“We take ourselves very seriously as far as the music and lyrics go, but we don’t take ourselves too seriously as humans who are in a band.”
That’s bassist/vocalist Kayhan Vaziri talking about his band, Yautja. Taking their name from the alien species in the Predator franchise, he and his bandmates—guitarist Shibby Poole and drummer Tyler Coburn (also of Thou and Mutilation Rites)—combine grind, punk and hardcore into a ferocious hybrid that has propelled them from the obscurity of the American South onto the international stage.
“I live in Birmingham, Alabama, and the other two guys are in Nashville, Tennessee, both of are which are pretty close to the bottom of the list when it comes to cities that you associate with metal or heavy music in general,” Vaziri observes. “Nashville is huge for country and pop—commercial music, basically—but not what we do.”
What they do can be heard on the trio’s long-awaited second album, The Lurch. From the relentless opening roar of “A Killing Joke” and the ominous noise waves of “Undesirables” to the churning cannonade of “Before the Foal,” the record conveys the personal frustrations and sociopolitical observations of its creators.
In fact, much of Yautja’s output is a reaction to their environment—specifically being surrounded by folks who don’t necessarily share their worldview. “We’ve got our bubble of friends and artists and businesses, but you drive 30 minutes out of town and you see rebel flags or people wearing t-shirts that say, ‘Redneck Lives Matter,’” Vaziri explains. “So there’s a lot of frustration there, and the lyrics pertain to that.”
Not to mention the technological malaise that affects pretty much everyone, everywhere. “Technology has shaped us,” Vaziri says. “I take full of advantage of it and recognize the perks, but there is a lot of negativity there and a lot of devolving of human activity and creativity in a way.” Yautja address this on at least two songs on The Lurch—“Wired Depths” and “Tethered.”
“We’ve joked that ‘Tethered’ is the radio biscuit if we were a pop band,” Vaziri says with a laugh. “It’s definitely a song about being jacked into social media and what that does to your psyche and your real-life social interactions—the kind of endorphin rush you get when people like or comment on the photos you post. It also talks about the negative aspects of that stuff—the harvesting of your information, companies building profiles based on what you’re looking at; facial recognition. It covers a lot in a shorter song.”
Then there’s “Catastrophic,” which is based on experiences Vaziri has had with the homeless community around the convenience store he and his dad run in downtown Birmingham. “It’s pretty specifically about the problem with homelessness in this country,” he confirms. “I got to know a lot of people who were on the streets and hear all different kinds of reasons about why they ended up there. Then I saw all the stuff the city was doing to displace these already displaced people even more, like when the homeless camps were cleared out for the construction of a new onramp.”
It’s the kind of socially conscious song that has long been a hallmark of punk—but often gets lost, overshadowed or abandoned in the genre’s endless fashion parade. “We’re definitely not a political band, but we’ll discuss political things in our lyrics,” Vaziri explains. “And we’re definitely not a band that will get onstage in coordinated outfits and need to make sure the fog and backdrop are correct. Not that a backdrop is ever out of the question.”
As for the album title itself? The Lurch is a comment on the sheer slog—physical and mental—involved with being an underground band from the Deep South. “If you start a band in Baltimore or Richmond, you’re still only a couple hours away from major music markets,” Vaziri points out. “But the last big tour we did started in D.C., which is still 15 hours away from us. So you’ve gotta do some insane drives or play a couple of shows in the middle of nowhere before you even start the tour.”
Combine that long-haul determination with Yautja’s unwillingness to slot neatly into a compartmentalized subgenre, and you’ve got an exceedingly rare perspective on underground music. “We kind of fit and don’t fit every genre of extreme music,” Vaziri explains. “Maybe we’re shooting ourselves in the foot because people might think we haven’t figured out what kind of band we are, but I think we’re okay with not pigeonholing ourselves and enjoying every aspect of what this band is.”