Yahweh: Musical Youth

By recording the soundtrack of his move from small town to big city, <b>Lewis Cook</b> has created a brilliantly resonant debut album. <b>Nick Mitchell</b> talks to the young talent behind <b>Yahweh</b>

Feature by Nick Mitchell | 03 Apr 2009
  • Yahweh

Lewis Cook has a level-headedness that belies his youth. When most teenagers fly the family nest for the boundless freedom of university life, their first year away from home is spent drinking, watching daytime TV, attending the occasional lecture, boiling pasta, and more drinking. But the 18-year-old Cook – whose own nest-exit took him from the quaint Dumfriesshire town of Moffat to the bright lights and rain-sodden streets of Glasgow – actually did something productive with all that freedom: he recorded a debut album under his musical moniker, Yahweh.

While Cook admits that juggling an academic and musical career “can be hard, especially when we're busy and there are essays to be handed in”, the musical assignment he produced (titled Tug of Love) is a staggeringly assured debut. I ask him if people were surprised when they found out his age. “It's one of these things that can either act in your favour or be a hindrance,” he replies. “As much as there are the so-called benefits of youth on my side, there's always the risk of not being taken seriously. As a result it's not something I often mention to people... maybe I should be exploiting it more!”

Tug of Love can be read as a literal tug of love between the lively metropolis of his present life and the placid town of his upbringing: the first half of the LP is dedicated to Glasgow, the second to Moffat. “It's quite an introspective record in a lot of ways and I decided to try and relate its format to the kind of split life I felt I'd spent over the course of writing and recording it,” Cook explains. “Most of the sounds on the first side of the album are immediate, more up-tempo and mostly about experiences in Glasgow, whereas the sounds on the second half are more subtle and are about experiences when I lived in the country.”

Back “in the country” as a youngster, the lack of diversions led to many hours spent in his room “with headphones on playing around with different sounds”. That willingness to try out contrasting styles brought together elements of Mogwai’s minimal soundscapes and Boards of Canada’s tarnished electronica in his songs. But it is that other name-checked Scottish band of the past decade, Arab Strap, who are the closest musical relatives to Yahweh’s gutsy alt-folk. “When I was 14 I sent an e-mail to Aidan Moffat asking if my age would stop me from getting in to see their acoustic request show,” Cook recalls. “It was at Sleazy's in Glasgow so I couldn't get in but he sent me a letter with a couple of CDs. I was made up!”

Although Cook recorded almost the entire album alone in his bedroom, on an assortment of (pause for breath) guitars, maracas, drums, synths, sticks, toys, a programmer,  harmonium, glockenspiel, banjo, violin, sitar and stapler, Yahweh is a collective that swells in number for live shows. “Tug of Love was definitely a solo project and is to be viewed as a complete piece," Cook says, "but when we play live, the four of us are all part of Yahweh and everyone contributes to the re-invention of the tracks on the album.”

With two more releases “lined up in his head as concepts” and four years of study to look forward to, it looks certain Cook will have no trouble keeping busy. The only problem might be one or two rather eccentric fans, but that’s inevitable when you name your band after the English version of the Hebrew word for God. “Every so often I'll get a message opening with ‘shalom’,” Cook says. “There was a woman from America who was literally messaging me every day with pictures of her and her children and quotes from the Bible written below... that was pretty strange.”

Yahweh play Stereo, Glasgow on 11 April and Sneaky Pete's, Edinburgh on 20 June.

Tug of Love is out now, and is available from Yahweh's MySpace.