UTG INTERVIEW: Plastic Yellow Band

plastic yellow band

We recently had the pleasure of reviewing Plastic Yellow Band’s impressive debut album, Breathe Air. Offering a classic rock record with modern elements strewn throughout, PYB’s recent release spans many generations of influences, making for a widely accessible album for nearly any fan of rock music.

Shortly after spending many listens with Breathe Air, the man behind it all, Gerald Jennings, took some time to speak with us about his rich history with music, the origins of Plastic Yellow Band and his many plans for the remainder of the year. Read our conversation through the jump where you can also find PYB’s newest video for “Climate Change.”

The band’s name is obviously a play on Plastic Ono Band, and it’d be easy to pick out influences in your sound from that era, but I’m curious as to what bands or artists are most importantly influential to you. What were you raised on?

The Beatles, of course, were absolutely the most influential artists. Next for me was Jimi Hendrix. After that, almost every British band/artist invading America, including Eric Clapton with Cream, The Kinks, The Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, and Elton John. If it wasn’t British, it wasn’t rock music. In the ’70s I turned back to the US: James Taylor, The Eagles, Jackson Browne, Billy Joel. In the ’80s I was a solid fan of Bryan Adams. In the last decade I’ve been blown away by Steven Wilson and Porcupine Tree.

Do you remember a specific point in time where it clicked within you that you wanted to follow the path of a musician, or was that something that just developed over time? What would you say led you to want to get involved with music?

In the 6th grade I was one of four 11-year-old boys who, wearing Beatles wigs and dressed in collarless jackets sewn by our moms, pantomimed the hit Beatles song “I Should Have Known Better” on the stage in the school auditorium in front of the entire student body. I was John singing the lead vocal. Beatlemania had reached South Carolina.

And how did you get your start? What was the first thing you began pursuing as this became a huge interest to you?

My father paid for me to have guitar lessons. I learned the notes and basic guitar chords but stopped going after about 6 months. I started sitting by the record player to listen and learn how to play the songs that interested me. By the time I was 15, I was in a local band as the lead guitarist and lead vocalist because I could play “Purple Haze” and “Foxy Lady” and sing like Paul McCartney. My parents co-signed with me on a recording contract with a local label since I was a minor, but that deal never got any traction because the owner had a studio and a dream but no contacts. By age 19 I was married and having kids so pursuing other record deals became less important.

And what can you tell me about ISI Studios and how that came about?

I have been recording my original songs since around the age of 14, starting with a two-track TEAC tape recorder and the microphone that came with it. With my father’s help again, we built a small studio in my parents’ backyard on a concrete pad which, prior to that, had been used for basketball. After I left home, I designated one room in every house that I lived in as the recording studio. I finally built a studio off-site in 1998. After selling my business in 2006 I enlarged the studio (it is now about 3,000 square feet) and began spending more time in it. So, ISI Studios first came into being on a small basketball court in my parents’ backyard many years ago.

What was the impetus behind this particular project? How did Plastic Yellow Band come to fruition, and where does the “yellow” part come from?

For decades I made demo recordings of my original music. In 2011 I decided it was time to produce a master recording of an album of my music and go public with it. I’ve had many people and other musicians over the years tell me that I wrote good stuff, so I guess it’s time to find out if that’s true.

Because I’ve worked with various studio musicians over the years, John Lennon’s concept for Plastic Ono Band seemed ideal for me. The idea is that the band is the songwriter (for PYB that’s me) producing his or her original music with whoever they’re playing with at the time. That was Lennon’s Plastic Ono Band….that’s my Plastic Yellow Band. Why “yellow”? I like the song “Yellow” by Coldplay, and it adds something visual to the name. It’s gotten kind of crazy though now with the yellow drums, yellow piano, yellow guitar, yellow shoes, etc.

Fans, for the most part, still welcome new material from their favorite bands from decades past, but did you have any hesitation in forming a “classic rock band” in a modern age? Did you feel that it may be difficult to gain a fanbase or catch the attention of those you hope to be interested?

