Interview with Berklee’s The Yesberger Band


Photo by Tammy Lamoreux

Berklee trio, The Yesberger Band, wraps up their first-ever West Coast tour this week with a final stop in Seattle. The Yesberger Band includes singer/songwriter Devon Yesberger, drummer Gabriel Smith, and bassist Spencer Stewart. Their jazz-pop tunes, rich with catchy grooves and melodies, are deftly poetic and sincerely positive. On his way up the coast, Devon sat down to chat with us about the band’s newly released Bad Weather EP, their experience opening for Bobby McFerrin and the Yellowjackets, and the frustrations they faced in booking their first tour.

Tell us about your band; how did you all meet and how long have you been playing together?

We met at Berklee, although I knew Spencer for a while because we did some like all-state jazz programs together and kept in touch ‘cause he’s also from Washington. … And then I guess at the very end of our semester we both kind of ran into Gabe … I was like “Sweet, Gabe, you sound really good on that Cajon, you should play with me and Spencer, play some of my tunes.” And so we just started jamming in ensemble rooms at Berklee.

You started off as a solo artist just writing all of the songs by yourself. How do you think they have affected your sound?

I wouldn’t even say that I was much of a solo artist then because I only had a couple songs and I didn’t actually start considering myself a songwriter until I had a band and I had a reason to write. So they kind of helped me you know, get into the groove so I could start writing.

So is it a collaborative effort, or do you still write the songs alone?

I definitely write the songs alone, but the grooves and the arrangements and you know just the general feel and attitude behind the song, that’s definitely a collaborative effort.

Tell us about the Bad Weather EP, what was the process like?

It was kind of fun ‘cause it was so low-budget and it was so independent. I definitely learned a ton from the process so it was cool getting a chance to kind of self-release an EP and handle as much of it as I could. It started by just going to Wellspring Sound in Acton, Massachusetts for I guess over all we did two sessions … in Spring semester and then right after school got out we did two full days at the studio to finish all the recording.  … We did all the band stuff but no vocals, no extra instruments or anything. So that was how we started I guess and then I actually did all the vocals on my system with my mic and everything. And I engineered the violin and the horns and stuff so, it was kind of super low-budget but then (we) worked with Berklee students to engineer the session at Wellspring and Berklee students to mix it so, it all came together really quickly, kind of on a short span of time because we had the tour coming up in June and we had to get it out before we had our big show, so we literally got it the day of ­­­­- or the day before we had our first big show, and then we sold like 80 CDs at that show so it was really cool.

When did you start planning the tour, and who did the booking?

Well Gabe planned the Michigan tour, which was pretty relaxed … kind of a hang-out-at-Gabe’s-house kind of thing. We spent a lot of time just messing around … you know swimming in the lake, hiking a little bit, and rehearsing of course. But we had like five gigs, and so we played those gigs and it was a lot fun but it was really important that we had that time to not only like solidify the material that we already knew but learn a lot of new material since we had gigs that definitely needed more than like two hours of play time. So he handled that, and that was super fun, that was where we opened for the Temptations at Kresge Hall at Interlochen. So that was two weeks. I think we had like six shows in two weeks so it was super chill. Anyway, then I did the booking for the West coast tour, where we had 15 dates within 16 days, so almost like a gig a day, but some days we had a couple of different things going on. So that’s where we started off, opening for Bobby McFerrin and the yellow Jackets on Friday and Saturday, the first few days of the tour. And that was awesome, really well received and we got you know a bunch of new fans in Oregon and from there we just moved on down the coast and back up and now we’re in Portland about to hit Seattle.

What was it like opening for Bobby; did you get to hang out with him at all?

