Yung Life Plunders '80s Pop and Makes It Sound New Again

Knoxville's New Wave: Yung Life, Dumb Lunch, Fine Peduncle

Yung Life plays fuzzy, dreamy synth pop, the kind that hints of M83 and New Order and Suicide, the kind that sounds like it was made in 1982 instead of 2012, the kind where shadowy vocals are muted behind swirls of hazy keyboards and throbbing beats.

But while the tone of the band's songs may have a retro appeal, the band itself is a little too young to appreciate how far it looks back. Make that a lot too young—not a single member of the band is older than 21, and the youngest member is still in high school.

Despite the band's name—a pun on the high-school Christian youth group Young Life—the songs demonstrate a poise and maturity beyond the members' ages. But that's what happens after playing together for almost four years, says Elliott White, 21, who started Yung Life in 2008 with his friend from Farragut High School, 19-year-old Will Farner. After playing as a duo for years, the group finally added White's younger brothers, Gabriel, 20, and Judah, 18, and friend Dylan Dawkins, 20.

"Last year was when we turned it into a full sound," Elliott says. "I was in Coolrunnings and quit to get more serious with this and felt the need to turn it into a full band."

All five members of Yung Life take turns playing instruments—Elliott drums, plays keyboard, and sings; Farner and Dawkins trade off keyboards, bass, and guitar; Judah plays keyboard and bass, and Gabriel sticks mainly with guitar.

"People always ask us to describe our sound, and I'm like, rock 'n' roll with keyboards," Farner says.

"We're really not trying to be too genre-specific," Elliott says.

Still, there's no escaping the band's New Wave postpunk sound—it's not the synth and fuzz of shoegaze but that of the Jesus and Mary Chain. Yet Yung Life manages to breath new life into what could, in lesser hands, sound like a cover band. No other Knoxville band right now so fully captures this particular sound—its of-the-moment lucidity and its faded throwback charm, its under-the-radar roots and its unashamed commercial ambition—which is pretty much the sound of indie rock in 2012. It's a sound that has earned the band a loyal following here and considerable blog buzz in the build-up to the release of its new, still-untitled album in February.

"We're as serious as we've ever been," Farner says. "We used to do a lot of improv when we played."

"We needed to fill out the sound some," Gabriel adds.

That seriousness has meant taking a step back from the Knoxville music scene, taking time to focus on recording instead of playing small shows at parties.

"We're not as focused on the Knoxville music scene as much as on where we could be," Elliott says. "Right now we're building up the band as a whole before attempting something bigger—we're taking small steps."

However, the groups does draw inspiration from the number of bands and musicians in Knoxville who are so, well, old.

"A lot of bands in Knoxville are a lot older than us. It feels good to know we have a lot of time," Farner says.

"It means there's no rush to give it up," Gabriel says, admitting that even college students fell pressure to grow up.

But first there is that new album, and the band hopes to tour the East Coast to promote it this summer.

"It's a lot more guitar-y," Farner says. "It's the first thing we've done that's written for the full band."

"It's more lush," says Dawkins.

"It's not lo-fi, so it should have a bigger appeal," Gabriel adds.

If you can't wait until next month, you can hear tracks from the new album this Friday, when Yung Life plays at Beardsley Farm's Snow Day benefit at Barley's Taproom in the Old City. But the not-so-young should note: While the event starts at 7 p.m., Yung Life is scheduled to take the stage at midnight.