Shedding the label of ‘just another singer-songwriter’ can be one of the greatest trials for budding voice-and-guitar musicians. Perceiving singer-songwriters as one indistinct clan of performers who lack a USP renders many artists invisible. Even the most gifted musicians can end up struggling to make themselves heard in the sea of acoustic guitar bearing vocalists.
This is something that 21-year-old singer-songwriter Yellowlees, real name Pete Rapp, is all too aware of. “As much as this sounds very cynical”, he says, “people might think ‘oh, singer-songwriter, right whatever, don’t care, they probably just know four chords and just play them and do loads of covers’”.
Keen to ensure that he avoids falling prey to the hindering label of ‘just another singer-songwriter’ and being swamped by that overcrowded market, the Lewis Watson and Frank Turner inspired artist recognises the importance of staying interesting.
“I try and not just play bar chords and open chords and the same stuff over and over again because I think there’s such a danger of falling into laziness”, Yellowlees explains. He adds, “I just think the golden rule is, ‘don’t be boring’”.
One way that Yellowlees manages to keep his sound fresh and distinctive is by allowing his music to be flavoured by his other great love in life: the theatre.
“I’m an actor-musician”, he explains. “I try to do a lot of acting, theatre-making and screen drama, as well as composition and sound design for shows in the theatre. And I think that influences [my music] quite a lot.
I try to be a bit theatrical and tell stories and create characters and really perform my songs and give them life”, he says. “It’s a whole world inside a song; it’s not just this audio track, you know?”
The “world inside” Yellowlees’ songs is an inviting one. Expressed most eloquently in his EP Homemade, Yellowlees has a knack for creating a homely, intimate atmosphere with his music.
One such technique for this is the inclusion of short interludes in some of his tracks; on the Homemade EP, “Addiction”, “Brother”, and “Education” all feature short prefaces and outros peppered with chat or laughter.
Yellowlees explains his choice to leave these in the final recordings: “I just really liked this idea that if a sound is going to be stripped back, which it is, then we might as well go the whole hog and really commit to this homemade vibe, and make it sound like it is homemade, and leave in some of the random bloopers and outtakes and things.
It felt like it was just very homely, like, ‘step into my world for a little bit, step into my home, I want to welcome you into who I am, who I can be and who I was at this time’”.
Not only does this technique give Yellowlees’ music a very organic, raw quality, but it also helps to give further insight into some of the personal relationships explored in his songs.
“A lot of the stuff that I write about is about relationships. Whether that’s relationships between people, between myself and the world, or myself and myself, whatever. It all comes back to links between myself and other things, other people and other places. So [by leaving those bits in] you get a little snapshot of some of those relationships”.
This ‘homemade’ thread continues to weave itself through Yellowlees’ most recent single, “Heading West”. While the interludes of chat and laughter may be absent, the organic, homely feel is conveyed subtly through the guitar work – the raw and tactile sound of a hand scraping up and down the guitar neck is prominent throughout the song’s introduction, almost inviting you in and situating the listener right up close to the guitarist.
In fact, everything about Yellowlees, from the chatty interludes in his songs, to the hand-drawn album artwork, seems to glow with this sunny, homely quality, not least his stage name. “The name ‘Yellowlees’ actually comes from my mum. It’s my mum’s maiden name”, he explains.
‘Yellowlees’ has not always been the title under which Pete Rapp has performed, however. “For a long time I went by the name of Pedro, and that’s the name under which I released Eden and did a lot of gigging”, he says.
As a result of losing control of his social media accounts, he was forced into a change: “It may not have been how I wanted it to happen”, he reflects, “but it was good to have a fresh start. Practically speaking, [Yellowlees is] way better as a stage name, because Pedro could be so many things”.
For example, “I know there’s a footballer who, last time I checked, plays for Chelsea, and whenever you searched for Pedro, you got him instead”, he laughs.
“[‘Yellowlees’] was a lot more unique, but also felt a lot closer to home and closer to my heart, and that’s what a lot of my music revolves around. I try and keep my heart and soul at the core of things, so I definitely think it represents me more accurately these days”.
Indeed, ‘Yellowlees’, with its familial link and connotations of bright, summery colours seems to encompass the homely, intimate quality embedded in his music perfectly.
As well as summing up an artist’s sound and personality more eloquently than given names, Yellowlees explains how for him, stage names can also be used as a tool of emotional separation, or self-preservation.
“If I ever draw from my own personal experiences to write songs, as I often do, then it’s sometimes difficult to dive deep into things that you find still affect you, or maybe you haven’t quite processed all of them”, he says. “It can be difficult to revisit difficult times”.
Yellowlees explains that this was part of the reason why he chose to take a stage name, rather than perform under his given name. “I personally don’t think that I can perform something well if I don’t commit to it one hundred per cent, both emotionally and physically”.
He goes on candidly, “So by using a stage name, I can leave it all up on the stage and separate it from the outside world a little bit. As soon as I come off stage, I’m Pete again. And I don’t always need it, but if ever I do, there’s a little inbuilt defence mechanism there for me”.
“And the other [reason]”, he says lightly, laughing amiably, “is that I’m a pretentious wanker, so of course I brandish a stage name”!
Feeling more at home on stage than anywhere else, Yellowlees is currently gigging as much as his schedule allows.
“I’m a busy bloke, I work a lot and I’ve only just graduated from university as well but I do try and gig as much as I can. I’m gigging on the 20th of February in Guildford at the King’s Head pub for the GT Live Open Mic Sessions. And I’ve got a gig coming up in Norwich in April at the Bird Cage, and I’m playing at Solstice Festival in surrey in September”.
In between working and gigging as much as possible, Yellowlees is also working on his upcoming single. He tells us as much as he can: “It’s all very up in the air, but what I can tell you is that I’m working with the same producer as I did for Heading West, my most recent single”.
Giving us a taste of what’s to come, he continues, “It’s a little bit more chill and a little bit more focussed on a groove. It’s very catchy – I think anyway. I’m hoping to get it out midway through the spring, early summer”. He finishes by teasing, “Hopefully it wont be the only thing I release this year”.
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Words by Jodie Sheehan