The members of the Yip Yops spent much of last summer holed up in their Palm Desert practice space, writing new material and honing their skills.
Turns out all of that work paid off: This summer, the Yip Yops have spent much of their time recording with producer Ronnie King at his studio, Chateau Relaxo, in Thermal—thanks to a recently signed a record contract.
I arrived at Chateau Relaxo on a recent Saturday afternoon just as Mari Brossfield (right), the newest Yip Yop, was getting ready to record her vocals for a song called “Straw Dogs.” Through a handful of takes, her vocals kept sounding better and better. Alvin Taylor, producer and a local drummer who has performed with Elton John, Eric Burdon and Sly and the Family Stone, was also present, and tutored Brossfield on where her vocals fell flat a couple of times.
The Yip Yops have certainly come a long way. The band earned a slot at the Coachella-affiliated Tachevah Block Party in 2014, before spending much of last summer in their practice space. After the Yip Yops re-emerged, the group won the Battle of the Bands at the Date Festival back in February.
Then came the biggest accomplishment of all: In May, the Yip Yops signed with Hood and Associates, a talent-management group and record label headed up by Randy Hood and hip-hop artist Ditch.
Soon after, the band made up of four local teens was recording with Ronnie King, a man who has worked with Mariah Carey, 2Pac, Snoop Dogg, Rancid, Pennywise and many others.
At this rate, who knows where the Yip Yops will be next summer?
Ison Van Winkle, the band’s guitarist and front man, said recording sessions have been going well.
“There haven’t really been any challenges so far,” Van Winkle said. “I think it’s gone pretty smooth, because for the most part, we’re playing the music we’ve been playing for a while now. We have kind of a clear vision as to how the songs should sound before we come in.”
However, Van Winkle said the experience of recording in a studio has led to some tough lessons.
“You can practice it one way in the studio, and it sounds phenomenal, and then recording in the studio, everything is magnified times 10. You have to change and maneuver around it,” he said.
Drummer Ross Murakami agreed.
“We’ve learned from some mistakes early on,” he said. “But I wouldn’t really say they’re mistakes, just ways to do things better. When we come back to the studio, there will be a different approach, especially for my drumming. I’ll do some programming and have a personalized click going that will make my recording a lot smoother.”
Ronnie King has been a good fit for the band. His studio in Thermal is also a perfect location for the band members, because it means they don’t need to make the trek to Los Angeles to record.
“He was the first person that the label brought to us, and we heard a lot of great things about him,” Van Winkle said. “We met up with him, and things just sort of clicked. We didn’t really see the need to find anybody else. It’s nice to have someone this good, this close.”
King’s studio in Thermal is on a date farm. There’s a swimming pool, a tennis court and a basketball court.
“If you get really stressed out, and you’re over-thinking things, you can just step outside,” said Jacob Gutierrez, the band’s bassist. “The name that Ronnie has given it fits perfectly: Chateau Relaxo.”
Murakami agreed. “You’ve got a tennis court; you have a pool—and there’s a cute little wiener dog to play with.”
King said it’s been rewarding to work with the Yip Yops.
“This project is interesting for me, because I grew up here in Indio; I was born and raised in Indio,” King said. “I left the desert 20 years ago. Ever since I came back, I’ve been really into the local music scene. It’s something that’s starting to gravitate, and it’s even starting to gravitate toward the studio here.
“It’s kind of a weird thing, because I heard about the Yip Yops … through Alvin Taylor. I’ve known this guy for years who works at their label, and he called me and said, ‘Hey, we’re going to sign this band, the Yip Yops, to a deal, and they live in the Coachella Valley, and I know you have a studio out there.’ After I went and saw them, I said, ‘This is going to work!’ It’s not a crapshoot, and it’s not just a band off the street looking for a miracle. We have big executives and big financing behind this thing, and there’s nothing left to the imagination—it’s a business deal. … Their dream gets to come true, so it’s been a fantastic time working with them.”
This wildly successful year for the Yip Yops has also included a big change: The three-piece group became a four-piece, thanks to the addition guitarist/keyboardist Mari Brossfield.
“Last summer, I wasn’t even a full-fledged member of the band,” Brossfield said. “I didn’t even know I’d be recording with them. I met Addison (Ison) through our guitar teacher, and I was singing, and Addison was also playing, and he heard my voice and asked me to try singing this song called ‘Sugar.’ It just kind of took off from there—and here we are.”
