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Yellow Tie Guy: “Finding Joy in Misery”

by Keith Valcourt

Discovering new things is one of life’s greatest gifts. Whether it is food or love or music, the thrill of being exposed to something you were otherwise unaware of and now have become fascinated with is a feeling that can’t be manufactured. As a music editor I have the pleasure of not only discovering new music but also exposing it and sharing it with the public. Case in point? The unsigned indie band Yellow Tie Guy. Catchy hooks and uplifting lyric themes are only part of the picture. I caught up with the band’s leader Daniel Hill to discuss the band’s growth, the origins of the name and their latest single, “Jailbreak.”

Q:  How and when did the band start? 
A:  The band started in 2009 when I was working as the guitar sales manager at Hot Licks Guitar Shop in Maryland.  That’s where I met our original drummer and fellow recording engineer, Darren Guzzone, who now operates Belly Acres Studio in Southern Maryland. That’s also where I met Ralf Madrigal who was in the Air Force who took over live drumming duties for quite some time.  In a more roundabout way, that’s where I met my original guitarist Jason McKinney there.  He would come over to VVT Amplifier’s shop to test amps and talk engineering with my dad on the weekends.  At the time I was already playing bass with Mary Celeste in another project. We ended up recording that first record in a weekend.  Then for the year that followed I would go to Darren’s house 1 day a week for about a year to mix and finish that first record.  

Q: Where does the name YellowTieGuy come from?  
A: When I was working at Hot Licks, I would wear a yellow tie to work every day as kind of a gimmick.  A way to be remembered.  People would come in and say, “Hey it’s the Yellow Tie Guy.”  That gimmick started even before the guitar store.  I was involved in my local church and I wore a yellow tie at a youth camp event.  Four years later a visiting church that had been at the camp remembered me because of the yellow tie.  I thought about the ability of something like that to catch someone’s eye and stick with people was significant.  When I started doing solo acoustic stuff, I was timid about being Daniel Hill, so I made an alter ego of Yellow Tie Guy.  And that stuck with me.  The band at the time was too lazy to come up with something else.  So, it stuck. 

Original YTG Band with Mary, Jason, Daniel, and Darren - Photo by Richie Downs

Q: How many yellow ties do you own? 
A:  I only own 2 yellow ties now.  I’ve got a long necktie and a bowtie.  I’ve learned how to tie both a real necktie and a real bowtie.  But the shade of yellow I’m after for the gig is like circus clown yellow and they don’t make nice ties in that color.  So, I use a zipper or clip on yellow tie.   

Q: When the tie goes on do you become a different person?  
A: In a way putting on the tie does transform.  Because it can only capture a certain portion of what I’m about.  YellowTieGuy is one creative outlet the produces a certain kind of sound and vibe musically that isn’t there without the tie.  These days though I try not to wear the yellow tie for everything.  It’s a gimmick that has kind of run its course.   

Ralf, Daniel, Mary, and Jason - Photo by Richie Downs

Q: Is the lineup you have today completely different from when you started?  
A:  We joke that the lineup we have now is “D.C. Area’s Discount Supergroup.”  Besides me everybody else in the band has had some sort of long term committed relationship with another known band.  They have gone through life cycles of U.S.O. Tours and 9:30 Club gigs.  Kyle Crosby is the keyboardist and our newest member,  and heavily involved our studio engineering for our current projects. Jamie Rasmussen is the bassist, also contributing his photo and video talents. Eric Sanford is pulling double duty as drummer and percussionist. This version has credibility underneath them.  And for this line up feels the most like a band and less like me as a solo artist that brought in people to play with me.    

Q:  How has the band evolved?  
A:  It took a decade of releasing music as Yellow Tie Guy with a backing band to get to this point where band members have seen that this is a consistently quality project and it is worth sticking around for. Seeing it now has a cohesiveness that will see it grow even more.

Current band lineup with Kyle, Daniel, Jamie, and Eric - Photo by Jamie Rasmussen

Q: How would you define the band’s sound? 
A: I always look at Yellow Tie Guy as being “Alternative Rock.” The older I got people have told me that “Alternative” is now “Adult Contemporary.”  I’m a nineties rock junkie.  You hear a lot of that bleeding into what we do as a band.  Overall, we are fans of music and we incorporate a lot of different styles into our songs.  We don’t like to limit it to one style. We vary what we do so we won’t be labeled just one kind of band.  We can do something country-esk and do something that is kind of heavy. We’ve always fallen in between categories.   

Q: Has the pandemic made you more or less creative?   
A: I don’t think it has made me more creative.  I’m always working on something. Always in the zone.  The pandemic has forced us to refocus. The lack of the need to focus on a live platform has allowed us to focus on the recording we’ve been talking about for the last couple of years.  It jumpstarted the process.  We are all focused on the same thing at the same time.   

