Youth Code and King Yosef team up for “A Skeleton Key in the Doors of Depression”

A Skeleton Key in the Doors of Depression is a unique new collaborative album from Portland artist/producer King Yosef and LA duo Youth Code. It brings together Yosef’s trap-metal influences with the more electronic/industrial/EBM sound Youth Code is known for and expands into directions neither has gone before. It’s dark and abrasive but also very melodic in places. Vocal duties are shared between Yosef and Youth Code’s Sara Taylor, adding to the distinctive sound. In the following interview, Yosef discusses the making of A Skeleton Key in the Doors of Depression.

How did this project come together?

King Yosef: Basically, I’d been a fan of Youth Code for quite a few years, and then, randomly, Ryan [George] got ahold of me. I believe it was from their band Instagram account, and he was just was like, “Hey, I love what you’re doing. If you’re ever in my city, we should get together and hang out sometime.” And so I was like, “Wow, this is really cool. It’s crazy.” We eventually ended up meeting up, I think in 2018, maybe 2019. And then we just started chatting. I had so many questions for him. So we just stayed in contact. As the world started to shut down and we started to go into the whole COVID situation, we all started FaceTiming all the time and were just constantly on the phone, talking about music and stuff. We had worked on a couple of each other’s songs, for each other’s personal endeavors, and then Sara said, “Why don’t we just do an EP together?” And then from there, it just was so easy to write that we just kept going and ended up at eight songs.

What was the collaborative process like?

King Yosef: The way it kind of started out was that we gathered some stems for each other; ideas that maybe didn’t fit the mold for whatever Youth Code was or whatever King Yosef was. And then from there, we were going to see what we could finish. The first song to the whole album, “Claw / Crawl,” was the first song I worked on that Ryan sent me anything for. And instantly, once we were done with just the instrumental, I was like, “This has to be the opener to the album.”

Having talked together a lot about music prior to this, did you have a firm sense as to what you wanted to accomplish with this project?

King Yosef: I think the thing was that we were just in this place where there were not as many rules, and there were things that we couldn’t do on our own. Maybe it doesn’t fit the mold of what I do or what they do. This is a safe spot to kind of explore some new ideas and see what happens. We just understand each other so well that as soon as we started writing, it was just like, “Oh, this is what this is going to be.” It was as simple as that.

Did you have any challenges when it came to actually collaborating?

King Yosef: Sara and I were both pretty nervous to get to the vocal aspect of this because she and I both work pretty solo on things.  She works with Ryan, but I don’t know how much she shares her lyrics with Ryan. And then for me, I work completely by myself. So we were anticipating being together in a room and being like, “Okay, well now we have to talk about what we’re writing about.” We didn’t know if everything was going to match. And then as we started getting into everything, I was so incredibly surprised with just how easy our process together was. “Claw / Crawl” was one of the songs … It’s one of my favorite songs on the whole album, but  I’m still so excited about the way that came in, and the way Sara’s verse comes in for the first time. Her first moment on the record is one of my favorite things ever. And then we found our flow together and a lot of anxiety went away once we got to be together because it just meshed.

Once you started sending song stems back and forth, what was your working process like with the music?

King Yosef: Once we had started sending stems back and forth, things started moving really quickly. By the time we got to the point where I’d sent everything I could send back and then Ryan sent everything he could send back, we both were just like, “This is the song.” Most of the instrumentals we finished almost completely other than “Head Underwater.” That was the song that we had to revamp once we were in the situation of writing vocals. But a lot of the editing and all that stuff was done when Sara and I got together with the vocal tracks. For the most part, it was surprising, because for me, I’m a person who drafts and I redraft until the song’s completely different than the original demo that I put together. But with this album, most of these songs are the same structure instrumentally as when we wrote it. Once we called it quits on not being able to add anything more to that, that was it. And it was more or less said or done, and we just committed to it.

Was getting together to do vocals part of the plan all along, or did you try to do that long-distance as well?

King Yosef: No, actually, we thought that we were going to be able to do the vocals long distance. We thought that was what we were going to do. And as time went on, and we were both talking about the content that we were writing about, it just kind of felt like, “You know, let’s just get together and make this happen.” And it was definitely during one of the spikes of the pandemic when Sara traveled up to Portland, and we had just had some of the most insane forest fires we’ve had in years. So when she got here, the sky looked like a cigarette filter, and it just felt so of the time to get together and write music. It was not the initial plan, but once we did it together, it was like there couldn’t have been any other way.

Do you think want to perform this material live, once things get back to normal?

King Yosef: That’s definitely something we’ve talked about. Obviously, we can only give it so much thought at this exact moment in time. But with a couple of songs, especially after we were tracking vocals and sending demos back to Ryan, we were talking about, “Okay, maybe a live drummer, and then I can perform some of the synth stuff with Ryan while I’m not doing vocals, et cetera,” and kind of building the set together. It’s still definitely something we’re considering.

Did you dedicate a block of time to his album, or were you working on other projects at the time?

King Yosef: For me, I kind of tandem projects because I do a lot of production work for other people. But as far as personal music that would go into under the King Yosef moniker, I was working on absolutely nothing else. I had kind of gotten burnt out on working on my album and just had hit kind of a roadblock. So I had kind of in tandem been producing some stuff, but it was not even parallel. I was working on some pop tracks with a singer and then working on this at the same time. It was very much a different headspace. Once I was like, “Okay, I’m kind of over writing major chords and the same tempos, et cetera,” then I got the space to be a little bit more experimental and get a little more distorted and harsh with the Youth Code project.

I like how the album is very heavy and abrasive yet also has strong melodic elements.

King Yosef: Yeah. I think one of the biggest things that was really cool about us tracking in person is just that Sara is such a crazy vocalist; she is super inspiring to me. I love the way she performs and everything she does. So coming into the space where we were hanging out together every day, talking about everything, we’re talking about these lyrics. We got to the space where it was just like, “This sounds like it could use a singing chorus. Let’s just do it. Let’s just go for it and kind of build these ideas.” With most of the melodic content, I didn’t have it as far as writinggoes. Obviously, in mixing, but in writing, it’s all Sarah just coming and being like, “I have this exact melody in my head. I’m going to track it right now. And then we’re just going to build it.” And we would just sit and build these choruses from something she was humming 20 minutes beforehand.

Creatively, what do you feel you’ve gotten out of this project?

King Yosef: I have wanted to work with them for such a long time. As I said, we have demos where we’ve worked with each other’s solo music. But I think on the other side of things too, this is kind of a good platform for things to maybe not be so alien as we progress. Like a more melodic chorus in a Youth Code song is now something that’s not going to be so foreign to people after this record.  And maybe me with like a little, not necessarily losing all of the abrasiveness, but being able to go through a more pop structure format or something like that. These are things that kind of opened up the palettes for our personal music. I think that was one of the key elements of this, do what we want to do without feeling the restriction of like, “Oh man, it’s another record.”

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