The other members refer to her as the missing piece of the puzzle.
“Before, it was just kind of a guitar, bass and drums kind of thing,” Van Winkle said. “But then when we brought in Mari, we were able to add a whole new element of keyboards, which is a huge part of the band. Then a female vocal on top of that—it takes it up another notch. She really helps shape the band.”
There’s a fascinating story as to how the Yip Yops encountered Hood and Associates—involving a chance encounter with CEO Randy Hood.
“Jacob and I were leaving Coachella in 2014. We were in the car getting out of the parking lot, and this guy knocks on my car window,” Murakami said. “He’s like, ‘Want to make $100 and give me a ride to my hotel? We drive him to the Hyatt. In the car, we’re showing him our ‘Oduya’ music video, not thinking anything about him or who he is. We were just trying to spread the name, and we’re showing him the music video on a phone, and he immediately came up with some ideas with what he’d want to do with this. He called us three or four months later, and he wanted to schedule a meeting.”
Gutierrez said he still has problems believing this chance encounter happened. “The funny thing is we met this guy driving out of Coachella. We completely forgot about this guy, and all of a sudden, we get this call about meeting up with his manager, because they want to put us on their record label. It’s mind-boggling how that happened.”
But … did Murakami get the $100?
“I did!” he said with a laugh.
After Randy Hood spoke to Ison Van Winkle’s ever-supportive father, Tony Van Winkle, Tony was eventually put in touch with hip-hop artist Ditch, who also works for the label.
“He had some things he was doing, and he was trying to find a way to fit the band into it,” Tony Van Winkle said. “It was a couple of TV pilots and things like that, and trying to see how to incorporate the band, and then after several conversations, it sort of went cold.
“Then back in October, I got a text from him saying, ‘A manager friend of mine is going to be reaching out to you.’ I got a phone call from Ditch, and he said, ‘Hey, we put something together to meet the band.’ He said, ‘If you can bring your equipment, we’d like to rent a studio and hear you play live.’ (The band) did a 45-minute set with Ditch, and the comment I think I remember from Ditch is, ‘I hear 20 bands when I hear you guys perform, and you don’t sound like any of them.’
“Eventually, that led to a proposal, which led to a contract.”
Ditch explained what Hood and Associates does, and what attracted him to the Yip Yops.
“It’s basically everything under one roof,” Ditch said about Hood and Associates. “It’s a modern-day label: distribution, production, artist development, PR and marketing. We spent a lot of time looking for talent and auditions. We’ve gone through every online band you can think of, and we even tried some of them out live. We didn’t find anything. There was nothing innovative and nothing really current; it’s a copy of a copy. We didn’t find anything interesting enough to invest a large amount of money into.
That is, until that chance encounter happened between Randy Hood and his young Coachella drivers.
“(Hood) showed me this music video of these kids he met at Coachella, and they’re in a garage, and there are garbage bags all over the wall. He’s like, ‘Go check them out live,’” Ditch said. “I came out and checked them out at their rehearsal house a few times, and I said, ‘You know what? These guys really have some potential here.’ They were different; their energy was different; their attitude was different; and they all worked well together. It took from January until May to us for them to actually sign them.”
Hood and Associates is deeply invested in the Yip Yops and has goals in mind for the group.
“Randy’s goal and my goal is to get a hit song,” Ditch said, “whatever we have to fuse together to make a hit record—because in this day and age, it’s extremely hard to do that. We’d also like to get the band to work with Skrillex, and we’re heavily in talks with him and his team, and (we want to work) with him or Diplo to get a song to bring us into that festival market. There are some other collaborations we’d like to do, and we’re in the position of where we hope we can do that for them.”
Alvin Taylor said the band’s potential is off the charts.
“I see a real hunger, thirst and desire for them to be the best that they can be,” Taylor said. “I like the quality they have as young people who are very innovative, creative and open-minded. They’re one of the best bands in America I’ve ever seen or heard. Believe me, I’ve heard and listened to a lot of bands. I’m not bragging, but I have 57 gold records and 28 platinum records to my credit, and to be able to take the experience I’ve had working with those groups and bring it to working with these guys—it’s amazing to see how they’re like sponges, and they soak up everything.
“The lyrics are great; the music is great; and the musicianship is at a high, mastering skill. I’m excited to be working with them.”
Photos by Kevin Fitzgerald