Anton Yurack of The Last Goodnight
When The Last Goodnight’s major label debut “Poison Kiss” was released in August of 2007, the band was already hard at work on the road in support of it. Making their way across the country state by state in a conversion van that broke down a time or two is a great way for a band to get to know each other, but given that the founding members of this band had been friends since high school, there wasn’t a lot left to discover. Their first single “Pictures of You” was a fast hit and the video was a quick favorite as well. People ate up their Poison Kiss and stuck around for a second dose, lethal or not…and sometimes thirds.
Soon after, they joined Elliot Yamin on tour and toured for the rest of the year bringing their brand of pop meets soul meets old meets new musical arsenal to the stage. Their sound evokes a feeling of familiarity mixed with a vintage twist. Their music has the innate ability to draw you in like a moth to a flame, it’s quite addictive. Songs about love and hope and the pursuit of happiness in this thing called life that make you think that the band sat down and wrote them for you and you alone, and maybe, just maybe, they did.
The musical clan (Kurtis John on lead singer, piano, Mike Nadeau on lead guitar, Anton Yurack on guitar, keys, (and harmonica!), Ely Rise on keys, Leif Christensen on bass and Skeeter McMillan on drums) are admittedly the best of friends and that kind of karma can only add to their success. With their latest single and video for “Stay Beautiful” climbing up the charts, the future looks shiny and bright for this band.
Before a recent hometown show in Connecticut, guitarist Anton Yurack let me interrupt an episode of Cash Cab (who doesn’t love that show!) to pick his his brain about a year in the life of The Last Goodnight and all the amazing things in their future.
Interviewed by: Mary Ouellette | May 2009
I wanted to start out with talking about the last year for you. The album dropped in August but you were on tour before that and have been on tour since taking time out only to cut a few videos, etc. Can you give us your personal take on what the year has been like for you?
It started really crazy. We were signed right around the time when we were about halfway through the record. We had made a demo with a song called Poison Kiss on it and that’s how we got signed, through that demo, through Poison Kiss. Ever since then we were in and out of the studio probably like six to eight months. It happened really really quickly. It started where things were going to be gradual, the album would be released in January and I think the label fell in love with the music and the album was pushed forward about six months.
Yeah, we had very little time to prepare; we had lost a drummer and tried to audition other drummers. Ely, our keyboard player, he was kind of new to the group, so it was all these factors coming in. It was really hectic when we were rehearsing for the tour; our first tour was with Rocco DeLuca. It was before the record came out so it was our first tour as a new group and being a signed band to Virgin. It was a lot of fun, it was our first professional tour, our first time getting out there. It was a long two months, it was all summer, it was hot, we toured in a conversion van and it broke down a few times but we got through it and it was a lot of fun. As soon as we got home we did a photo shoot and the record came out just when we were getting off the road and then we jumped right back on tour with Elliot Yamin. I think we had three days in between touring to repack our bags and get ready for the Elliot Yamin tour. That tour was so much fun, such good friends of ours, and it was a situation where it was a huge family. Everyone was friends; we shared dressing rooms and were always on each others buses. We upgraded to an RV so our living situation on the road was a bit different from the last experience but it was just one thing after another. Right after the Elliot Yamin tour we came home and filmed the video for Stay Beautiful and we were in NYC for that which was really nice because we were pretty close to home. We were home for Thanksgiving and we had done our homecoming at The Webster Theater and it was just going going going and so crazy. We did some Christmas shows and radio shows in December and that was a lot of fun, we were able to play with a lot of bands we may never get the chance to tour with like Good Charlotte, Boys Like Girls, James Blunt, Duran Duran..
Yeah! It was really fun! We had a much deserved break in December and January. Mike, Ely and Kurtis went out and did an acoustic Midwest tour and then they went out to the west coast. This is our first time back after almost a year just hitting the clubs again and getting things going.
Your album really encompasses a lot of different sounds from pop to soul to funk to jazz…and I think people find it really relatable because of this and it appeals to a vast range of music fans. Where do you draw this diversity from and how important is it to you to have that kind of range?
