Foreign Concept: UK duo Yr Poetry seek their own spotlight with EPs subscription series

Instances of side projects shedding the albatross of second-tier status seem rare, but distinguishing his relatively young combo from his better-known work is not the biggest challenge Yr Poetry’s Alexei Berrow is eyeing right now.

With yesterday’s release of the first of three EPs planned for 2017, the UK duo’s fronter and guitarist — who holds down the same jobs in veteran guitar-pop quartet Johnny Foreigner — is hoping fans will re-think what it is they are paying for when they pay for music.

In addition to the de rigueur pay-what-you-want Bandcamp download for its thrilling new EP One Night Alive, Yr Poetry began offering Monday a £20 subscription (that’s about $25 USD) that encompasses that, the two future EPs, “the kind of bonus content suitable for a modern internet-based pay-cult, and the warm embalming glow of knowing you’re both directly investing in [your] culture and helping us sleep easier,” the press materials quip.

Berrow believes Yr Poetry’s plan actually offers the band additional artistic freedom, too.

“The idea of people just paying us, and getting the songs as a by-product, frees us up to take whatever route we want,” Berrow tells Vanyaland, “as long as people feel like they end up with £20 worth of content [or] media.”

Subscriptions for rock acts may sound like an unusual idea, but they are not new. Last year Florida emo four Dikembe launched a scheme similar to Yr Poetry’s, and elder statesmen Todd Rundgren, Robert Fripp, and The Smithereens’ Pat Dinizio each offered subscriptions at the turn of the century. Berrow dubs his band’s plan an experiment for a world in which paying for and downloading music seem to be almost archaic behaviors.

Yr Poetry marries together two solo projects, Berrow’s slowcore-leaning Yr Friends and Johnny Foreigner drummer Junior Elvis Washington Laidley’s more electronic Fridge Poetry. The resulting Frankenstein’s Monster isn’t dramatically dissimilar, sonically, to Johnny Foreigner, although Berrow always writes songs with a specific project in mind, and he feels strongly that Yr Poetry has honed its craft so keenly, particularly in the last six months, that they now stand on their own four feet. As evidence, he points to the duo learning to optimize the dynamics of a guitar/drums act, and — perhaps more subtly — the distinctions also include a different approach to songwriting for Berrow.

“Lyrically, I feel like Johnny Foreigner has to be almost debilitatingly honest/accurate,” he explains, “whereas [with Yr Poetry] I don’t feel that pressure to diarise myself.”

Yr Poetry already have a track record, having self-released earlier EPs of cracking indie rock in 2016 and 2014 respectively (Johnny Foreigner released their most recent two LPs into North America via Philadelphia’s Lame-O Records, which is also home to hitmakers Hurry and Thin Lips). All three Yr Poetry EPs released in 2017 will hang on a theme, which has been fertile songwriting territory for Berrow for years.

This first EP includes four guitar-led bangers and closes with an affecting ballad, with each song offering a glimpse into a single night Berrow and Laidley spent out in their native Birmingham, England last year. Yr Poetry’s Bandcamp carries the quip “[w]e are too old for nightclubs, but evidently old enough to write concept musicals.” A female friend of the band offers an alternate title for One Night Alive: “5 reasons girls have a shit time at nightclubs.”

Among the EP’s tales of lame DJs, dance-floor predators, and domestic abuse, fans will find the big anthemic sound characteristic of Berrow’s songwriting in the defiantly catchy chorus of “These Are Not The Days Of Our Lives” (“From dancefloors to bedrooms/The same chords that save you/This ain’t a rescue/Nu-uh”). The pretty, piano-led “It’s All There” most strikingly illustrates the darker side of clubland the EP contemplates with its chilling revelation of a friend offering up physical evidence of abuse at the hands of a show promoter that has booked the narrator’s band.

Berrow offers no hints about the two EPs that will follow One Night Alive, but reports that the second installment is already 80 percent recorded and the third about 80 percent written. “I’m sure we’ll have too many [songs] by the end,” Berrow muses.

That level of productivity isn’t a surprise; Berrow estimates he’s written 150 songs in the last decade — so, roughly 15 a year — but admits he writes fewer these days because of increasingly rigorous self-editing.

With Yr Poetry set to occupy Berrow and Laidley’s full collective attention for the entire year, the act will surely make progress toward binning side-project status. And with the subscription scheme offering some pretty enticing icing on the cake for fans, Yr Poetry are poised to move some subscriptions, too.

Featured Yr Poetry photo by George Demetriades.