When The Demo Becomes The Vibe: Explore 'Blue Summer' With Cayucas' Zach Yudin

[Cover photo credit Cara Robbins]

Brothers Ben Yudin and Zach Yudin are set to release a new album next week on September 25th through their moniker Cayucas, arriving from Park the Van. The album, aptly titled Blue Summer, will bring with it the beachiest vibes to close out the warm weather and take you somewhere else entirely. It's part nostalgia, it's part attitude, and it's all very accomplished songwriting in terms of both lyrics and composition. On this album, Zach Yudin did full production work for the first time as the duo followed an instinct back to the roots of their original demos, inspired by vintage sounds.

Singles and videos for several songs from the album, including "Yeah Yeah Yeah" and "Malibu '78 Long" have been giving audiences a taste of what's in store, and garnering plenty of attention for this new take on California-inspired sounds. Zach Yudin and Ben Yudin both joined our Tower Instagram Live show, which you can still check out here, and Zach Yudin also spoke to Tower's PULSE! below about creating these songs for Blue Summer.

Hannah Means-Shannon: Congratulations on not only managing to record an album during this time, but on getting ready to release it. It’s also super cool that you’re releasing with Park the Van. They seem like a great label from people I’ve talked to.

Zach Yudin: They are really cool. We’ve dealt with a few labels, but this has been pretty smooth sailing with Park the Van. They just kind of let us do our thing and that’s really good for an artist. I like feedback and I don’t mind if someone is critical, but it’s so much easier to navigate if the label is cool with things.

HMS: How do you feel about different formats for release? I’m going to guess you might like vinyl given the traditions you like.

ZY: We’re from the ‘you have to create an album’ camp of people. That’s just how we view writing music, in full albums. With that comes vinyl and CD. At this point, it’s really nice to have vinyl. I don’t really care about having a CD, but if people like that, that’s fine. Otherwise, I probably care about Spotify the most. I want all my music on Spotify and use it the most out of everything.

HMS: You mention wanting to compose whole albums, but how did that work for Blue Summer? When was the first inkling that you had that you would be creating this one? Did it start with a particular song, or with bits and pieces?

ZY: Me and my brother were on tour last summer, and our last record was pretty shimmery, more Pop, and high production. When we were on tour, I was said, “I kind of want to write a song when we get home that was more like our original demos. The song would be called ‘Green Bicycle’ or something.”

I just had this image of a blue Schwinn bicycle and I wanted to get back to where we started. When we got home from tour, I had some beats, some loops, some bass lines. We started working on a song. Then there was a guitar riff. The song was called “Summer Moon”. We wrote it last Fall in the September/October time period, and that was basically the first song. I recorded it from our home studio.

I think we were listening to that Stardust record by Willie Nelson. I think Ben had some guitar ideas. I said, “Let’s use that one.”, and that’s how it started. We were listening to “Moonlight in Vermont” and we were riffing on that one. We wanted a simple acoustic song. If you listen to “Summer Moon” and then “Moonlight in Vermont”, you might hear a connection. We were thinking a guitar solo and some slidey guitar.

I was using some old drum samples, some old kick drum samples, and some shakers. That was getting back some original sounds when we started.

HMS: Thank you. That’s a great story. Willie Nelson is just such a ridiculous powerhouse of creativity. Anything he does seems to have just a little bit of magic in there. Were you surprised when your goal of going back to the demo sound worked out?

ZY: I think we assumed it would work. It seemed like those songs were the safest thing to do. On our second and third album, we were kind of pushing things, so we were thinking, “Let’s simplify it.” So we were thinking, “This will definitely work.” These songs are kind of low-fi. We want to really just create a kind of “vibey” record versus creating a radio single, per se.

I’ve never really Produced a record, and there was some trepidation there, since that’s a different thing than making demos and going into the studio. The pandemic actually kind of helped us because we just stayed home and finished the last three or four songs in the months of March and April. Luckily, we have a little home studio and just finished the record.

We used to just make demos and then go into the studio to record, but sometimes you miss the demo. You miss the vibe of it. Then, for some reason, going into this record, we said, “Let’s just make the whole record like that.” We felt like we could do it from home and at the very least, it would be super-vibey.

HMS: Had you been hands-on and picked things up in the past that made you confident enough to do that?

ZY: For sure. And on the last album, the Producer ended up using a lot of the audio stems that we had recorded from home. So he was using the guitar or kick drum that we had recorded from home. He felt like they worked. That made me realize that all that time and energy we spend recording the demo at home meant there was something in there and it would be a waste to just start from scratch.

Before he said that, it didn’t even cross my mind that that stuff was useable. Then it dawned on us that it was special. To recreate that vibe in the studio, for a lot of the pieces, would have been silly.

HMS: I’ve heard musicians mention from time to time trying to get back to the original sound of a demo and feeling frustrated that they weren’t able to recapture it.

ZY: My brother and I have become obsessed with that idea, the vibe or the magic or something that’s on the recording. One of the records we would reference was the Bruce Springsteen record, Nebraska.

HMS: Oh yes, I was just talking about this with someone. Because of the analog recording he did?

ZY: Yes, he recorded on a cheap Tascam recorder. We have a Tascam, too. He recorded an entire album with just his voice and guitar. I’m not sure there was much else involved. He had the intention of taking it to a studio when it was finished and recreating it. But when they got to the studio, he ended up liking his recordings better. We recorded a lot of stuff on tape, too. We wanted to get that special vibe and not worry too much about quality.