Well, we have a lot of guys in the band and I think that’s what’s great about the music. The album came out so diverse and had so many different sounds and influences because everyone is into different kinds of music which is awesome. Ely, our keyboard player, is into Michael Jackson and Kurtis is into old soul like Ella Fitzgerald. Mike is a jazz guy and Skeeter is a jazz guy, Leif is a classic rock and roll guy and I love pop music and I’m a modern rock guy. I love dance music. All of those kinds of things just mesh together very well on this record for us. Obviously we always grow as musicians and as a band and I think that helped with the transition to get the songs across on the record. You’ll get those nice big ballads that are poppy and classic; you’ll get the soul songs like “Good Love” and “Poison Kiss” which has a unique flair to it. I think all of our influences come out into one and it really makes the record how it sounds, and we were really happy with that.
Kurtis has attributed a lot of the bands success to the energy the band has among them. You’ve been together a long time and since you were pretty young and must know each other pretty well by now, how do you keep your creative energy from fizzling out?
We’re all super passionate about music, each in our own way but it always comes out, especially live. We love playing live and we love mixing it up live. We love to improv. Having an amazing drummer like Skeeter back there and having Ely on keys constantly changing things and changing sound, that’s what get’s us off. We go into a show and we think “what can we change and what can we make better?” Always improving helps our momentum. We’re music fans on top of being musicians, and so going to shows and seeing other bands fuels us. We want to be the best band that we can be. We want people to know who we are and we want to be successful and that drives us. We want to keep playing and make our songs better than they already are.
It’s been rumored that you’re already working on the new album? Is that true?
No we haven’t really worked on an album. We do write on the road a bit. Sometimes when we get long soundchecks (which we don’t usually ever get) we’ll jam some ideas and mess around onstage. We’ll improv and work on stuff and we’re always constantly writing. I’m sure Kurt in the last two months has probably sat down and written a few things. I know that I’ve sat down at the piano and had some ideas for the next time we do jam. But no, we’re really concentrating on making this record a success. But like I said, with so many creative guys, we’re always writing.
That was kind of the tail end of my question, with that many guys in the band, is everyone involved in the writing process and how collaborative is it?
Yeah, we really are all involved. Everyone in the band is super talented, especially having Skeeter and Ely it makes things more interesting now because we have two more opinions to help. Everyone brings their part, obviously Kurt writes a lot of the lyrics and melodies and Ely comes up with a lot of string lines and Mike writes a lot of progressions so it’s definitely a collaborative effort.
So is there ever a point with so many people involved that someone just says “No Way, not doing that..
There’s definitely been sometimes when someone is like “I don’t think so man..” We kind of run on a democracy but not really. Sometimes one guy can be grumpy one day and not be feeling it that day so we’ll put it down and save it for another day. That definitely happens.
Honesty is the best policy right?
Of course! We’re definitely past the point of lying to each other. If something is terrible or if it sucks we’ll be the first to tell each other.
Our friend Matt White (Who is supporting you on the current tour dates) claims that Kurtis John is one of the coolest dudes in the industry, care to respond?
Really??? Well Matt’s a great guy. We did shows with him in December and we’re doing some now. He’s a really down to earth chill dude and I think we’re the same way. We’re a bunch of happy idiots and we love to have a good time and make people laugh and I think that we don’t take ourselves too seriously. We’re still learning and we enjoy meeting other musicians and our entire band is like that. So people usually find us to be pretty down to earth and simple, we haven’t changed much.
So Matt’s right? Is that what you’re telling me? I thought you might want to counter that with saying YOU were the coolest dude in the industry!?
Well I think we all are the same way. Me, Kurt, Mike and Leif all grew up together so we’re all the same guy wrapped up in one so when Matt says Kurt’s genuine I would definitely agree with that!
You guys are playing “Grad Night” in Disney at the Magic Kingdom. What is that all about and how did you get involved?
