Locked in a conversation with several guys recounting their “boys trip” where the plant-based psychedelic ayahuasca helped them find the “truth,” Matthew Lyall found himself rolling his eyes at their “awakening,” an epiphany rooted in “Maudlin Days (Robocop),” exploring the sense of estrangement in a connected world.
“It was a great jumping-off point for writing about a real sense of alienation I’ve felt in so many social situations in my life and constantly wondering how much of it has been self-imposed,” says frontman Lyall, who began questioning his fear of connection and his own convictions about empathy, love, and understanding on “Maudlin Days” off Gold & Youth’s upcoming album Dream Baby, the band’s second album since 2013 debut Beyond Wilderness.
“Aren’t people all we’ve really got?” says Lyall. “[It’s] deeply solipsistic bullshit. The name of the song is equally self-involved.”
His fluctuations in detachment earned him the nickname “Robocop” by his girlfriend, but Lyall is working through it on “Maudlin Days,” a rhapsodic narrative on breaking down preconceptions, fears, and misunderstandings and acknowledging common links.
Growing up in a musical family, Lyall’s musical world has never been linear. Playing the piano by the age of 5, Lyall spent most of his youth living in the Middle East, where he was cut off from most of the 1990s pop culture.
“Most of the music that filtered through to us was pirated tapes and CDs that existed in this vacuum, completely unaffected by whatever cultural waves were happening in the west, untethered from their time and place in any zeitgeist,” shares Lyall. “So I had the luxury of having this really bizarre collection of music without needing to put it into cultural context or reckon with whether it was cool or embarrassing. I was able to earnestly love Aqua, Rage Against the Machine, and Andrew Lloyd Weber musicals in the same moment without needing to reconcile any potential cultural contradictions in doing so.”
Using his Boss four-track recorder, Lyall began recording himself playing guitar along to Metallica when he was 12, after receiving the band’s 1984 album Ride The Lightning from his grandmother in the U.S. “I would have loved to have been working at the HMV when this 80-year-old lady came in to buy it,” says Lyall. After a while, Lyall began recording his own music, looping sounds as best he could on his four-track.
“I started layering guitar over and over to try and make it sound as huge as the records I loved, but because of the limits of the four-track, I would keep bouncing all four tracks back onto a single track and then layering over and over,” he says. “Each time there would be so much signal degradation and dynamic loss, like what happens when you make a photocopy of a photocopy of a photocopy, that it would just turn into a swampy mess.”
Calling his earlier work “accidental shoegaze,” Lyall was still able to extract each individual sound and fell for the DIY aspect of recording. Always recording pieces of songs—lyrics and music—Lyall tends to fuse different parts into songs today.
“The vast majority don’t do anything, they just sort of fizzle out disappointingly like cheap fireworks, but occasionally, some little embers of words or tones or rhythms can briefly flash in some new way,” says Lyall. “It’s your job as a songwriter to recognize those embers and then cradle them and know which ones to blow oxygen into and which ones to let die.”
Songs that continue to reveal more over time, and acclimate to different environments are the ones Lyall gravitates to most. “A song that can shock you on its 1000th spin because of a previously unheard moment that all of the sudden comes into complete focus or a metaphor heard in an entirely new way that makes you rethink your entire interpretation of the song,” he says. “Songs that can thread the needle between diegesis and mimesis, where the listener’s brain starts to create new tones and ideas that maybe aren’t even there, but the implication of their possibility is more thrilling than if they were actually there.”
Remembering a time he hiked up a mountain on Vancouver Island to see the Neowise comet, eventually capturing the outline of the parabola with his bare eyes, Lyall likens to the power of a song. “All of the sudden I could see this incredible celestial event with my own eyes, but the trick was that I could only see it with peripheral vision,” says Lyall. “I couldn’t see it when I tried to look right at it… but it reminded me of when a song truly thrills me because it’s almost never head-on. It’s when you’re minding your own business and then a song you’ve heard ad infinitum just cuts through you in some brand new way that makes you think that it’s only possible reason for existing was for you to experience this moment.”
Lyall adds, “Having said that, sometimes a song just immediately destroys your brain and your life is never the same, like hearing ‘The Big Ship’ for Brian Eno. That’s like going up a mountain to look for a comet through binoculars and it turns out it’s actually just an asteroid coming right at you and you alone and before you know it you’ve been vaporized.”
There are no expectations around Dream Baby. It was written as a tool to “articulate some very incomplete ideas about the world and plug the logical gaps with bleeps and bloops and walls of guitars,” says Lyall.
“[It’s] a real ‘told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing’ kind of thing,” says Lyall. “So if any of the lyrics resonate strongly with you, you have my sympathies, I suppose.”