YIP YOPS are no stranger to local music fans. The group’s extensive history—including national touring, a Coachella appearance, a couple of Jam in the Van sessions and even a short-lived name change—has been well-documented by the Independent over the course of the band’s existence.

When we last talked to the duo in 2019, YIP YOPS had just released a new single, “Sinner,” and were heading off on a month long tour.

“As soon as that tour ended, it was like,’ OK, well, what are we doing next?’ And then we decided to do something much bigger that we haven’t done before,” said drummer Ross Murakami during a recent phone interview.

Much bigger, indeed: The band went on to write, direct and produce A Night at the Shack, a short film that vocalist and multi-instrumentalist Ison Van Winkle describes as “a marriage between the flamboyance and musical aspect of something like Rocky Horror Picture Show, and the self-aware humor of something like Scooby-Doo.” The film will be released via YouTube on Dec. 3.

“It honestly just kind of came up out of nowhere,” Van Winkle said about the idea to make the film. “We came back from the tour that we did in 2019, and before then, we were really just playing live. We never really sat back and focused on something that didn’t have to do with instruments. Right before COVID, I had a general idea of creating an EP-length music video, and then from there, I just started messing around with a script. I had the heart of an idea that I (fleshed) out and created scenes, and I was also writing a lot, too, so the music was kind of fitting within the world that was taking off.”

The band anticipated working on the film while continuing to perform. Then came COVID-19.

“We were supposed to play our first local show in a couple of years at The Alibi, and that got cancelled,” Murakami said. “Then the world changed, and we couldn’t play live, so it was just the perfect time to sit back and work on something so much bigger.”

Making the film, of course, was not easy.

Ison Van Winkle in A Night at the Shack.

“I had to figure out what the plot was, and what the arc of the whole thing was first, and then think about like, ‘OK, this is where this character comes in, so there should be a song that introduces this character,’ and stuff like that,” Van Winkle said. “We are in the movie as a band, but there are also some instrumental pieces that establish a feeling. … We had a lot of hurdles that kind of came up out of nowhere, that easily could have just taken out the movie, but we just figured it out. The cast was really flexible and easy, and we were all friends, so it worked out. We had to get an entirely new cast toward the beginning and figure out everybody’s schedules to be able to make it all work; that part of it was fucking crazy. It was fun, but there was a lot of action.

“Fortunately, we were able to get the technical aspects pretty direct. We basically shot everything on an iPhone, audio and video, so that was nice. … We didn’t have to worry about external sound and stuff like that. I didn’t even realize how much really went into it until we were on set, and people were kind of just waiting for us to figure some things out. It’s probably the hardest thing that we’ve done. I mean, it’s great; we’re all really happy with how it turned out, but it took us double the time we were thinking.”

The band was recently featured in a 7-Eleven commercial—complete with an insanely catchy theme song—and the duo learned a few things from the experience that were useful for A Night at the Shack.

“The 7-Eleven commercial came up in the middle of shooting, so it was a nice little breather where we were going out to L.A. and shooting this super-high-budget, $70 million campaign,” Murakami said. “It’s such a high level where there are literally hundreds of people in the crew, and every person has one very, very specific job. We were seeing that and just being amazed at how that whole machine works. We looked at how well-oiled of a machine that was, and then took certain things from that as we got back into our very-low-budget production, where one person is doing five different things.”

Added Van Winkle, somewhat jokingly: “You kind of have to work with what you’ve got, but it was a nice glimpse of what, hopefully, we will be down the line, when we have $70 million.”

The fact that they were able to pull off A Night at the Shack definitely boosted the YIP YOPS’ confidence.

“It was a learning experience. I think we, as a band, have the flexibility in the future, say, if we want to build off of this or do something similar to it,” Murakami said. “We’ve broken the whole thing open: Whatever the fuck we want to do as a band, or as artists, we can do under the same name. It’s all connected.”

Added Van Winkle: “The fact that we made the decision to make this movie really means that we can kind of do whatever we’re feeling at the time. We have a lot of interest and passion on the visual side of things. I don’t think we ever really wanted to just be a recording band, or a song band.

Meanwhile, the songs keep coming: YIP YOPS recently released “The Walls,” a song that is not featured in the film but “acts as like a prelude.” And that’s just a start.

“There’s a lot of new music that nobody has any idea about; the short film that nobody’s seen yet; and there’s this whole new version of our live show that we’re going to be bringing out at some point,” Murakami said. “It’s all been very internal, and now is the time that we’re going to start showing some people some of these things.”

For more information, visit www.yipyops.com.

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Matt King

Matt King is a freelance writer for the Coachella Valley Independent. A creative at heart, his love for music thrust him into the world of journalism at 17 years old, and he hasn't looked back. Before...