Grad night is a thing they put on every year, it’s been going on for years, I didn’t know that. It’s 100 thousand high school seniors from all across the country and from my understanding it’s a contest of sorts and they raise money for their school and at the end of the year they get to go to this concert. So, Red Jumpsuit Apparatus and Ne-Yo are on the bill and we and we were a last minute add. We had pitched an idea to Disney and wanted to be a part of it and they came out to see us on the Rocco tour. They liked it and they were thrilled to have us and they added us at the last minute and we’re super psyched. Its two weeks and four shows with around 25 thousand kids at each show so we’re excited, plus we get to be in warm weather and get some sun on our pale bodies.
Yes, we pasty faced New Englanders could use some sun right about now!
Exactly! I don’t think they are even going to let us into Florida because we’re so pasty.
So you recently reached out to the fans asking them to let you know what “Stay Beautiful” means to them. What type of a response have you gotten and what have those responses revealed?
We’ve received poems, letters, we love talking to our fans and especially people that write to us we always try to write back. Since the video has come out and since the new single is on the radio, it has so many different meanings to different people, we just wanted to know what people thought of it and what it meant to them. An idea to get us thinking and motivated. We get random people saying that they love Stay Beautiful and that they showed it to a friend in the hospital and she was just glowing or I literally just read something on MySpace that a fan sent in saying that she had a friend who was having a really tough time and was having terrible thoughts and her life was out of order so she played her the song and the video and she’s so in love with it. So yeah, it’s great and we love to hear what it means to them. People write and say it brightened up their day or tells us a story like that it definitely motivates us. For me I think it’s just one of those things that means stay true to yourself, stay who you are. There is beauty in everything, for women in general but for everybody really. It’s a good time vibe song, it’s happy and it’s to keep going and to stay strong – stay beautiful.
We know that Kurtis grew up with a musical family with his dad being a big inspiration. What about you, how did you get involved in music, and what drive you?
My family is not too musical. I grew up not really listening to music a whole lot. My dad had a bunch of records but I was never really interested in music until I reached high school. I listened to a lot of hip hop and R & B growing up and I really started to want to learn more about music in high school. For Christmas my dad bought me a Bob Dylan record, and I fell in love with it. I’m not a huge folk fan but I do love it and I fell in love with the harmonica. Me and my friend Steve bought these cheesy little corny harmonicas at Media Play (I don’t know if that’s even around anymore?) and I just started playing the harmonica. I would go over my cousin Ned’s house and play with him, he had an acoustic guitar and a harmonica. He would play me these Pink Floyd records and I didn’t even know who Pink Floyd was. He would make me sing and play and I got into Neil Young and that’s kind of how I hooked up with Kurtis and the rest of the guys, through music. I definitely have my dad to thank for buying me that record.
If it can be put into words… explain your brotherhood to me.
Brotherhood is really just being so good of friends with the people around you that you know their every move. You know what makes them mad, you know what pisses them off, you know how to get under their skin, you know what makes them happy, you know all the little nuances about them – how they look at themselves in the mirror, that’s how close we are. We know each other so well, we can call each other’s next move. I think being in a band and going through this process, no matter how stressful it can be at some times we always are there for each other. We love each other so much, we’re best friends. After the music is done we still hang out with each other. Having Ely and Skeeter in the band, we are starting to extend that to them too.
So they don’t have their decoder rings just yet..
Not yet! They’re working on it though, they have to go through a few more tours!
I think where you guys really shine is your live performance and it’s a totally different experience from the album. You mentioned that you do a lot of improv on stage, how do you compare your live performance to your album?
We’ve always been a live band and we’ve always harped on being a really good live band. We always try to be as true to the record of course but there’s those moments where seeing a band live and listening to a record are different. When you’re at a live show you want to see something new happen. We take pride in that, we have such a talented group of guys and it’s so easy for us to do that. We want to attract people’s attention, maybe make a section a little longer, groove out a little bit, get more into that particular song or moment. We try to mix it up a little bit, jam between songs, just change it so you’re not the same songs that you hear on the record. I know for me personally I love to go to a show and see some strange things going on or a different beat, so we really enjoy doing that. Every time we play a new song we try to think of ways to make it better.