HMS: [Laughs] I think there’s a lot of quality there, too. I’m very impressed by what I’ve heard from this album.

ZY: Thank you. I think a majority of musicians would never release home recordings, though. They want to get to those high production values.

HMS: What was it about your early demos that you wanted to get back to, in terms of sound? The phrase “back to the beach” has been used in the promo for this album, and I assume The Beach Boys are part of that reference, and maybe even Brian Wilson himself. Was that your influence on your first demos as well as on Blue Summer?

ZY: Oh, yes. We were living in Santa Monica, and my life was more coastal and beachy. I had a vintage bicycle and I was really into the Beach Boys, around 2010. We’d been writing music for a while, but the band started in 2011. The first few demos were super-beachy, lots of reverb, lots of harmonies. I was really into vintage-based lead guitar tones, playing guitar with a Princeton reverb amp and a Hoffner bass. Using nice vintage drum loops and stuff like that.

I was also really into Beck and Animal Collective, so there was lots of influence at that moment in time. But I think the reason they connected is because the songs came from a genuine place since my brother and I are from California. The band name, and the sound, and the song titles felt authentic to who we were.

HMS: Did those demos wind up getting recorded?

ZY: Basically the first record is all those songs that got rebuilt in the studio.

HMS: So you got to see those songs through to their conclusion, but it was the demos you remembered more than the final result?

ZY: The demos were special. You can still hear them on Youtube. The album was special, too. We’re just sort of chasing that thread. The next record, we’ll probably go for more production values. We’re always changing and each record we’re usually chasing something different.

HMS: There’s a lot of positivity associated with the Beach Boys and that vintage sound. Is that something you wanted for your album? Or do you think that is that typical of all of your work?

ZY: I think so. People view our music as being fun, happy, and family friendly. I think people are surprised that I’m not as happy as the music seems. It’s more like a mood. It’s like Wes Anderson making a movie, not that I’m anywhere near his ability. He creates a mood, but if you meet him, he’s nothing like that. It’s just the mood he likes. For whatever reason, I like songs that are like this. It’s too easy to write a song that’s sad, I guess. It’s overdone. It’s not interesting for me.

HMS: Wow, that’s an interesting idea. I have heard people saying, especially lately, that it is easier to tear things down than to build things right now. It’s harder to be positive than negative.

ZY: I’m probably going to prefer listening to a happy song. I need an escape. I try to write songs that are like an escape.

HMS: Songs that take you somewhere else? A lot of people say that that’s what got them into music as kids, feeling like music took them somewhere else.

ZY: Yes. A band like the Beach Boys, to me, feels the same way. We think of happy family-friendly songs. Brian Wilson had some dark times, too, but the songs still feel happy to me.

HMS: The single from this album, “Malibu ‘78 Long” feels like the most classic you could possible get.

ZY: That one definitely was Beach Boys inspired.

HMS: And the phrase “Blue Summer” comes up in that song. Is that where the title comes from?

ZY: The original album title was “Champion of the Beach” [Laughs] but that became a song title. I wrote down “Blue Summer” after writing the lyric as an album title option. Me and my brother went with that because it sounded so classic.

HMS: You sometimes use humor in your music, though maybe not in this album as much. Is that part of the lighter tone?

ZY: I have broad themes, basically. There’s a lot of nostalgia. It’s the night before Prom, not Prom, it’s the 16 Candles world. I wasn’t really into music yet, I was into sports then, and got into music in college. It’s a recurring theme. I do feel like Anthony Michael Hall in 16 Candles. There’s humor there because I don’t think of myself as a “cool guy”. I try to act cool in music videos, but it doesn’t work.

HMS: There’s definite value in avoiding the archetypal role, like “rock kid” in high school.

ZY: We’re a “beachy band” but I can never be that guy sitting around a campfire with an acoustic guitar while we’re barbecuing. It’s too basic. I can barely surf, but I play that role.

HMS: You’re self-aware of these roles.

ZY: I want to be that guy who grabs the acoustic guitar at the beach. My brother and I want to be that guy. But it’s good to know that we’re not. It wouldn’t feel cool.

HMS: You know, people do make fun of that guy. There’s a running joke in society about the guy who pulls out the acoustic guitar at a party and makes people listen to him. I’m sure if it was your party, and you were the cool kings of the party, you could probably pull it off. It’s a fine line though.

Did you ever go to Tower Records?

ZY: Absolutely. I was in high school and college, and it was everything. I’d go there, go to listening stations, scan through the posters. I was in heaven. I grew up playing sports, in a sports family, so going to Tower Records was heaven for me. I think the first record I ever bought was from Tower Records. There were other places to get CDs, but Tower had the magic.

HMS: You may remember that Tower’s motto is “No Music, No Life” also written, “Know Music, Know Life”. Which do you prefer and how does it apply in your life?

ZY: That’s pretty deep.

HMS: The second one can get kind of cosmic.

ZY: If you don’t listen to music, you can still have a life, if I’m being technical. I feel like I live in a world that’s all artists and musicians. Everyone loves music. Sometimes I’m in Santa Monica and the vibe is very different. They don’t care about the new Radiohead song. Are they better off? I don’t know. Everyone listens to music to some degree.

HMS: It’s part of the background for a lot of life, but I don’t know that everyone is aware. It’s surprising how many people are, though, once you start asking them about it.

ZY: I think everyone should dig deeper with music. It’s fun if you can talk about Bob Dylan records and The Beatles, and that can only enhance your life.

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