In general, I actually don’t think that the new material from “favorite bands from decades past” is anywhere near the quality of their earlier material. I don’t know why that is. In theory, their music should be evolving and getting better and better. I wonder if in the early years their music originated from spontaneous creativity and as time goes by maybe they try too hard? I believe that what I can create now after all these years is classic rock that you haven’t heard before….new classic rock. As far as gaining fans, well, I believe that if you like classic rock you will like PYB’s “new classic rock.”

So what can you tell us about your debut album, Breathe Air? How would you describe it as a whole to a potential listener? Are there any specific lyrical themes throughout it?

I would say that it is rock music, and the kind of rock music that you will appreciate best if you listen to it as an album. Start with track 1 and go all the way to the end. You’ll hear different styles–guitar rock, rock piano ballads, acoustic rock, album rock, heavily produced rock, simple rock productions. You won’t hear the same style song after song. A lot of people expect that in an album: a consistent sound, same players, same instruments all through the album. I need more variety. When The Beatles’ White Album was released, I loved the fact that you had no way of predicting what the next track was going to sound like. But it worked–it just worked. As far as lyrical themes go, the album touches on personal relationships, environmental and political issues and overcoming self-doubt and depression — “crawl into the sunlight, and breathe air.”

Apart from maybe the updated production, it really does sound like an album that would have come out of the ’60s or ’70s which is fantastic. Were there any specific techniques or ideas you wanted to really focus on to make that happen?

No, I think it happened because I am from the ’60s and ’70s, writing original music that would have been appropriate for those times, and that I think is appropriate for today because it’s the classic style of rock music.

Now that it’s been out for some time and you’ve had a chance to let it breathe so to speak, how has the reception been overall? Has it got the attention you had hoped for?

The reception and album reviews so far have been fantastic. I’ve had unbelievably great reactions from those who have listened to the CD and taken the time to comment. Hopefully more and more classic rock fans will continue to learn about us and our debut CD, Breathe Air.

Your video for “Climate Change” is really well done. What inspired the ideas for that and where was it filmed? The locations were really beautiful.

Bryton Entertainment, a local video production company, did a great job filming the video at locations in the Aiken-Augusta area of South Carolina and Georgia. The actress Jacki Hill shines in her roles as the young woman and Mother Earth. The song “Climate Change” is an allegory using environmental language and concepts to describe a failed human relationship. So the video represents both a decaying personal relationship and the failing relationship between mankind and our planet. Hopefully, it will make people think about the future we are leaving for our children. Keep in mind that my home is less than a half-hour’s drive to one of the largest nuclear waste sites in the country. Check out DontWasteAiken.com for more information.

Do you have plans for the next single or more videos for this album?

Yes, glad you asked! We just finished a music video for “Nervous Stuff,” which we hope will also attract some attention to environmental causes. Also, we just started filming a music video for “She’s My Woman,” which we hope will attract some attention for PYB! And some great tunes will be ready later this year or early next year for CD #2.

So overall, what’s the rest of the year looking like for Plastic Yellow Band? Beyond working on new material, do you have any tour plans, or are you working on anything else outside of PYB?

PYB is recording new material at ISI Studios and producing the new music videos. Touring is not an option right now. I get asked a lot about touring and tour plans so let me give you my views on touring and playing live. Honestly, while the gratification one receives from an appreciative audience is truly an unbelievable high, touring and playing live takes tons of time, energy and focus away from my first love, which is being a recording artist. Think Sgt. Pepper’s or Hendrix’s Electric Ladyland; in the ’60s and ’70s you couldn’t reproduce those sounds live on stage. And in the studio as a teenager I could flip the tape over and create a backwards guitar track. Recreating such interesting studio productions in a band with two guitars, bass and drums was impossible at the time. Of course, with today’s digital effects and midi, all things are possible, but for me the die was cast…studio production was the thing and so it remains. I understand that to make a living in the music industry now as an artist you’ve got to tour–the CD promotes the tour now, not the other way around. But for me, none of this is about money. It’s about what I love doing: getting the music out of my head and flowing through the speakers. I’ve delayed focusing on that process for far too long. It’s time to produce.

Brian Leak

Editor-In-Chief. King of forgetting drinks in the freezer. Pop culture pack rat. X-Phile. LOST apologist.
You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.