Yamagata (June 2001)

Article Contributed by gratefulweb | Published on Friday, June 11, 2004

The band Yamagata is rising quickly on the horizon of improvisation music.  The thunderous Memphis rock has spread coast-to-coast, building strong fan bases in large national markets. They have been touring constantly in support of their debut release "Eveland". Their second release "Connect" has just been completed and was released July 16th, 2002.

Formed in '97, Yamagata consists of Jim Britt on drums, Matt Kirby on bass, Joe Austin on vocals and guitar, and Jeff Waldon on sax. With many influences from jazz to heavy rock, Yamagata has been trying to create their own sound with success. Memphis funk has been twisted to produce an original sound that is undeniable. Along with the development of their original material, Yamagata covers a vast array of artists from the Beastie Boys, Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin, and Steely Dan to Miles Davis and Wes Montgomery.

The band was nominated last year for a "jammy" for best new band. As they continue to tour extensively, be on the lookout for their live show, for this is the best way to reach true Yamagata.

Meet the band:

Joe Austin, Vocals and Guitar:

I am a native of the Memphis area and have been greatly influenced by the music and culture of the mid-south. I have played guitar since I was 10 and have been singing since I can remember. My influences are many, but especially Santana, David Gilmore, Alex Lifeson, Angus, Zappa, and Trey. I have played with Yamagata now for 4 years. It has been a learning experience in both song writing and improvisation. I enjoy attempting to make the guitar sound like other things such as keyboards or laser beams and never tire of the toys that help in this quest. I still drive a station wagon, laugh at TV programming, and hold a place dear for Old Charter.

Matt Kirby, Bass:

The best part of playing in a band that is heavy on improvisation is the freedom. We create new music in front of people and that is such an incredible feeling. My role as the bass player is to try to hold everything together. I have been playing bass for about eight years now, and I am always trying to learn all that I can. That is another great aspect of music; you can always learn more. I am very thankful that I am able to play music as a profession. I love the bass... and bourbon... and the Red Sox. Peace.

Jim Britt, Drums:

Jim Britt was born on September 10, 1970 in Galveston, Texas to James & Cassandra Britt. He attended McCullough High School in The Woodlands, Texas where he started his musical training. After graduation Jim spent a few years honing his rudimental drumming skills in several drum and bugle corps including; The Cavaliers (Rosemont, Ill.), The Colts (Dubuque, IA), and The Santa Clara Vanguard (Santa Clara, CA.).

While attending Memphis State University Jim's focus shifted from rudimental drumming to orchestral percussion and solo marimba under Dr. Frank Shaffer, principal tympanist for the Memphis Symphony Orchestra. After college, Jim was teaching many private students as well as instructing the percussion departments of some high schools in the Memphis area.

Then in 1997 the band Yamagata was formed. Since then he has been touring with the group from coast to coast. A year after the release of their debut album "Eveland," Jim was awarded a nomination for "Drummer of the Year" by the Memphis chapter of the Academy for the Recording Arts & Sciences.

Jeff Waldon, Sax:

Growing up in Seattle wasn't as wet as most people think. Sure it rained a lot, but it always seemed the right way to get wet. Now that I'm in Memphis, it seems the rain stopped falling, and just hangs thick in the air like an enormous transparent cloud. And the heat... My apartment has central air for the first time ever. A modest, cool place to get my groove on.

I've been playing sax since it was first made available for school band in the sixth grade. And things haven't changed too much since then; save the rhythm section. 7 years of public school and a lot of jazz festivals around the states got me an audition with the US Navy Band, and that got me to Memphis where I met Yamagata.

It's been an adventure playing with these guys each night. Being the only member of the band not affiliated with the rhythm section has given me mountains of melodic freedom. Each and every show I get to explore new harmonies, and tensions. Using Joe's thick guitar tones as a springboard, I'm able to cause as much or as little saxophone mayhem as I want. And somewhere between Jim's kit and the Jock's bass, is a pocket where it seems every note works. Playing the sax has never been this much fun.