Band To Watch: Yung
21-year-old Mikkel Holm Silkjær named his first band for a Big Lebowski reference, which gives you a sense of the kind of left-field humor and existential darkness that inhabits his particular breed of melody-driven punk. Yung is not Silkjær’s first band, but it’s the one where he put all the songs that didn’t fit anywhere else, the ones that felt too self-driven to try out in a group setting. Raised by two music obsessives, his initial impulse was to avoid music all together. That adolescent rebellion lasted until he was about 16 and then quickly melted away, re-emerging as an insistent, hooky, and bright strain of punk rock.
For the last five years or so, Silkjær has been writing and recording songs at home as Yung. No one else even knew about his growing body of work until Silkjær’s dad stumbled upon the songs after borrowing his son’s laptop during an auspicious trip to New York City. About two years ago, Yung transitioned from studio project to live band, and Silkjær was joined by Frederik Nybo Veile on drums, Tobias Guldborg Tarp on bass, and Emil Zethsen on additional guitar. But the songs remain decidedly Silkjær’s, and he sings them with the kind of possessive urgency shared by great punk songs of any identity.
After releasing a few limited-release EPs in their native Denmark, Yung headed out on tour and began to gain international attention for their incessantly catchy, furious, and melodic punk. Their debut full-length, Falter, came out in Denmark, and a truncated version of it was released earlier this year as the Alter EP. Now, they’re releasing a collection of songs that Silkjær wrote after their initial foray into touring, a six-song EP called These Thoughts Are Like Mandatory Chores, which comes out this Friday, 9/18. We’re streaming it ahead of the release, along with an interview with Silkjær about his slow, steady emergence as an important part of the growing Danish punk scene, how growing up can be a chore in its own right, and why he’s just as committed to running his own record labels as he is to making music.
STEREOGUM: It seems like you a long history with music, largely because of your parents and their involvement. Are they still active in music?
SILKJÆR: Yeah, I grew up surrounded by music. My dad [Per Silkjær] has always played music, namely in Studson, and my uncle has a record label and a record store in Copenhagen called Repo Man Records. He’s always been a part of the DIY scene in Copenhagen. My mom used to be really active at a venue like where she grew up and she’s also really active at a venue in my hometown now in Aarhus. I’ve always been surrounded by music so it’s a pretty natural thing for me.
STEREOGUM: Was Yung your first attempt at making music on your own?
SILKJÆR: No, my first band was this straight-up hardcore band called Urban Achievers as a reference to The Big Lebowski. I didn’t form my first band until I was 16 or 17, because up until then I didn’t really want to play music because it was such a big part of my family’s lifestyle. I didn’t want to be like the rest of my family, a typical teenage thing. I fronted my first band around then and I’ve been playing music ever since. I started playing guitar when I was 10, but I always would play it just for myself. I also play drums, because when I was really young because my dad used to bring me to the rehearsal space and I’d watch his bands rehearse and sometimes I played along on another drum set.
STEREOGUM: A really interesting part of your backstory to me is that your dad stumbled upon your music as Yung by accident. Can you tell me how that happened?
SILKJÆR: When I turned 18 my parents gave me a trip to New York City. So I flew over there with my dad and we spent a few days in New York. One evening I went to bed really early, I usually went to bed really early because I was tired and jet-lagged. My dad stayed up to listen to the new CDs he bought, and we only brought my computer, so he borrowed my computer. That’s when he stumbled over a bunch of songs I had recorded. The next day he asked who the band was, because I think he could recognize some of the riffs. Back then, I still lived with my parents and I used to play a lot of acoustic guitar in my room, which probably really annoyed my parents because I used to play them over and over when I was at home. So he put two and two together.
STEREOGUM: So you technically started Yung about five years ago then? Or you started recording the songs then?
SILKJÆR: Well, after a while I got kind of tired of playing straightforward hardcore punk with Urban Achievers, and I started writing some other songs and they didn’t really fit into that band. I called those songs Yung because that was my nickname.
STEREOGUM: How’d you get the nickname?
SILKJÆR: From my roommate Casper. We met six years ago. Back then I was 15 and he was 19 or 20, so he called me “young short” because I was younger than him and I’m not really a tall guy. So my nickname was young short, and I figured I would call the project Yung because that seemed personal to me.
STEREOGUM: So how did Yung transition from your home recording project to full-fledged live band?
