Yuki: shoegazers play horsey 

I'm sitting in the home of Gwynn and Tony Reitz, the married keyboardist and guitarist, respectively, in the shoegaze band Yuki, and flipping through a book about sexual fetishes that they've just tossed into my lap. It's a cavalcade of snout-shaped muzzles, black leather hand covers shaped like hooves and pointy horse ears. Laughing, the Reitzs explain that I'm bearing witness to the practice of "pony play," a grown-up S&M version of playing horsey.

This is all at least tangentially related to Yuki. The band's new EP, recorded almost entirely in the Reitz's basement, is titled Pony Play. Self-recorded, self-mixed and self-released, it's the band's second release in the little more than a year since its formation. A CD release party for the EP Aug. 22 at Locals Only will feature performances by Yuki, locals Dark Matter Halos and Red Light Driver, and Chicago band Tiger Spirit.

Yuki's basement practice space is cramped, filled wall to wall with orange soundproofing foam, musical equipment and stacks of VHS pornography. Like their new album, most of Yuki's songs are named using a list that Gwynn keeps of words and phrases that the band finds compelling. While unrelated to the subject matter of each song, every tentative title seems to stick.

"I can't think of a single instance where we've changed it," drummer Rob Guernsey, who's joined us in the basement, said. "Our absurd working titles become the real titles."

Even the name Yuki has its background in the underworld. When looking for a name for one of their four cats, Tony Reitz's father suggested Yuki, the name of a Japanese prostitute that he had met on his way back from the Korean War.

"So, basically, the band is named after a cat that was named after a prostitute," Tony Reitz said.

The pre-history of Yuki begins with Svetlana, a band that played a style of shoegaze that was more ponderous, lengthy and instrumental than Yuki. (Since shoegaze is already, by definition, characterized by echoing, atmospheric guitars, vocals buried deep in the mix and slowness, to call a shoegaze song lengthy is to suggest that the listener is in for a long night.) Drummer Rob Guernsey and the Reitzs started Svetlana, with bassist and longtime friend Jason Crews and guitarist Caleb Disbro joining later on.

"It was like watching glaciers melt," Guernsey said of Svetlana's sound.

Disbro left the band, but the other members decided to continue on, albeit with a new mission. Becoming Yuki allowed the band to experiment with sounds that would have been anathema to Svetlana, while speeding things up and adding some pop elements.

Tony Reitz said the band took a "relaxed two weeks" to record Pony Play, with the Reitz's basement refashioned into a makeshift studio, using moveable walls of drywall and foam to create temporary sound booths.

Yuki's sound is reminiscent of mid '80s shoegaze and dream pop bands like My Bloody Valentine or Cocteau Twins, combining atmospheric keyboard with jangling, crashing guitars; deft, melodic bass with passionate, energetic drums. Each song builds around the Reitzs' dreamy vocals before dissolving into lush instrumental sections.

Contrary to the album's playful name, Pony Play demands to be taken seriously; it's a well-executed and visceral piece of bedroom pop that sounds great on speakers and even better with your headphones on and lights off.

The band has so far stuck to releasing only EPs. Echoing the careers of early shoegaze acts like Lush and Ride, the brevity of their albums lets them move quickly from one project to another and avoid recording the lesser tracks that sometimes pad out a full-length.

"I like the loose and fast feel of EPs," Gwynn Reitz said. "It's like setting really specific short-term goals rather than forcing ourselves to have the discipline to work on a long-term goal - it just works out better for our attention spans."

Gwynn Reitz insists that the band, whose members are all in their 30s, has never had any delusions about, or even a desire to, "make it." Without the time to plot a tour and no interest in pursuing a record deal, the members are all content to continue making the best music they can in the comfort of their own homes.

"I'd be happy to continue doing it down in the basement," Gwynn Reitz said. "That's actually why we decided to be in a band together - we went around and asked, 'Do you want to get signed and make it, or do you?' and we were all like, 'No, no, no.'"

Busy with their day jobs (Gwynn Reitz works at Charles Schwab while Crews jokingly claims to be a "nude art model") and wary of burning out their audience with frequent concerts, Yuki rarely plays live shows, especially in Indianapolis.

This makes the release party for Pony Play a rare chance to see the band in action and hear some of their newer songs live and in an intimate setting. Though bigger than the Melody Inn, where the band played its first live show and CD release party last October, the Reitzs described Locals Only as a comfortable place to play.

"I feel like I'm playing in a rec room," Gwynn Reitz said. "Which is a compliment, because it almost has a house party or basement feel."

Tony Reitz also seemed confident in the skills of the other artists who are playing with them, some of whom he has known for more than a decade. Many members of the other bands have even played with and been in other projects with the members of Yuki, like the bassist of Red Light Driver.

"It's a big, incestuous happy family," Gwynn Reitz said.


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Greg Winget

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