Okay, fun question -describe each of your bandmates in one word and one word only-
Mike – Picky
Ely – Laid-back
Kurtis – Neurotic
Leif – Happy
Me – Everyone will agree..I’m a little dark
Skeeter – Loud
Good, I love it! Pictures of you reached number one in Australia, and you’re headed there soon right?
We’ll be there in a few weeks. It was definitely very exciting the first time we heard our music being played anywhere outside of The United States. Going from not having a record to having a record and being out on tour to having your record be in Japan and Australia and Italy and Poland and Germany, it’s such a trip. We were in Italy and we saw our video on their MTV. Every other song is in Italian and it’s just so exciting to see. To hear that we have a number one song in Australia is unbelievable and it fuels us more to go over there and to make it amazing, it feels like we’ve accomplished something, plus it’s beautiful I’ve heard so we’re all very excited.
After being on the road for so long, what are the things you look forward to most about being home (other than sleep)?
Definitely working out. We try to eat healthy and work out at the gym, Kurt and I run. Sometimes it’s hard to be on the road and work out. I think I gained a few pounds from all the McDonalds stops, definitely a break from fast food. I like to watch movies. Sometimes we don’t have the time to go to the movies or watch movies and it’s nice to just relax and six down and rent six films at blockbuster, grab a six pack and relax. Seeing old friends is nice, when we were a band years ago under a different name we had the same people supporting us then as we do now and it’s nice to come home and to see them, and family of course. I have two brothers that I don’t get to see that often and it’s nice to come home to take a break from being that person on the road.
We know that you guys are involved in charity work, tell us what charities you are involved in and why they are close to your heart.
Kurt and I both have cousins with juvenile diabetes. Ever since we were a local band we use to do fundraisers for breast cancer and diabetes, run for the homeless, just random events. We’ve always been into that. We love having a forum, we’ve had some of that thing happen in our family, so now we have a forum to raise awareness. I use to work with children with autism awhile back, and I always thought that was important. We’re always happy to do any fundraising events for charities when we can, it’s important to us.
With all your spare time right? Okay! One more fun question, if you could change places with anyone in the band for one day and do anything you wanted to do, who would you be and what would you do?
I have the perfect answer to this. I would trade places with Ely. I just want to know what goes on in that head. He’ll come into rehearsal and sit down, and I feel he plays whatever is going on in his head. Sometimes he’ll play these crazy things and I’m thinking to myself, that’s what’s going on in his head right now, he’s thinking of all those crazy notes. Yeah I would be Ely.
Watch TLG’s video for STAY BEAUTIFUL
So the little tour you’re on right now with Matt White and I-Nine wasn’t too long, what’s on the schedule after this?
Yeah it was just a few dates. After these shows we go to South Carolina and then we go right to Florida for Grad Night for two weeks, then we fly out to LA for a photo shoot, then we fly to Australia. Then we’ll fly back to the west coast and start a west coast tour. It’s going to be very busy. It’s all still in the works, we’re excited to be back on the road?
So are you guys New England Sports Fans?
I personally am not, but Kurtis Mike and Leif are huge Red Sox fans, and our light guy Jeff. Ely is from Toronto so he’s a huge hockey fan and Mike is a Bruins fan so they collide but they are roommates so they always watch hockey together. But yeah, those three are hardcore Red Sox fans and before the Elliot tour we were lucky enough to go a Red Sox game together and they won that day!
Well I was going to say, you guys need to be singing the National Anthem at a Sox game!
I know! We actually tried…that was going to happen but something got pushed back and that’s why we were able to go to the game that day. Ely and I probably ate everything..we split a pizza, nachos, pretzel, philly cheesesteak, we left very full, but it was my first major baseball game experience. It was really cool, we had a good time.
Okay, well that’s all I have, any parting words?
We’re just excited to have everyone come out to these shows. With the new single out we want people to fall in love with it and vote for it on TRL!