Though you might not know of them, LA duo Youth Code and Portland artist King Yosef’s new collaborative LP, A Skeleton Key In The Doors Of Depression, demands to be heard. While the LP is due out on March 9th, their first single ‘Burner’ was released last month. Fast-paced, dark, pulsating with passion, ‘Burner’ is an explosive blend of industrial noise and metal. Bleeding with a headbang worthy heaviness, the track’s shrieking vocals hungers for harmony in “The constant state of monotony and struggle [that] can lead us to a breaking point within ourselves,” as Youth Code’s Sarah Taylor explains. With lyrics like “Spanning time with lack of purpose/I want so badly just to feel,” the song not only encompasses how the majority of us feel in what seems like a never-ending pandemic, but also the weight of a system which makes individuals feel disposable.
We got a chance to speak to Ryan and Sarah of Youth Code and King Yosef about their exciting and emotive new releases.
On the making of the collaboration and the blending of styles, the artists didn’t actually encounter much friction at all. Fans of each other’s work prior to working together, their mutual appreciation of one another created a solid foundation for a collaborative LP.
“Ryan had told me about Yosef,” Sarah says, “he was like ‘yeah I’m into this kid’s stuff, I’m into what he’s doing, his shit is super cool,’ and I think there was like this mutual fandom, that existed between them. I was on tour working for a band and Ryan called me and was like ‘[King Yosef] wants to hang out,’ and I was like, you should hang out with him. I think Yosef has a similar story. He called his partner and she also had suggested for these two to hang out.”
But the guys themselves weren’t too enthusiastic. King Yosef admits, “Ryan and I scheduled together that we were gonna hang out and then once we got together, we both admitted that we both wanted to flake. We both ended up having to talk to our girlfriends who then convinced us to hang out with each other because we were both anxious about it.”
Despite their initial anxieties of meeting one another, the actual amalgamation of styles, aggression and vibrance was a relatively smooth process. “It was really easy,” says Ryan. “We would exchange ideas that kind of were dead in the water that maybe we could do something with – projects that were almost there. I would send files over and Yosef would send us stuff. It was easy – work until you hit a wall, then send it over and then you get it back and you’re like ‘fuck yes!’”
Though lockdown’s mundanity has stifled a lot of artists of their creative, Sarah explains that due to the nature of their musical styles, Youth Code and King Yosef felt driven to create something: “None of us were doing anything really, and how much creativity can you gain from just sitting in doors? Especially the type of music that both of us create. There’s a sense of urgency that wasn’t present or prevalent in the world.”
Ryan adds that getting back into the swing of things was made easier with the driving pressure of the collaboration. “It was difficult to be creative just on our own during lockdown,” he admits. “You think that you would have so much time and all these ideas… but really it’s wake up and stare at your walls and wonder when it’s gonna end. It was good, it sparked creativity and it gave us a purpose. It was really good; it was the kick in the pants that we needed to not only realise that we could make something cool but that we should.”
On top of being close platonically, King Yosef stresses his admiration for Youth Code’s musical achievements. “I’m pretty open and honest about it that Ryan and Sarah, outside of being my friends are one of my favourite bands,” he says. “So, once it was time that we were actually working together it was like all of these pieces were connecting for me. I listen to what Ryan does so often and have been so enamoured with it that I instantly understood my flow against his. There was never a point in time where I was like ‘I’m fucking stuck on this song and I’m stressed about it.’”
Collaboration itself, was still a fairly new process for Youth Code and initially, despite the aggression in her vocals, Sarah is actually quite shy when it comes to collaborating on lyrics – collaboration forced her to be more openly vulnerable. “Lyrics to me are super personal,” she confesses. “The only collaboration we’ve done previously was we did that song with Health. But when we did the song with Health, I walked outside, wrote my lyrics, didn’t show anyone fuck-all. I needed to write in tandem with somebody and also not be overbearing about the song, and not think of it like a Youth Code song. I had to create pauses and to write around. After calling [King Yosef] about six times a day for about two weeks from when we bought the plane ticket till recording time. I think we agreed it was best to leave it [till] when I’d come up to Portland, to come up with as much of the skeleton as I could, and Yosef to come up with as much of a skeleton as he could and then work it out in there. But we were fucking idiots because we thought we could do eight songs in four days – which is dumb as fuck. There’s no way that my voice can do that!”
As vaccines are being rolled out, the artists possibly touring together is becoming more and more of a likelihood. Ryan is particularly excited about unveiling the new melting pot of music that they’ve created to live audiences. “I think it will be interesting to see how it ends up working. All three of us are so stoked bout what came out of [the collaboration]. It was cool,” he says. “We told ourselves we wouldn’t stop if we went into a new territory, something we wouldn’t usually do, that we would see the idea through. It made us try things that we would have never normally done. I think that makes the songs even more special – we went down doorways we’d never gone down… maybe to us anyways. Maybe to everyone else it sounds the same,” Ryan jokes.
Friendly and supportive, the positive dynamic between the artists is particularly heart-warming. King Yosef gushes about the track Claw Crawl which he is particularly pleased with. “I am really proud of my vocal parts on that song” he says. “The way Ryan’s chorusing comes in on that song is just perfect for me. Sarah’s verse on that second portion of that song comes in like a fucking freight train for me. Every time I listen to that song, I’m like ‘I could hate mosh on every single person in a hundred miles.’”
For Sarah, it was Head Under Water that was her favourite track on the record, she admits to envisioning a sort of seductive chaos behind the music. “When we were in the process of writing that song, I had so many thoughts in my head,” she says. “It was sensuous originally; it was based around samples in a documentary, I think. There’s an orchestra section in the background of head under water that I like. When I heard the way the song was going, I had this image in my mind of Gotham, but like a full destruction, like the joker has taken over and has like fucking laid everyone to waste.”
