The Atlanta season 2 trailer shows a montage of the show’s main character Earn — played by writer, actor, and show creator Donald Glover — falling between dimensions, dipping into alternate realities beneath him as a perfectly synced groggy voice kicks in, loudly lamenting, “All this time I was just running around.”
That voice belongs to George van den Broek, better known by his stage moniker Yellow Days. He’s a soft-spoken 19-year-old combination singer-songwriter from Surrey, a county that sits southeast of London, and in the last two years, George has firmly developed a signature sonic blend of jazz, R&B, and alt-rock. Since 2016, he’s released a debut EP Harmless Melodies, dropped his first ever studio album Is Everything Okay in Your World, and somehow caught Glover’s Emmy-winning ear with his “Gap in the Clouds.”
And it makes sense in all directions. George doesn’t like to do much of anything aside from writing sad songs, and his blues-driven art matches what he describes as the “trippy, clever” show perfectly.
“I really love writing sad music,” Van den Broek says, speaking openly and often about depression and how his music is his abstract way of understanding it, as well as a cathartic ritual to cope with it. “It’s weird, I don’t know why. It’s just really good, I can’t explain it, but it’s just something that happens. It’s great.”
Yellow Days has a surreal, distant quality to it, paired with incredibly personal and honest lyrics — a direct parallel to Atlanta’s commentary on being black in America, which is often portrayed through surreal projections and seemingly impossible prophetic happenings. (Glover’s recent New Yorker profile described the show as having a “hallucinatory quality of déjà rêvé.”)
Yellow Days’ lyrics are real in that they lean into George’s own depressive thoughts, while still edging towards a more optimistic side of dreamy and cerebral. He croons the simple sweet musings of someone who’s 19, but the kind that have begun to distort and complicate at the end of the teenage years, as the world becomes more vast. “Take a swim through all your thoughts and dreams and all you see, I’m what got lost at the sea, he sings on “Go Home.“
And while George only just turned 19 — “I didn’t say anything on my socials. I don’t like attention on my birthdays,” he explains — there’s an obvious certain emotional aptitude already present. His melancholy lyrics come through in a voice that steers towards King Krule’s in its rough growling — often layered with an extra foggy-sounding distortion — over bluesy jazzy guitar riffs. “You can make musical instruments weep in certain melody,” he notes.
That distinct sound is a product of family childhood influences that ranged from metal, to rock, to R&B, as George cites Steve Lacy, MF Doom, and King Gizzard and The Lizard Wizard as recent favorites and inspirations.
His thoughtful ideas and adept connection to emotions and sounds may have something to do with his synesthesia, the ability to connect music and color. It’s what lead him to make all of his own album artwork, saying, “With the artwork, I think what color, or couple of colors, I feel when I listen.” George is reluctant to refer to the condition in technical terms, out of fear of sounding “pretentious.” When reminded that some consider it to be a musical gift, inspiring artists like Pharrell and Frank Ocean — who have both also talked about having synesthetic tendencies — he downplays it even further: “I think they’re lying,” he says, laughing.
Van den Broek eventually wants to put out a compilation album of all the genres and “random tunes” that didn’t fit on his first two projects, which he kept brief so that they maintained a “coherent sound.” His penchant for constant work and diverse sounds have resulted in a growing catalog of unreleased work, which he plans to drop “when I’m real old… like when I’m 30.”
Thinking 30 is old is not the only time George seems to grapple with the concrete nature of time. When musing about the future, he also mentions plans to release a series of albums that eventually will reveal themselves as one complete body of work. “I’m gonna do that and it’s gonna take years, and hopefully I won’t die before I get to finish it,” he says. “I could also have it done before I’m 21. Imagine that.”
As for the very near future, Yellow Days is set to embark on a largely sold out tour through the U.S. and Europe, starting in April. But before that, George offers a perfectly characteristically abstract teaser of what’s to come (maybe) sooner.
“Well, perhaps there may be something coming soon. Perhaps, perhaps.” he says. “Of course there will be a full piece eventually, but that will take a lot of time. In the meantime though, there may be something smaller coming… perhaps.”