A “musical conversation.”
That’s how one member of Harrisburg-based band Yam Yam describes their sound, which is based on interaction and play between band members.
Specializing in funk, soul and jazz, the band gets its influences from many sources to form a uniquely vibrant, multi-layered sound. Over the years, Yam Yam has made a name for itself in and out of the city, performing at various venues with shows ranging from the weirdest to the wildest.
Following the recent release of their first album, which debuted at the Abbey Bar, band members sat down for a chat at their rehearsal space/house in Olde Uptown.
Yam Yam consists of Mike Dempsey on keys, Tom Fuller on guitar, Tyler Fuller on drums, Jason Mescia on saxophone and Xander Moppin on bass. Their current lineup has been together for two years, but some have been together longer. Tom and Tyler are brothers who grew up with an appreciation of music.
“We learned how to play instruments together,” Tyler said. “We’ve played together for probably 15 years now.”
Mescia said that the band “just kind of happened.”
“Serendipitous, that’s the word for it,” he said.
Tyler took it up a notch.
“It was actually super-serendipitous,” he said. “I had just moved in to this apartment, and those two were jamming next door.”
They all started to get to know each other and then met up to jam. Next thing they knew, Yam Yam was born.
“There’s a lots of cool music happening in this house,” Tom said. “The Flower Garden boys live over there [next door], we ‘Yam’ it up in here, and the Gobbo boys live upstairs. Everyone’s jamming!”
Flower Garden and Gobbo are two other groups you’ll often find on the local scene.
“We all play with each other all of the time,” Moppin said.
It’s clear, when listening to the new album, that Yam Yam is passionate about music and the power of improvisation. Their style relies on members creating unique sounds and then playing off of each other.
“I think improvising is kind of our biggest inspiration,” Dempsey said. “We like bands that make stuff up on the spot. That’s what we like to do.”
When writing music, band members tackle songwriting and rehearsal together as a team effort. Someone comes up with part of a song, and the others find ways to play off of it. Each member has his own specialty and unique sound to offer, and it’s the group’s task to find their part to accompany the sound.
Tom Fuller described the process as a “musical conversation.”
“The collective aspect of writing, I think, is what gives us our strength in the music,” Dempsey said. “Any individual can write a song, but writing it as a band is hard.”
Mescia believes this is where the band thrives.
“It gives us a special sound,” he said. “Everybody in the band is really good with having their own sound and personality within the band, but then they’re able to come together and work democratically, as well.”
Yam Yam started recording their album in 2017, and it’s been quite the growing process since. They spent hours recording overdubs in living rooms and basements and more hours at Rock Mill Studios in Mechanicsburg, working with Logan Summey. Aaron Miller, a friend of the band, attended a show and offered guidance on how to grow.
“He just gave us a direction and pushed us to be more professional,” Tyler said.
With Brian Wilson from the Beach Boys as inspiration, the band set out to taking full advantage of what the studio had to offer.
“Wilson was notorious for making the studio his instrument,” Moppin said. “It takes a really talented producer to make the studio your instrument so that you can play what you want.”
“We had some fun in the studio experimenting with our own sound,” Dempsey said. “It’s our first album, so we didn’t really know what it was going to sound like starting out. It really turned into something bigger than I ever dreamed of.”
Aside from their talent with music, the boys of Yam Yam are strong in their friendships and brotherly bond.
“I’d say that’s one thing that makes us special,” Mescia said. “Our drama isn’t that drama-y. We’re all just great friends.”
Yam Yam, along with friends Ex Mag, plays New Year’s Eve at Club XL, 801 S. 10th St., Harrisburg. For more information about the band, visit www.yamyamband.com or their Facebook page.