Oh yeah. I mean he’s a little bit more of a private guy than the rest of the band so we definitely grew really close with the Yellowjackets. There’s four guys and all of them were so nice and really encouraging and really just wanted to help us you know get somewhere with our music. And it was so cool just meeting these excellent musicians that were so humble, and I mean half of them introduced themselves to us cause they were just so excited to you know meet new people and stuff. … We didn’t have to feel like we were a bunch of students just desperate to meet the famous people. … Nobody was trying to be the shit or anything, it was just really chill. And then for Bobby McFerrin I talked to him briefly … I asked him for some vocal advice so he took me into his little trailer and sat me down and just talked to me about voice and that was really cool. Bobby is a super relaxed and just super calm person, but really super intelligent, totally. I should tell you that Bobby said, “Man, you got some catchy tunes!”

Being that this is your first tour, what were your biggest frustrations and what advice would you give to somebody who is planning to go on tour next summer?

Definitely just start off by like no reservations … don’t worry about the venues. I started off by just really researching venues and just choosing a few to book because I was like “Yeah we really have a shot playing here.” But the truth is you never know where you have a shot playing at, and some venues are gonna be better than others so you’ve just gotta email all the venues you find and then hopefully you know you’ll get a few approvals and then you can choose from those, but definitely don’t be picky form the get-go, you have to just do it. And so I’d say that for every ten or fifteen emails I sent, I received one back … and then for every five of the ones that I received back only one was actually a gig, and the other four were like “Hey man, you know I really dig your music but we’ve already been booked for the summer for the next few months.” That’s other thing: start super early, ‘cause this all came together pretty last-minute, I mean last-minute being about two months prior. And it was enough that where I booked we were able to get gigs but for some of the places that I know we would have had a shot at and were slightly better, more professional venues, they had already been booked for a couple months before. So I think that’s the other key is just book early and email every place that you have in mind and don’t hold back.

What has it been like living in a van for the past few weeks?

I mean we’ve met some people along the way that have totally helped us out, like letting us stay at their place, so the van is more like a backup van plan as opposed to like a steady housing. But it is nice to have because one night we had a tire problem where it was like ripping, and so if we drove over 50 (mph) the whole van was shaking. And so we had to just stop at this little town and wait for the Good Year to open in the morning so we could get the tire fixed. And so in that case we were very fortunate to have a futon in the van because if we had expected to stay at someone’s house in L.A. or something, ‘cause that’s where we were headed, we probably would have had to just rent a motel instead. …  We all just got cozy on the futon in the back, so it was cool.

What are your plans for the future?

First I’m gonna take couple of weeks after this because I haven’t had time to just sit down and write for no reason and play for no reason. I feel like … all the energy I’ve been spending is directed towards this, but it’s nice to try and be creative without having a deadline for once. So after the tour I’m definitely gonna just chill. And then probably work a little bit for getting some gigs in Boston cause I’ve gotta start early for that so that we can have some good stuff going on in the Fall. We already have a few things lined up but we’d definitely like to have a lot more. And then probably starting in November or December I’m gonna start booking for the summer and then keeping a list of all the opportunities we couldn’t make happen this summer so that we can definitely make happen next summer. And then I also wanna look into finding a manager, someone who can do all the grunt work … ‘cause I think there’s definitely a place for someone like that, and it would be fun to collaborate with someone who’s really good at the business side of things.

Is being signed to a major label a goal for you, or are you content going the Indie route?

I don’t know. That’s a good question. I kind of think about that a lot I guess, cause it was really fun releasing an indie album. I definitely wouldn’t even want my next album, if there was any shot at being signed to a major label … I wouldn’t mind being signed to a label you know? But I don’t know if I want to – if my music’s ready for something huge. I admire the path of growth that is long and drawn out and full of experience instead of a sudden shoot-to-the-top sort of thing. So obviously if that was an offer I mean it would definitely take a lot of thought and I don’t know what I’d say if given the circumstance but I’m definitely happy if that doesn’t happen too.

Last question: if you were an animal what would you be?

I’d be a really a really nice lion I think. ‘Cause I like that Youtube video of Sebastion the lion, or Christian the Lion. Yeah, what a nice lion. That’s my type of cat.