What happens to the ends of Fig Newtons?
Yak Strangler, a Knoxville experimental duo consisting of Rylan Bledsoe and Chris Newman, will release their album "The Duplex Dortch Eating Machine," Feb. 28.
Their upcoming album is a concept album based off dinner one night. While Bledsoe believes current popular concept albums are melodramatic, Yak Strangler took an unexpected approach.
"The new album is kind of like a weird idea that Chris and I had while we were sitting, eating dinner with my dad," Bledsoe said. "We just went out of left field and did a concept half album about what happens to the end pieces of Fig Newtons."
Named for the patented machine that makes the Fig Newtons, their new album experiments with humor along with any other whim they were willing to try out.
"The whole thing is based off the conversation we had that night," Bledsoe said. "It's all instrumental except for a phone call in the middle of it where we call Nabisco, just aggravate the person answering phones, and ask what happens to the end pieces of Fig Newtons."
A shared music teacher brought the duo together. Bledsoe's father writes for the music section of the Knoxville News Sentinel leading to set up music lessons for Bledsoe with Kevin Abernathy. Abernathy introduced Bledsoe to Newman, and they became Yak Strangler.
"We paired off and auditioned other people for a while," Bledsoe said, "but we settled down and decided we would make cooler music working with limitations and trying to figure out ways to make two people work as an instrumental band."
Both Newman and Bledsoe's musical instruction has shaped their lack of one set genre. They prefer to play on each other's abilities for a mix of unexpected sounds.
"Chris kind of started out as a bluesy guitar player, then he did metal for a while," Bledsoe said. "I started out as a metal drummer, and then I kind of moved towards jazz as I took lessons from Keith Brown at UT.
"When we work together, it ends up with a little bit of blues and funk and metal."
To Yak Strangler, genre has no constraint mostly because the duo doesn't really abide by one or the other. Instead, they can move from ukuleles and banjos to metal to funk within a set.
"We do a lot of different music," Bledsoe said. "It's just two people, so when either of us has an idea, we just follow it."
While generally an instrumental band, the group's experimental tendencies have led to introductions of the occasional lyrics as demonstrated on their previous album, "Your Body Is A Wonderland."
"We've moved to a lot of different directions," Bledsoe said. "There are songs where I sing, songs where we both yell, different things like that."
Working as a duo rock band can result in challenges, but Bledsoe and Newman admitted they are unafraid of experimentation as a means of creativity.
Bledsoe has begun singing while he plays drums, and they will present an acoustic song where Bledsoe plays banjo and Newman plays ukulele.
"Part of the sound that we've developed is a result of that," Bledsoe said. "Chris and I give each other a lot of creative trust. We just kind of go with the ideas that we have."
One of the biggest challenges they face is filling a space with just the two of them. The duo work for a full sound, and technology and a lack of fear have allowed Bledsoe and Newman to try anything new.
"We're working toward a system where it will be very full-sounding even with just two people," Bledsoe said. "Chris now has a system that's designed where he's got an AB box that will send a signal of his guitar to two amps, and we have different effects where we've got a loop pedal on one amp. He'll play a riff through one amp, shut the guitar signal off to that one, then he'll play a solo on top of his own riff.
"It really should sound like there are more people than just the two of us. It requires us to be a lot more innovative in trying to figure out new ideas."
The duo can be found playing at local venues like The Well, Preservation Pub and Pilot Light for a very specific reason.
"We have to have a place that is OK with loud music," Bledsoe said.
Yak Strangler looks to have a full stage presence despite only having two members. It is this commitment to a great show that attracts fans.
However, the band is currently taking a break to market its CD release party at the Pilot Light on Feb. 28.
"We just try to be real high energy and fun," Bledsoe said. "On stage, I jump up on my drum throne sometimes and jump down and hit my cymbals as I'm falling. We do things like that to try to be upbeat."
While other bands may scoff at the idea of a rock duo, Yak Strangler welcomes the skepticism. Bands like the White Stripes and Shovels & Rope have done it, leading the duo to believe there is no reason Yak Strangler cannot make it work too.
"Every time we play a show," Bledsoe said, "there's a bass player in the audience who says, 'You guys need a bass player,' and we're like, 'No we don't. We're a duo band.'"
For Yak Strangler, the band's sound is about energy, experimentation and one very important question.
"There's only center pieces, you know," Bledsoe said. "Where do they go? Do they sell them as Fig Newtons somewhere else? I don't know."