Originally a solo project by Zach Yudin under the name Oregon Bike Trails, Cayucas formed in 2012 when he was joined by his brother Ben Yudin, and the duo signed to Secretly Canadian. The Los Angeles-based band released their debut album Bigfoot in 2013, and this month marks their sophomore album, Dancing at the Blue Lagoon.
Mat Santos is the bassist of Ra Ra Riot, an orchestral pop four-piece formed at Syracuse University in 2006. The band has released three albums since: The Rhumb Line, The Orchard, and Beta Love. In 2011, he released his solo album, Massachusetts 2010, inspired by recording with Ra Ra Riot on a peach farm. Santos is also classically trained painter, and currently based in Brooklyn.
If Cayucas conjures a quixotic version of California—a golden haze of coastline, hills and palm trees—the band has accomplished what they set out to produce. Even the moniker is fitting, chosen after the tiny Central Coast beach town Cayucos, which appears and disappears along a curve of Highway 1. On their newest release, Dancing at the Blue Lagoon, bandmates and twin brothers Ben and Zach Yudin imagine other, farther nostalgic places with due reference to their West Coast roots. Dancing at the Blue Lagoon dives once more into a halcyon childhood in Davis and beyond to a string of coastal scenes and a make-believe tiki bar, the titular “Blue Lagoon.” Produced by Ryan Hadlock, the album takes a more melody-focused approach than their debut, Bigfoot, layering strings and piano under narrative-driven lyrics.
Birthed as Zach Yudin’s solo project under the name Oregon Bike Trails, the band expanded in 2012 to include Ben. The two signed to Secretly Canadian as Cayucas and toured as the opener for Ra Ra Riot, releasing Bigfoot shortly after with the help of producer Richard Swift. Now, in light of their second album, the Yudin brothers sit down with Ra Ra Riot’s bassist Mathieu Santos to reflect on their route from sampling obscure records to surprise success, and what comes next.
Mathieu Santos: Let’s go back all the way back to the beginning—Davis, California. You grew up in Davis and were living there up until high school?
Zach Yudin: Yes.
MS: It seems that setting is really important in your music. In your lyrics, you set up scenes and dialogue between characters with a lot of references to actual places. When did you start making music?
ZY: When this project started a few years ago, the original demos lent themselves to a kind of nostalgia. We had been writing songs for four or five years before Cayucas, but it was never nostalgic. So that’s how it started.
Ben Yudin: There was a combination of a couple of bands – Washed Out, Fleet Foxes and the Beach Boys – that kind of directed the project.
MS: What material were you writing about at first?
ZY: The first song written was “Deep Sea,” kind of a sample-based song. I was looking for samples that were very beachy. That song wasn’t necessarily nostalgic, but the next one was, and after that we were kind of in that head-space.
MS: What does nostalgia mean to you? What are you nostalgic for?
A 1983 film by Francis Ford Coppola, adapted by the S.E. Hinton novel of the same name. The Outsiders helped spark the 1980s Brat Pack trend, and starred up-and-coming actors C. Thomas Howell, Rob Lowe, Matt Dillon, Tom Cruise, and Patrick Swayze, among others.
ZY: I was reading this thing about Coppola. When he turned 45 or something, he was like, “I have to direct Outsiders.” I don’t know if I’m right about that.
BY: For sure that’s wrong. (laughs)
ZY: He had to do his high school movie. But it had to happen when he was, like, 45. I think that’s kind of where I am – I have this high school stuff ten years later.
BY: We talk about high school every day. It’s weird.
ZY: Because those moments from childhood, high school and now college are so poignant and nostalgic. And it’s not prom – it’s not the big, epic event. It’s the little things that happened.
MS: So it’s those little moments – you’re walking on the beach one night with a friend, or driving somewhere, or riding a bike.
ZY: And that’s kind of the stuff I find interesting to write about.
“When Cayucas started, the demos
lent themselves to a kind of nostalgia.
We had been writing for four or five years
before, but it was never nostalgic.”
— Zach Yudin
MS: It’s funny because we’re pretty young. We’re 30. I don’t know if that’s a new thing or what, but it’s always interesting to me when people our age are getting nostalgic. You mention the Beach Boys, and that was a big thing too. Brian Wilson made Pet Sounds when he was —
ZY: Which is part of the reason why it’s so amazing – that he could write such a good album at that age.
BY: It’d be weird to write nostalgic songs when you’re, like, 21. It’s not that interesting until you’re older. That’s when you have perspective on it.
MS: I don’t know if you still write by using samples and loops, but I know you did early on with Oregon Bike Trails and all of the demos which became Bigfoot. Is there a specific reason you started working that way?
ZY: In my early to mid-twenties I was doing electronic music, Daft Punk style. I was obsessed with French DJs. That’s how I got into sampling, in a hip-hop sense, just because it was the easiest way to write a good song. You could find a cool sample and have a song without recording guitars and everything.
BY: The verse is already done. You don’t have to worry.
ZY: I had written some electronic and dance stuff, but once I started doing the same with ‘60s rock I was like, “Oh, if I put a poppy vocal on top, this could be a nice little beachy song.”
MS: So what was the library that you were working from?
ZY: It was mostly CDs. I would go to Amoeba and buy whatever had cool cover art. The cover of one album had a guy on a sailboat, and he had on a white blazer with no shirt under it. He had like one album in ‘71 and got dropped, but I remember that album in particular. It had a song on it called “Centipede,” and it was the coolest Jimmy Buffett song you’ve never heard. Just those little things that people wouldn’t know.
MS: Putting little pieces together and building up a mood.
ZY: Yeah, four bars of something looped, and that was pretty much it. Maybe a little stuff on top, and then spending the most time writing a good vocal, a melody. But the verses and the choruses would have to change, obviously, because the loop was going through the whole song.
BY: I remember when you saw us play “High School Lover.” You were like, “He just plays one chord the whole time.” If you were a guitarist, you would never write that.
ZY: It’s all about hearing something that catches your ear, which is hard because you had to listen to three-and-a-half minutes of a terrible song to get to that.
The stage name of Ernest Greene, Washed Out was signed to Sub Pop after the success of two 2009 EPs High Times and Life of Leisure. Washed Out has since released Within and Without (2011) and Paracosm (2013), and is often associated with the chillwave movement, characterized by sampling, looping, synth, filtered vocals and simple melodies.
MS: I like the idea of making music in that way – sort of curating it or picking things that exist. Lyrically, you’re picking references or specific ideas and making a whole world out of it.
BY: I would recommend it to anybody who doesn’t want to get super into producing or recording but just wants to write good songs. We didn’t want to buy microphones and mic pianos and record drums. We wanted to do something simpler. You pay for it later when you have to play live (laughs), which has always been our Achilles heel.
MS: And when you have to figure out how to recreate all the samples in the studio.
BY: I remember when Washed Out came out, because all his stuff is sample-based too. It took him a while to get going live. You ask yourself, “How am I going to play these songs live?”