interview and Jake offered up his airpods for me to have a listen. I, of course, was not about to turn down an opportunity to hear unreleased music, and let me just tell you, it’s good. So good, in fact, I think that’s all I kept repeating while I was listening to it. It’s different from anything they’ve done before, but in the absolute best way. If you haven’t listened to it yet, what are you waiting for? Along with this new bop, keep an eye out for three indie Christmas songs coming out in November to get you in the spirit a little earlier than expected.
While they joke that they aren’t a big band, it’s only a matter of time for them. They’ve solidified themselves in the Minneapolis music scene and have garnered a dedicated following here and around the Midwest, and it’s not hard to figure out why. Their ability to connect and engage with their fans make it feel like you’re part of something special and you have a small stake in their success; something everyone craves. They’re humble, hardworking, and have the passion to make this work. These guys are the real deal and we can’t wait to see what’s next for them.
Make sure to follow them on Instagram and Twitter to never miss a thing and while you’re at it hop on over to Youtube and hit that bell to subscribe to their channel now that their vlog’s been resurrected.