“I’m an old man in a young man’s body,” says George van den Broek, better known as Yellow Days. Anyone who has spent some time soaking in the 18-year-old singer/songwriter/producer’s voice might agree. Though his psychedelic, lo-fi music paints a vivid picture of teenage life, it does so using the brushstrokes of a deep and heartbreaking voice that could belong to a man much older. With mournful cadences and ragged, passionate extremes, it’s a voice that colours everything he sings about with a kind of weary nostalgia, imagining the present, even as it happens, as the past.
George grew up in the leafy suburb of Haslemere, in Surrey, U.K., where he says he lives a “quiet life for an 18-year-old,” taking in the incredible views. He wanted to pursue music ever since, as a child, he learned about his grandpa’s stint as a saxophonist in a jazz band with a brief spell of success in the 1960s. The rest of his family is musical, too: his parents would often play piano and blast psych rock from Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin, and his two brothers exposed him to everything from Rage Against the Machine to Chris Brown.
As he hit his teens, George’s world was shifted by experimental, jazz-influenced pop artists like Thundercat and Tame Impala, and the grunge-y playfulness of Mac Demarco. His own music, he explains, aspires to be “the next generation of that music, pushing what they started.” But his all-time musical hero is Ray Charles. “He, for me, is the epitome of music. That’s what it’s all about — all of the honesty and rawness that I want to hear.” Learning guitar from his brothers and teaching himself, along with friends, to produce beats, George built himself a studio in his garden shed so he could fully immerse himself in creating his own sonic world.
It was between the ages of 14 and 16 that George created Yellow Days, and began writing the songs that would form his bluesy debut EP Harmless Melodies. “The aim was to encapsulate youth,” he reflects. “I wanted the whole thing to be about me growing up, and how it feels to grow up, the things you go through. Yellow Days itself means a yellow mist over your life, which you see through — it’s a metaphor for youth, and the extreme feelings you get. I write about those extreme feelings.” The release was the first taste of what to expect from a world-building artist who writes, produces, and designs everything himself. Interspersed with philosophical quotes on creativity from John Cleese, the EP’s kicked-back songs weave their way from a lazy Sunday afternoon jam, to missives that stare teenage loneliness and unrequited love in the face.
On his upcoming project Is Everything Okay in Your World?, out October 27 on Good Years, George is even more forthright and fearless when it comes to looking tough subjects in the eye. The title, he explains, is a phrase so frequently heard by “people who struggle with things — people who get anxiety, depression, people who just can’t quite get along. Basically on the project, each song is an answer to the question.”
Philosophical in nature, George is always thinking on a large scale. “I’ve always just had a genuine interest in the big questions in life,” he says. “A lot of people have always found it hard to handle, they don’t like to talk about things like that, they find it uncomfortable, but I’ve always searched for that kind of conversation.” After the next project, he hopes to release many more, with each taking a question (like Is Everything Okay…?) as its starting point. “The next [release] will respond to a different question, and then a conversation will go on, basically. My whole career will be a conversation. That’s what I’m working on.”