There are two reasons you probably don’t recognize the name Yahara. First, the name is the brand new identifier for an unsung Riverwest folk outfit that used to be called Heavy Leaves. And even as Heavy Leaves, the young band of transplants wasn’t exactly on many a Milwaukeean’s radar. The project started as a classic country trio based in Baraboo, but a move to Milwaukee last year brought new members, changes in sound, and a desire for the now-quintet to distance themselves from Heavy Leaves’ material. Michael Gerlach (aka King Courteen) selected the name Yahara—a name of a river near Madison—from a list of about 15 names singer-guitarist Justin Otto put on a list.
“I don’t think the music we’ll be making from here on will have much continuity with that stuff, so I decided to change the name now rather than later,” Otto says. “I’ll quote Bruce Willis’ [Butch Coolidge in Pulp Fiction]: ‘I’m an American, honey. Our names don’t mean shit.'”
New Year’s Day is the first release as Yahara. While the remnants of the band’s country-tinged roots remain, the four-song EP brings about a folkier feel and a fuller sound, thanks to new additions James Sauer (Ladders) on guitar and percussionist Nick Lang (Buffalo Gospel). The EP was recorded at Nutone Studios in downtown Milwaukee by Ian Olvera, mastered by Lawton Hall, and features violin and vocal accompaniment from Ernie Brusubardis and Johanna Rose, respectively. Before the guys behind Heavy Leaves formally release new songs under a different name this weekend, hear the New Year’s Day title track now, only at Milwaukee Record.
Yahara will release New Year’s Day at Company Brewing on Sunday, July 24. Christopher The Conquered (Des Moines) and Ruth B8r Ginsburg will also play. Yahara will also be part of Brady Street Festival on Saturday, July 30.