yumi zouma is back with a new, unexpected single
'Bruise,' is a banger among the band's catalog of dreamy indie-pop songs.
Photo by Henry Hargreaves.
When former Yumi Zouma guitarist Sam Perry announced during a recording session in 2017 that he was leaving the band to live in Serbia, Josh Burgess — who plays synth, bass, and guitar — attempted to cheer up his bandmates by suggesting they write a song like Nelly Furtado’s “Promiscuous.” Burgess had recently read a story published in The FADER about the making of Furtado’s album Loose (“Promiscuous” was the album’s first single and it reached #1 on the Billboard Hot 100) and he had been listening obsessively to a series of albums produced by Timbaland, including Justin Timberlake’s FutureSex/LoveSounds.
The song they came up with was “Bruise,” a groovy pop number led by handclaps and a sensuous vocal melody that has echoes of Furtado and alt-pop singer Empress Of. They adopted Timbaland’s signature stutter to give the bass and drums some extra crunch, and singer Christie Simpson says that the pair behind “Promiscuous” inspired her to express “this underlying bitterness in a kind of sassy way.” It’s not quite a banger — at least not in the traditional sense — but among Yumi Zouma’s catalog of dreamy indie-pop songs, it shifts the dial in an exciting new direction.
Yumi Zouma wrote “Bruise” before completing their third EP, called EP III, which they released in September 2018 via their longtime record label Cascine. All three core band members live in different countries, spanning the US, UK, and New Zealand, and they wrote their first two EPs by sharing files back and forth online. 2016’s Yoncalla and 2017’s Willowbank, were recorded together, but they returned to the file-sharing model for EP III.
“Bruise” began in the studio and was completed online, although it was originally set aside because the band decided it didn’t fit the template they’d built for Yumi Zouma. An article on Billboard in 2018 noted that the band had approximately 150 unfinished demos before they began recording EP III. “When we wrote it, it was way too club to ever be a Yumi Zouma song,” guitar and keyboardist Charlie Ryder says. “I couldn’t imagine it being on a record with other Yumi Zouma songs.”
Things are a little different now. Having completed their EP trilogy and fulfilled their contract with Cascine, “Bruise” signifies the beginning of a new chapter for Yumi Zouma. It’s their first attempt at releasing a stand-alone single outside of the traditional album/EP framework, and they’re doing it themselves, without the backing of a record label. They signed to Cascine in 2014 before ever releasing a song and the Brooklyn label has always been their biggest advocate, but changes in the music industry — coupled with Burgess’ experience working at a record label — have led them to try a new approach.
“I still believe that the best thing a record label can be is a cheerleader, someone who really believes in what you’re doing and really promotes that. I still think there is tremendous value in that,” Burgess says. “But when you break it down to the fundamentals and think about where you’re getting that push from… there are other players [now]... When I first started working in music no one ever talked about streaming.”
“When we started, the model that our label had and that we were focused on was releasing physical records, first and foremost. You needed that lead time to get vinyl pressed,” Ryder explains “Our focus now is putting out music on Spotify, and if we want to make records later, then yeah, maybe we can, but that cuts down the lead time significantly. [Now] you just need to get an MP3 mixed and mastered and the DSPs just need to register it.”
Still, all three band members admit to being a little nervous about self-releasing their music. “We could release this single, and with it being the first single that we’ve ever released ourselves, it could get zero streams,” Ryder says. “The worst-case scenario is that there’s a problem in the backend of Spotify and it just doesn’t play,” Burgess jokes.
But every band needs a Kimmy Schmidt, and Simpson is Yumi Zouma’s. She has faith that their fans will back them and help the song gain traction among Spotify’s ecosystem of playlists, which determines which songs live and die in 2019. “We have this amazing pocket of fans who are extremely big fans of ours,” she says enthusiastically. “That’s something we’re blessed with.” There’s even a Whatsapp group where diehard fans meet to discuss Yumi Zouma’s lyrics.
Simpson does acknowledge, however, that reaching a new audience is perhaps the biggest challenge. But she thinks the song’s uncharacteristic Yumi Zouma-like qualities might excite some people who were only halfway to becoming fans before. “This single does feel like a new vibe for us,” she says. “It’s exploring a different facet of our sound.”
After initially hesitating to release “Bruise” because it lacked the Yumi Zouma-vibe, ultimately the band’s decision to do so was quite intentional. Burgess notes that Yumi Zouma has always produced a lot of music for a band their size, and they wanted to continue in that vein, with or without a record label. “At the crux of all of Yumi Zouma’s output is that there’s a lot of it, all the time,” he says. “If someone asked me, ‘What’s the best thing you could do for your fan base?’ I’m gonna say, ‘Release music.’”
Having operated as a band for half a decade now, Simpson, Ryder, and Burgess have learned to see each other’s contributions as complementary rather than contradictory to their own vision. Burgess notes that when Perry was in the band he “created some of the best Yumi Zouma moments,” but he adds, “we all have that ability to put our brush on a song that really makes something be the tipping point for us. That’s what’s exciting about writing with everyone still, I know that sending it to either Charlie or Christie, they have the capability to add that magic thing that I’m waiting to hear in my ears. It’s comforting in a way, we’ve been doing it for a while now and it’s become a consistent thing in my life to know that Charlie and Christie will enhance whatever I’m working on.”