ORK POP REDUX! Chris Holmes & Yum-Yum

The pop classicist discusses his long-lost gem Dan Loves Patti, along with memories of the ‘90s and his experiences within the alternative rock milieu.

BY TIM HINELY

In the mid-‘90s there was a new breed of orchestrated pop band that were emerging, ork pop as some folks began calling it (or the more formal orch pop).  I myself fell in love with two records in particular, the S/T debut by Cardinal and a lesser-known record by a band from Kent, Ohio called the Witch Hazel Sound (later shortened to simply Witch Hazel) who had released 1995’s Landlocked. Both happened to be on Seattle label and Sub Pop subsidiary, Flydaddy).  Then, in 1996 and seemingly out of nowhere, came a record by a Chicago band called Yum-Yum that fit right in with the ork pop oddballs.

The mastermind was a gent named Chris Holmes whose name I had only known previously in a space rock band called Sabalon Glitz (love that name).  The record came out on a label called TAG Recordings which, I believe was part of the Atlantic label. I loved Dan Loved Patti and all of its sweeping grand gestures but after a handful of reviews and article mentions it seemed like the band, record and label all sort of ….vanished.

I was beyond excited this year to learn that the Omnivore label would be reissuing Dan Loves Patti with plenty of bonus tracks. That day came a few weeks back and the record is getting the second life is so richly deserves. The publicist, the always reliable Cary Baker, was more than happy to send some questions Holmes’ way and he answered them quickly and concisely, all about the history of this band known as Yum-Yum. Read on, dear readers. and enjoy.

BLURT: I know you had been in Sabalon Glitz…how did the idea for Yum-Yum come about?

HOLMES: When I was in Sabalon Glitz, I kept writing songs that didn’t fit with our sound, so I would set them aside and put them in a bucket to explore at a later date.  I love playing live in Sabalon Glitz, it was a great band, but I was limited in what kind of songs fit in with our sound.  Carla was a great live performer, and lead singer.  She had a very powerful and unique style.

While I loved playing in Sabalon Glitz, I was pretty miserable in the band.  Carla and I had dated and had a horrible codependent trainwreck of a relationship that made both of us miserable.  Some of the band members had some pretty bad drug problems and the energy around it was pretty dark.  After Carla and I broke up, I felt free to make music with Yum Yum and Ashtar Command.  It was like therapy for me.  I would enter a world of music that brought light into my heart, like the Zombies, Love, Nick Drake, and Bubble Gum Pop of the 60s.

After a while I had a couple of dozen songs in the that Yum Yum bucket, so I got some friends together from University of Chicago and put together a string section organized by Marina Peterson who played cello.  Her ex-husband, Brad Bordine, and I had started a modular synth kraut experimental rock band with me called Ashtar Command around the same time.

At the time, I just tried to surround myself with awesome people that I loved to be around and played music with.  We ended up recording around 12 songs with the string section up in my bedroom in the south side of Chicago (Kenwood/Hyde Park). It was like a dark cloud had been lifted and music was fun again.  I circulated the bedroom sessions on cassette tapes with friends around the Chicago music scene and eventually played started live shows with Yum Yum.

 

At the time did you feel any kinship with any of the other “ork pop” bands like Cardinal or Witch Hazel or did you feel more like out on an island?

I loved that first Cardinal record more than anything.  It was perfect.  There was also Plush from Chicago that came out on Drag City.  Their first 7” was a masterpiece.  I also loved the New Zealand Xpressway Records.  I had Love’s “Forever Changes”, Big Star’s “#1/Radio City”, Chris Bell’s “I Am The Cosmos”, Stereolab’s “Emperor Tomato Ketchup”, My Bloody Valentine’s “Loveless”, Van Morrison’s “Astral Weeks” and Zombies’ “Odyssey and Oracle” on repeat.  All of that music influenced me heavily.  I was program director at WHPK at the University of Chicago, so a lot of my life revolved around indie rock and pop.  Pavement, Yo La Tengo, Beat Happening, the Raincoats, Hazel, Sebadoh, Red Red Meat, so many of those bands gave me inspiration to make beautiful music.  It was music you could get high and filled with bliss by just listening to it.

What do you remember most about the recording of Dan Loves Patti? Any watershed moments?

I remember finding the two “Dan Loves Patti” guitars that I based the concept of the record around.  My drummer friend Kriss Bataille was working at a guitar shop in Evanston and called me up to let me know that the store had just gotten two amazing acoustics in; a Gibson Hummingbird (featured on the front side of the Dan Loves Patti album) and a Martin D25 (featured on the back side of the record).  They couldn’t sell them for anything near their true value because someone (apparently named Dan) had carved a bunch of crazy stuff in them.  I went over to check them out, and instantly fell in love with them.

