Freedom at 21: Cayucas Look Back on '98 on Pop-Forward New LP Real Life

click to enlarge
Cayucas start summer early bringing new LP Real Life to Phoenix.
Cara Robbins

“If only I could have back yesterday.”

This melancholy sentiment shapes the new single from California indie rock duo Cayucas. “Winter of ‘98” colors the Yudin brothers’ return with a familiar sense of longing. Nostalgia has long been the guiding light for their vibrant melodies, reminiscing of summer adventures past. But here on the track that sparked new LP Real Life, Zach and Ben let go of the controls and let the past be their guide.

“I just think high school is such a crazy thing,” Zach Yudin says in conversation with Phoenix New Times in advance of their appearance here. “In this little town you live in, there are so many firsts. The first time driving, the first date — sensory overload … There are just so many analogies to the real world.”

These memories have been a wellspring of inspiration for Yudin since his first release as Cayucas’ precursor Oregon Bike Trails. “High School Lover” (later re-released on the first Cayucas LP, Bigfoot) details a run-in with a lost acquaintance at a party that recalls the romantic potential the two had years before. There is a warmth in songs like this, where Cayucas show us how beautiful the simplicity of the past can be.

Back in early 2016, Cayucas wrapped up seven months of touring behind their second LP for Secretly Canadian, Dancing at the Blue Lagoon. The Yudins reached an impasse: Ride touring energy back into the studio, or wait for inspiration elsewhere.

“We had five or six demo songs that we were going to go straight into a studio and record,” Yudin says. “But time went on, and the response to the demos was lukewarm. So we shelved those songs, and six months later, I had this idea to write a song that was much more pop, while still in the style of Cayucas. That song was ‘Winter of ‘98’”.

With their second LP, Cayucas challenged themselves to go bigger, incorporating strings and complex arrangements. With “Winter of ‘98”, they challenged themselves again, thinking about songwriting and production in completely new ways.

“These three albums are very different records, rooted in the same sentiment,” Yudin says. “We originally thought after our second album we were going to go back to the more lo-fi Bigfoot sound, but for some reason that wasn’t exciting for us. Once we started doing stuff more pop and more structured, it just happened.”

Cayucas third LP Real Life is produced by Dennis Herring, who Zach and Ben worked with closely in the studio to fully realize this new chapter.

“For the first two albums, everything we recorded at home was re-recorded in the studio,” Yudin says. “It was weird because Dennis would leave the stuff we recorded in our duplex in Highland Park. He saw a lot of value in the vibe.”

In as much, the Yudins found a way to marry their former lo-fi approach to their first record with a pop-minded frame. The result, as shown in singles like the infectious “Jessica WJ”, is some of the best material we’ve seen from Cayucas yet.

Cayucas are also rethinking their live setup for their tour opener in Phoenix at the Rebel Lounge, Sunday, April 21.

“We were touring in December as a four piece — me, my brother, drums and bass,” Yudin says. “Then, we got really into Ableton, and started experimenting with things. So we’re going to be playing as two piece for this tour. Basically, every element from the album is going to be on the song, which we’ve never done before.”

With the past in bloom and the future bright behind shades, the Yudin brothers continue to surprise us with refreshed hindsight.

Cayucas. With Cape Francis. 8 p.m. Sunday, April 21, at The Rebel Lounge, 2303 East Indian School Road; Tickets are $13 to $15 via Ticketfly.