Q: One of the new songs “Misery” is a bit of a bait and switch.  It’s very hopeful and positive.   
A:  I wrote that song by myself.  It followed our single, “Information” which we had released in support of the Black Lives matter movement.  “Information” focused on how social media has become this all-encompassing theme and how people are living their lives by social media rather than sharing their living on it.  “Misery” comes out of that and I looked at the world around me and thought, ‘Maybe our problem is a philosophical one?’  Where we are all looking to express ourselves as these A-Type individuals.  We’re all supposed to have noteworthy things to share and talk about ourselves.  “Misery” flips that idea around and saying “I don’t want anything from if it means I’ve got to cause a population of people to feel miserable.  Whether that is the African American community, or the immigrants stuck on the Mexico/U.S. Border.  I feel like there is too much selfishness in the world right now.  That song is the antithesis to that selfishness.  Looking at other people’s plights and imagining yourself in their shoes.  Or imagining yourself to be a solution instead of part of the problem.    

Q: Who made the video? 
A: Jamie (Rasmussen) our bassist has photography and video experience outside of the band and he is responsible for the music video.  “Misery” was the first music video he ever made. We were really pleased with how it turned out and learned a lot from the experience we plan on implementing in the next video.

Q: Tell me a little about the band’s latest single: “Jailbreak.”  
A: We released it on Bandcamp on March 21st.  The official release date for Spotify and Apple music is May 7th.  “Jailbreak” was co-written with Jamie.  He had a friend in mind when he brought the concept it.  It’s about somebody who is working so hard with everybody’s best interests in mind who does so much for others but never sets aside time for themselves – to relax or have fun.  It’s about someone who gets trapped in the rigidness of the day to day.  The song is a reminder that we all must have some down time.  Whatever that means to you.  You can’t be 100% speeding forward all the time.  Although it was written with one person in mind, I think the theme of the song is something we can all relate to. 

Q: You also took a unique approach in marketing the song.  
A:  Our “Jailbreak” is we’ve committed to thirty days of total radio silence on social media.  Not posting.  No likes or comments. Taking a break from social media. Just taking focusing on our website. Creating a blog.  Updating our site more regularly. We’ve also created a Discord community to invite more personal engagement and prioritizing our mailing list where fans get a personally written weekly newsletter from me. The band is doing a fireside chat every Wednesday night. It’s a small group but I would rather hang out with 5 or 10 people on a regular basis to foster and grow that community than hoping to appeal to a mass audience with little opportunity to personally interact.

Q: When is the last time you played a live show?   
A:  The band has gotten together for studio time, but we have not done a live show since the pandemic began.  We’ve done a couple of “Stay At Home Sessions.” We’ve shot footage of us from different locations.  But we haven’t done a live show or even a live streaming show.  The band is excited to play live but livestreaming just isn’t the right platform for us.  I would rather build up the energy from the band’s perspective and focus on recording to get the rest of the music we’ve be working on done.  And we will debut it hopefully around the time we can get back out into the world again and play live for real.  Hopefully, we will be able to do a bit of a tour.   

Q: How do you survive as an indie band in today’s market? And what is the goal?   
A: When it comes to survival, financially speaking, the rest of the band has day jobs.  When there is income it comes to me because that supports my ability to continue to lead the charge for the rest of the band.  I would like to see more security in our ability to stretch. The goal is to see feasible processes to get the whole band to tour and to make a positive experience for the band and fans when everyone is together. And to keep releasing music on a regular basis. Our goal isn’t really to make money.  It’s more about trying to make an impact.  To reach as many people as possible with our music by focusing on one fan at a time. Growing the fans through real engagement.  Instead of just prioritizing social media mass marketing which hasn’t yielded the kind of experiences I think most of us are hoping to have.

Q: When will the new album be available?  
A: Ideally, I’d like to see it out in November. Right around my birthday and Thanksgiving. We’ll try to put it out before the new year.  There are four songs that still need to be ironed out. The band is going in regularly to do some tracking and working multiple songs at a time.  I think maybe a couple more sessions and some production work after that and it will be done. We will also continue to release singles and acoustic versions.  In addition, we have been capturing some stems and will try to get some DJs to do different remixes of the songs we have put out. We may even end up with a remix album by the time we get done.

YellowTieGuy’s new single “Jailbreak” is available now on Bandcamp and available on all other platforms May 7th.

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Keith Valcourt

Keith Valcourt is a Los Angeles based music and entertainment writer. He has interviewed thousands of celebrities in the worlds of music, film, TV and comedy for dozens of outlets including: L.A. Times, Washington Times, LFP Publishing, ChelseaCommunityNews.com, RetroRoadMap.com LaArtsOnline and more. Much More

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