The chemistry between Sarah and King Yosef resembles a sort of sibling rivalry, with both artists egging each other on vocally. Sarah admits to King Yosef’s powerful vocals intimidating her to the point of inspiration. “You annihilate it,” she says to King Yosef, “and I’m sat there like ‘oh okay…alright! Sick! This is how hard he’s gonna go? Guess I’ve gotta pull out the big guns.’”
Since starting out casually in 2018 as a producer for other artists in the rap community, King Yosef now feels like he has outgrown the constraints of producing music for others. “I kinda needed an outlet where I felt like all my creative forces can go into it, and I didn’t need to be in the bounds of like ‘I need to make like a pop-type rap beat.” The development of his own personal sound and self has led to him reaching a level of catharsis as a solo musician.
Success for both Youth Code and King Yosef is rooted in connecting personally with listeners. Sarah elaborates, “To me success is feeling accomplished personally and being able to know that you can go somewhere, and it resonates with another person in the world. I don’t think we’re any sort of massive band. Like sure, Spotify streams and stuff like that are cool, but our success is measured to me in the fact that there are people who have interest. The fact that one person is talking to you about your band and you don’t know that person – that’s success. You make a good impression on that one person and you are a nice person and you continue to keep pushing with your work, that person is going to tell other people.
Ryan’s humble roots of playing dive shows has had an interesting knock-on effect on his success with Youth Code, particularly his feelings on the financial side of surviving as a musician in a struggling economy. “I get really worried sometimes – this show is HOW MUCH money?” he jokes. “I probably suffer from punk guilt a lot, but yeah if you can make an impact where someone is touched by what you do, and we go play Nebraska opening a concert, and there’s a couple kids with your shirt on and you talk to them after – that’s great. That’s awesome. I know what it’s like to have music mean a lot to me, so to be able to do that in return that’s the best thing in life.”
Sarah adds: “We try as best as possible to keep our foot in the window of being DIY and accommodating to people. We play at like the region of the record release commitment to complication, I made sure that was a five-dollar all-ages show. Because I think it’s important that music goes to people… not everybody has $135 to put into just two hours of their life. [Musicians] want to be as punk as possible and only want to do five dollar shows and now, they’re struggling to make ends meet. Punk guilt is real but there’s a way to balance between the two things.”
As the pandemic forces more and more people into long periods of isolation, the mental health of many has come under immense strain – Youth Code included. Sarah explains what has managed to get her through these unprecedented times: “One of things that helped me with a lot of mental health issues, and trying to break the stigma of constantly living inside the weighted blanket of your own mind, is trying to find people you can reach out to and communicate to. Knowing that there’s a comradery and some sort of acceptance in this world, it’s helped to spurn creativity so much for me. It’s hard. It’s fucked up right now…The best thing you can do is to talk to people.”
Ryan echoes the importance of communication and solidarity in his desire to create a safe space for people that is centred around developing musical talents. He isn’t intimated by younger artists but rather, the prospect of styles changing and expanding excites him. “If we ever have the finances or if we can figure out the way to do it, I’d love to make a place where people can make music and have lessons,” he says. “I think it’s just because I’m getting older in life and I want to give more than take anything. I would like to see things to continue on. I love futuristic stuff. My brain is like ‘what’s the next kid gonna do? It’s gonna be so awesome.’”
This idea of a safe space particularly resonates with King Yosef who confesses that his teenage years would have likely been significantly better if such a place was available to him at the time, as he finds music and communication with others to be the best outlet for his emotions. “When I was fifteen and couch hopping, I probably would’ve done a lot less stupid stuff and got into a lot less trouble if someone was like there’s a studio you can go to and people will just show you how to make music,” he says.
When discussing influences, the artists feel that their collaboration was more shaped by the blending of genres as opposed to being inspired by specific bands. King Yosef explains: “In my brain, when I was thinking of this, I was thinking more the traditions of industrial and respecting the tradition of certain aspects of it, and being like ‘okay I understand I’m influenced by that but how do I invert that and do that on my own for this record?’
“I would love to be able to pinpoint one vocalist that made me sound the way I do, but overall its whole genres of music where I’m like I like that style of vocal, that’s the type of aggression I want. My vocals come more from the power, violence, in listening to Weekend Nachos when I was like 15 than it does anything else, but my music doesn’t sound like that at all.”
Kate on the other hand, illuminates some of the issues with pinpointing influences as a woman, insinuating that once a comparison is made, female artists are grouped in an (often inaccurate) way that diminishes their individuality. “As a woman, I can’t really pinpoint anything,” she says. “I can’t say that my voice sounds like other people cos then they’ll think my voice sounds like other people. My influences are Björk and I don’t have a fucking thing like Björk, but she uses her voice in such a weird texturally way.”
When rounding up the interview Kate stresses how she feels for Youth Code’s international fans because of the way the pandemic has affected the expense and length of time it takes for merch and records to arrive.
“I want to apologise for the US postal service making it shit to ship things….I want to say I’m sorry I wish that I could change it but it is out of my hands and if you can only afford to get the digital that’s fine, if you can only afford to download it online on Limewire or whatever you kids use that’s fine too. Fuck I’m like 5000 years old,” she laughs. “If you want to support us little buddies – sick, if you can’t, it doesn’t matter – still sick – we love you anyways.”
A Skeleton Key In The Doors Of Depression will be released on March 9th on all streaming platforms and promises a melting pot of industrial metal and punk attitude that is not to be missed.
Words: Jay Mitra // Interview: Dom Smith