Columbus foursome returns with 'Tuna Hair,' a feel-good album about death
“I wanna see you get healed,” Glenn Davis sings on “Get Healed,” a track from Way Yes' 2013 album, Tog Pebbles.
Fast forward to 2017: “Everyone I used to love is dead,” Davis sings on “Get Dead,” a track from the band's new album, Tuna Hair.
In between the two records, Davis made peace with death. “I was just like, ‘I am going to die, but when it happens, it's fine. I'm OK with it.' That was a big turning point in my life. I wasn't scared anymore,” said singer and bassist Davis, seated across from bandmates Max Lewis (percussion) and Travis Hall (vocals, guitar) at a bagel shop in Clintonville. (Tim Horak of Van Dale also plays percussion in Way Yes.)
Davis' new outlook on death shows up in other Tuna Hair songs, most unequivocally on “Ready to Die” (“There's nothing else you can do … I'm ready to die,” he sings). Hall, the other primary songwriter in Way Yes, also fixated on death in his songs, drawing from the experience of losing his mom at age 13 and the way that loss still reverberates through his everyday existence.
“[Death] just pops in my head: ‘Oh, shit. I'm gonna die. I'm gonna die. I'm gonna die,'” Hall said. “My stomach hurts a little bit, and then I'm like, ‘Ah, it's OK.'”
“That was me about 45 minutes ago in bed, before I got in the shower,” Lewis said.
“No matter what you're going through, anybody can relate to that,” Davis said. “We've all had instances in our past that haunt us or shape us and that bring us back to that theme. Sometimes it's hard to talk about, but it feels good to sing about.”
Way Yes didn't necessarily set out to make a feel-good album about death, but that's just what the group did, using hypnotic, major-key melodies; world-music rhythms; liquid guitar licks; slippery synthesizer, and chirpy samples to make off-kilter pop that feels steeped in the precarious nature of life but still manages to celebrate the act of human existence, however temporal it may be.
In the four years since Tog Pebbles, the bandmates also became mired in problems with their previous label and manager, and the ongoing issues sometimes made it a struggle to enjoy playing in Way Yes. “It was just like, ‘This isn't fun. This isn't why anyone wants to be in a band or make music,'” Davis said. “I kept thinking, ‘As soon as we get the money we're owed, we'll be able to fund this record, and everything will be great.' Finally, we were like, ‘We're not getting this money, and we have to be at peace with that.' … It was so draining. I felt powerless.”
Davis was also blindsided by a divorce, an experience he chronicled on 2016 solo album Waves & Webs. Recording and releasing the album separate from Way Yes allowed Davis to regain some sense of control over his music. California-based Gold Robot Records released Waves & Webs, and though Way Yes initially intended to self-release Tuna Hair, Gold Robot is now releasing the album digitally, and recently SlyVinyl signed on to press Tuna Hair on vinyl. To celebrate the album's digital release, Way Yes is playing at show at Spacebar on Saturday, Oct. 21.
With Lewis relocating to Colorado soon, the future of Way Yes is a bit uncertain, but the bandmates said they've become comfortable with ambiguity. And the band's digital discography is finally back in its own hands. “We didn't get the money back,” Davis said, “but we got our songs back, and that felt really good.”