Dan had carved his name in the top of the guitar “Dan Loves” and then carved the names of his ex-girlfriends and crossed them out.  He left only one name uncrossed, Patti.

At that moment everything kind of came together.  My Yum Yum songwriting process had been a way for me to help process my own depression and heartbreak.  It crystalized everything I had been trying to do with Yum Yum.  I wrote the rest of the songs for the record on and around those two guitars.  Thinking about the loves he had shared, and the pains he must have experienced in crossing those names out.  More than anything, it was all about the hope of loving again with an open heart, even though the scars from the other relationships were right there on the surface.  That what “Dan Loves Patti” is all about.

It’s songs about the beauty of those scars from heartbreak and opening up your heart to love again.  It’s a record about the rush of letting down your defenses and opening up your heart to with fall in love again even though you know it will probably end in heartbreak as well.  After all he ended up selling the guitars so things probably didn’t work out with Patti, but he never crossed her name out.

How did the reissue come about?  Did Omnivore contact you or vice versa?

That is a cool story.  Over the last 20 years, I moved more into producing, remixing and DJing.  I was djing and music directing a charity event with an organization called Art of Elysium I’ve worked with for the last decade.  A couple at the gala came up to me and told me they were my #1 fans.  I was confused; did they have the right Chris Holmes?  Were they Paul McCartney, Daft Punk or Radiohead fans?  It turns out that it was John Legend’s manager Ty and her husband Erik.  John Legend was the host of the gala last year.  Ty and Erik were massive “Dan Loves Patti” fans.  They had all the singles, and tapes of live shows and unreleased demos.  It blew my mind.  Erik wrote me the next day and said he had an idea for a reissue on Omnivore.  I was a massive Omnivore fan, from their work with Big Star, Chris Bell, and Wilco.  The next week he linked me up with the wonderful Cheryl from Omnivore, and we got together and talked about music.  It was amazing and overwhelming to sit at a table with Erik and Cheryl.  Their combined music knowledge is absolutely encyclopedic.  It was such an amazing honor for me to do anything with Omnivore.  As a music fan, I love what they do so much.

 

I think some of the bonus tracks are fantastic and I’m surprised a few of them didn’t make it onto the record. 

Most of the bonus tracks included were meant to be a part of the second Yum Yum record, which never happened.  Predictably there were a lot of massive changes with Atlantic as soon as I signed, as is the case with every major label.  Focus shifted there from Yum Yum on to Ashtar Command, because they believed it had more commercial potential I guess.  I worked with some really wonderful people there, especially John Rubeli, Bobbie Gale, Darren Higman, and Janet Billig.  While it wasn’t ideal, it was an amazing experience and I learned so much from it all.

 

How were the live gigs received? Did you have any string/horns during them?  

The live shows were great, especially in Chicago.  We had a string section with Marina, Darcy, and Hilary on strings, Jim Newberry on bass and organ, Mike Kirts/Kriss Bataille on drums, and several female singers and finally Barbara Gretsch who sang vocals on the record.

At the time the Chicago music scene was pretty angry, hard and testosterone driven with bands like Jesus Lizard and Shellac.  We would dress up in pink bunny rabbit outfits and play soft love songs.  We had some amazing times.  It was pretty difficult to take on tour because we didn’t have a big tour support budget, so we eventually went on tour with some bands as a 5 piece with guitar/vocals, viola, bass/organ, drums and backup vocals.  It was hard to capture the lushness of the recordings with the stripped-down lineup, but it was fun.  My favorite show ever was opening for Phranc, in LA as she did her Neil Diamond tribute.  We had a massive party afterwards with dozens of drag queens at the Roosevelt Hotel, and the biggest fruit basket I’d ever seen (a gift from our manager Joe Shanahan on the release of the record).  I have great memories of those times.  We met a lot of amazing people on our travels.

 

How do you feel about the record 20 years later? Is it weird to see it back on the shelves?

It feels wonderful that the record has a second life.  It was caught in a weird period between the birth of digital streaming and the death of the major labels.  After TAG (the sub label at Atlantic that released the record) folded, most of the Yum Yum records ended up in warehouses and never saw the light of day.  It’s a beautiful record that captures a very special period of that time and my life.  I had forgotten how much I loved those songs.  It’s a joy to share it all again.

 

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