SILKJÆR: After a few years I had quite a lot of songs, and I wanted to play those songs live with a band. I wanted to play with a band, or with some people that I didn’t know that well, because up until then I had only played with my really good friends. I wanted to take this project in a new direction. I knew some guys from another local Aarhus band I really liked called Snare Drum, I knew their bass player Tobias Guldborg Tarp and their drummer Frederik Nybo Veile. They still play, actually. I knew they were good musicians so I asked them if they wanted to join the band. I started playing together with them and Emil Zethsen on guitar in September 2013.
STEREOGUM: We’re premiering your new EP These Thoughts Are Like Mandatory Chores so let’s talk a little bit about that. This is technically Yung’s third release?
SILKJÆR: The first thing we recorded together was a self-titled 7-inch EP with four songs — “Creeps,” “Miss That Tree,” “Thorn City,” and “I’ll Find You In The Woods.” Two or three months after that, we recorded our first album, which is called Falter, which was originally released here through a local Danish label called Mastermind Records. And the EP that came out this year, Alter, is like an EP version of that album.
STEREOGUM: So do you consider These Thoughts Are Like Mandatory Chores as a continuation, or as different in some way?
SILKJÆR: We recorded Falter, then the week after that, we went on like week-long tour in Europe, and when we came back from that tour, I started writing these new songs. I wanted to write a bunch of songs really quick for some weird reason. So about four or five months later, I had 14 new songs. Then we went on another tour, and when came back from that tour, we recorded those 14 new songs. Six of those songs are on this EP.
STEREOGUM: I love the title of this EP, because I love the idea of doing chores and growing up and grumbling through them. I remember that! And to translate that idea to something like the thoughts we have, as though they’re something we are just required to go through is such an intriguing juxtaposition.
SILKJÆR: It seems like when you’re growing up, and when you’re young, you have a lot of existentialistic parts of yourself. When you’re young it seems like you’re the only one in the whole wide world who can have those thoughts. But you’re not at all. Those thoughts are basically mandatory for everybody who grows up, and at some point you realize that. You go through a bunch of different phases and experience a bunch of different emotions, and it seems like those emotions and those feelings are just mandatory.
STEREOGUM: I think that’s one of the best things about music is it shows us that we are not alone. It’s like you said, you think you’re the only one going through these experiences, then you’ll hear a song and realize that people all over the world feel the exact same way as you. Which can be super comforting. Actually, the first song that I heard by you guys, and the one that totally drew me in, was “Nobody Cares.” That one really resonated with me, so I wanted a ask you a little bit about writing that one, or what that song means to you.
SILKJÆR: Actually, it’s a kind of funny story. That was the second song that I sent to Tobias and Fredrik when I asked if they wanted to join the band. No, that’s not true actually. The first song I sent to them was “Don’t Cry.” Then they were like “That sounds really good, yes, let’s meet up and rehearse.” So I was really stoked because that was one of the first times I sent my music to other people, and then I wanted to write another song they would be stoked about, so I went to the rehearsal space and recorded “Nobody Cares.” After I recorded it, I was like, “Damn, that’s a fucking shitty song, man,” and I didn’t really want to use it. Then one night, I was really drunk and I came home from a bar or a show, and since I was drunk, I figured, what the hell, I’ll send that song to the other guys. So I sent it to them and they ended up really liking it, and so did a lot of other people.
STEREOGUM: You’re also involved with some local labels, including your own Shordwood Records. What’s the story behind that?
SILKJÆR: I started that record label about two years ago with my flatmate Casper — the same guy who came up with the nickname Yung. I started that record label basically because it was easier to put out records by myself. So we figured, why not start a record label? The first thing we put out was a 7″ record with a local band called Bedbugs who are some friends of ours. I think we’ve put out like five or six releases, two cassette tapes and three or four vinyls, and we have some new stuff coming up as well. And six months ago I started a new record label with my friend Matias Gulvad Jørgensen called 100 Records. That’s more of that’s like a conceptual record label, I guess — every time we release something, we only make 100 copies. We have a release coming out next week, a 12″ EP from a local band called Tilebreaker.
STEREOGUM: Does putting out other people’s music appeal to you as much as making your own? Is that something you’re gonna keep on doing even as Yung continues?
SILKJÆR: Definitely. I think it’s really rewarding to put out music that you appreciate, and if you find a band that you really enjoy, it’s a great honor to put music out so I’m definitely going to continue doing that.