Sounds x Interview: Yella Belly

Typically, the development of a band begins with writing a few songs, recording said songs, then performing them live at local clubs in the hopes to someday take them out on the road.  Brookly- based rock band Yella Belly, alternatively, had the incredible fortune of developing in reverse.  Having only formed a few months prior, Yella Belly was immediately asked to go out on tour in support of the infamous Johnny Marr (The Smiths, Morrissey, The Pretenders) right out the gate.  

Yella Belly is the latest musical project of singer/songwriter/guitarist William Thompson. Formerly the frontman of band Elliot & the Ghost, Thompson’s Yella Belly is his latest rock collaboration with fellow Elliot & the Ghost member Connor Jones and good friend Jacob Hiebert.  

Having just returned home from their tour with Johnny Marr, released two tracks described as “equal parts Texas grit and New York energy,” Thompson took the time to answer all of our questions about their latest tour and musical incarnation.  

First thing most obviously, how was your tour with Johnny Marr??

An absolute blast. We just started the group a couple of months back, so it was pretty wild putting the whole thing together, writing a new batch of songs, doing some work in the studio, and getting them a show worthy for those big crowds. It was a whirlwind with the band, writing and rehearsing, all really exciting. So of course, on the first night in Rhode Island, we were shaking backstage right before going on. We’d all been in bands and played bigger shows before, but not like this – in a brand new group at our first show, with all un-road tested material in front of all Johnny’s fans. After the first song though, the nerves went away and we rocked it. It all came together, and we made a ton of friends at the shows. 

Did you have any favorite shows or clubs?

We loved playing College Street Music Hall in New Haven, CT and Fete Music Hall in Providence, RI. There was something special about that Rhode Island date, maybe because it was our first real show, all the nerves, and energy, I dunno. Also, being able to watch Johnny play right after us each night was a genuine pleasure. Big parties, and lots of drinks after those shows.

How did you all get to open for Johnny Marr after only just forming the band? 

I met him a couple years ago through his publicist, and we became buds. Every time he comes through New York we always like to say hi and catch up about family and what’s going on with each other’s music. When I told him about Yella Belly, he extended the invite to come support him on the road supporting his newest album. Couldn’t say no!

Of course not! Do you have a favorite tour moment or funny on-the-road story? 

Well our guitarist (Jack McLoughlin) wound up leaving half his gear behind in New York… We didn’t realize until a couple hours before we’re supposed to go on in Providence. And I don’t know how we pulled it off, our friends who were driving up to catch the show managed to turn around, get into our rehearsal room, and deliver it to us like 30 minutes before we went on. That one might still be too fresh to laugh at haha. Honestly, the band is a bunch of wacky dudes, so pretty much every minute there’s something stupid and funny happening. 

That sounds like such a stressful experience, but also one of those stories you will never, ever forget.  You all recently released two tracks, “Bad Dog” and “Last Days” – Where did you record them?

We knew we needed to try and get something out sooner than later, so we booked time at Degraw Sound in New York where we cut the ‘Bad Dog / Last Days’ double A-side. I really value working with the owner of Degraw, Ben Rice. We had both songs done in a couple days and out in time for the shows. Working that quick in the studio was way outta my comfort zone, but that’s always a good thing I reckon. 

What was the inspiration behind those two tracks?

Lots of times I feel driven to different characters and stories, so some of my songs aren’t necessarily about what I’m going through per-say, or maybe just a teensy bit. I guess it’s a lot of inspiration from old country tunes and that style of storytelling. Still very much inspired by Merle Haggard, Loretta Lynn, Townes Van Zandt, Wille, Dolly Parton, Hank Williams and on and on. So Bad Dog, I wrote in that vein, about a fella, I might or might not know, whose done some dastardly deeds, all the while unaware and totally blind to his own dastardliness. Last Days was a personal one. Toxic love story about an ex, typical hahaha. 

Yella Belly is such an interesting band name, how did you come up with it?

I was driving to the studio to finish work on a tune for Elliot & The Ghost, a band I’d been fronting for a few years. And on the drive, ‘Gimme Some Truth’ by John Lennon was on the radio. There’s that line – “no short-haired, yellow-bellied, son of tricky dicky’s, gonna mother hubbard soft soap me…..” and I was like “damn, best lyrics”, and then, “Yella Belly.. that’d be a funny band name” And by the time I reached the studio, I’d decided that Elliot & The Ghost was over, and I was making a band called Yella Belly.  

Ah, a John Lennon fan of course! Are you planning to play any local Brooklyn/NYC shows coming up?

Right now, it’s all about writing more Yella Belly music. We’re playing an intimate set at the Brooklyn Bridge Park Summer Stage July 19th but be on the lookout before then! 

Check out Yella Belly’s tracks below and make sure to catch them July 19that Brooklyn Bridge Summer Stage! 

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