Yeo is on the grind. The days of stopping at the local bottle shop, picking up a few forty ounces wrapped in brown paper bags and heading up to the top of a multi-zone carpark to chill with his Aussie crew are essentially over. Carparks have been a bit of a recurring theme in Yeo’s life (you can even find it in his lyrics and videos, see Icarus). He and his friends in music come up from the “DIY Scene”, as he puts it – staying at people’s houses, doing house shows and gigs where they shouldn’t be happening, to sneaking up to the rooftop of one of those carparks to put on a show. Yeo admits, without saying too much, “trespassing can be a bit of fun, but that happens less and less as we’re becoming adults with reputations.”
Nowadays, when the Melbourne producer and songwriter isn’t clocking up the hours of his day job or handling “life admin”, as he puts it, the virtuoso turns his focus towards his passion – developing fresh pop music for the world to groove to. Fully committed, Yeo has been on a challenging and trying journey in music that is ever too cliché with the modern musician; yet he continues to push forward with tenacity through adversity and trying times. Yeo is an ever evolving and progressing artist - all while staying unique and true to himself. Breaking down his journey and evolution, it’s easy to see how he has gotten to where he is today, and how it’s given us his latest album, Ganbaru.
Unbeknownst to most, this isn’t Yeo’s first try at a full record (he laughingly cringes when he talks about reviewers and media citing that it is). It was reminiscent of Devonté Hynes decade-plus long unknown path towards the critically acclaimed Blood Orange. On Devonté’s success, Yeo justly puts it, “He’s killing it. He’s where he deserves to be these days, and it’s a situation that excites and motivates me”. A champion of DIY musicians who’ve risen to have an influential voice, Yeo seems to be unaware that he is one.
For Yeo, it’s been more than a decade of music making – starting with the charming first two folk inspired albums, Home and Trouble Being Yourself, which his mates describe as “three chords and the truth”. He admits that he’s always still learning, and back then he still had so much to still learn and pick up, but he had to start somewhere, and that “The only way you learn is by making mistakes, and you’re not going to make mistakes unless you first try.” He believes that these days, the artist’s goals for their debut album is they want it to be so perfect, they end up not even executing it properly. Citing the scene in The Simpsons where Homer is an aspiring inventor and gets dejected by thinking of all of Thomas Edison’s accomplishments, “The progression and eventual evolution as an artist has to be natural. Artists should grow according to their own yardstick. We all have those Homer moments, but we have to remember that we’re as good as our next piece of work.”
Yeo stuck with the stripped down set and honest lyrics of Home and Trouble Being Yourself for a while, but in the end “missed people dancing, heavy bass, and groove oriented stuff” and started the transition to what we feel in his subsequent works of Sell Out, Come Find Me and now, Ganbaru, but according to Yeo, the core is still the same. It may be a different sound and the production has certainly evolved, but “the essence of pop music is the one constant through the life the music. It’s about hooks and lyrics and getting it right, but overall, it’s the same line.”
Ganbaru is Yeo’s tightest and most polished work alongside Girl, and Secret Powers. It’s a statement, a nine track declaration of resilience. Yeo asserts he is at odds with the music industry, which is a rough game, and he doesn’t play games. The idea of conforming, subscribing to the process of getting record labels to be interested, to booking shows, it’s all been a struggle, mainly because he finds it hard to fit in. Ever since he realized what he’s doing will always have that problem, he realized, “Fuck it. I’m going to play it as a strength and go against the grain”. Ganbaru was born from that.
In its essence, Ganbaru is a philosophy. The Japanese interpret the word as standing firm, enduring adversity without giving in to it. There’s a depth to Ganbaru. It’s an experiential term that at the end of the day, can define someone’s resilience. Yeo writes about these experiences. You won’t find music industry bashing lyrics within Ganbaru. What you find is Yeo at his core. You find the music he was born to make, the non-conforming artist out of Melbourne, Australia. He claims, “To me, Ganbaru means – just hang in there. It’s not like you’re doing anything wrong, just hold on. The people that get it will come – and that extends to the record emotionally across all themes. Things like romance and relationships – you’ve got to work hard for them.”
The album is a tight package. It starts off with Icarus, a poignant aesthetic and conceptual summary of the album as a whole. It’s about wanting something so bad that you would destroy everything you already have to get it. In the fiery opener, Yeo stands amongst “so many fallen men in the shadows” and confidently exclaims, “If you see her on your flight, pass on this piece of paper. I'll be waiting on a carpark roof tonight. I'm there to meet my maker”. The album moves forward with the same amount of energy and force with Quiet Achiever, a heavy-hitting satirical piece that tackles surviving in a place where you do not belong. Yeo claims that his personal favorite, VCR Play, does the album the most justice. “It’s got this dirty, loose vibe that swings real hard, confounding, messy vocals and steady melodies.” Yeo defines VCR Play as a message from him to his lover in an attempt to calm the fear of being hurt in a relationship. When you extend the philosophy of Ganbaru across the thematic elements of the album, the message sent is clear: All life demands struggle, but nothing worth having comes easy.
Just like his days growing up with friends and sneaking to the top of the carpark, Yeo’s musical journey to the top is the same: with a little bit of trespassing into new territories, experiencing the new and the unexpected, and most of all, taking the risk - he’ll get there. It’s no revelation that being a musician involves enduring a lot of things. To succeed in a cutthroat environment like the music industry, where adversity is expected, suffering is inevitable, and nothing is promised; perseverance is a requirement. Yeo defines that, he defines Ganbaru, and he is not done with us yet.