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Doug Yule almost became an accountant, but went into professional music instead. Yule is notable as being an integral part of The Velvet Underground, one of rock’s most influential bands. Yule joined the band in September of 1968 after the departure of John Cale and he brought a straightforward but melodic sensibility of vocals and bass guitar to intermix with Lou Reed’s melodies and rhythms, guitarist Sterling Morrison’s edgy lead and Moe Tucker’s percussion. Yule provided some lead vocals for the band’s 1969 eponymous third album and their 1970 finale with Reed, entitled Loaded. Yule had fit into the band well during their change from underground art rock to a more mainstream approach as they peaked in the early ‘70s.


Yule continued on with The Velvets in London sans Reed or Morrison and recorded a cash-in record called Squeeze in 1973, that used The Velvet Underground name but was Yule’s solo effort considerably. From 1974, Yule proved some session playing on two Lou Reed solo albums and was involved in a band called American Flyer with friend and former Pure Prairie League member Craig Fuller, but had since quit the music business to become a carpenter. However, Yule continues to maintain a true interest in music as he continues to play in a local band and has a Japanese released CD from a benefit performance. Yule, a musician of simplistic yet authentic precision, sees his time in The Velvet Underground as just another part of his life.



PopMatters:

Let’s begin talking about how you started in music and how you learned to play an instrument.



Doug Yule:

It started I guess when I was in grade school. It started with head piano lessons in there somewhere, and I learned to play the baritone horn in 4th grade and I picked up the guitar when I was about 13 and I started to playing that and I played the banjo when I was about 16 and I finally let that go after a few years and settled on the guitar and played that through today. And about five years ago I picked up the fiddle and started playing that oh and the bass, you know, The Velvets actually converted me to the bass.



PM:

And did all this come naturally to you?



DY:

Yeah, I would say so. When I say it came naturally, it wasn’t like I could instantly do it, it required a lot of work, but it was work that I enjoyed doing. Close to becoming an accountant, which I’ve tried actually and it’s work that I don’t enjoy doing, so I don’t do it.



PM:

And you’re from Boston?



DY:

No, I’m from Long Island.



PM:

But weren’t you involved in the music scene in Boston at one point?



DY:

Well I went to Boston University for a year in 1965-‘66 and I was going for acting and I left school, I dropped out the following year because with some other guys in college we started playing music and made a band and then took off for California after that broke up and decided just to concentrate on music.



PM:

What was the main music scene that you were involved in at that point? Like what city, what area?



DY:

What do you mean the main music scene?



PM:

Like at that point where did you settle to play in a band and in music?



DY:

Well I was in California for a summer and then I played in a band there, actually two, one that actually played gigs and then came back to…this would be in ‘66 or ‘67, ‘67 I guess…I came back to New York to deal with my draft physical and then went up to Boston, joined a band there and started playing and the following year I came back to New York to join The Velvets. So there really wasn’t any place where I settled down I was just you know, wherever I was I was just playing music. I think the scene was a lot less localized than it seems to be now. You know, there were different people in each place but the overall kind of context was that the world of rock ‘n’ roll which at that point was kind of all across the country.



PM:

What types of music have you dabbled in?



DY:

Well…folk, rock, jazz and a lot of the sub sort of genres of that. Folk is really broad because that encompasses ethnic music and what most people refer to as folk is kind of the commercialized, usually acoustic kind of music that’s not rock and it’s not country and it’s not jazz. But there’s a whole world of folk music that is really the traditional music of the people who are living day to day in the world and you know, needed some entertainment and that music is still being generated in remote sections of the country the way it has for centuries. But so that kind of category contains really a lot of stuff, I mean that includes everything from like Klezmer music to Kentucky mountain music to Polish polkas to you know, Russian folk songs. I mean just everything, there’s just a vast body of work that’s just sort of user-generated music, it’s not for profit.



PM:

You had a band before The Velvets, The Glass Menagerie…



DY:

I didn’t have it. I joined that. That was an original composition band that was going in Boston and I moved into an apartment that was rented by one of the managers of that which is a connection of how I actually met The Velvets and that I replaced the bass player when he left.



PM:

It was the road manager who was the connection?



DY:

He became the road manager of The Velvets, but he was the manager of this band.



PM:

What kind of music did this band play? Was it folk or straight-ahead rock?



DY:

It was kind of what you might call art rock.



PM:

So that’s more like Genesis?



DY:

Yeah, something like that, yeah. Or Talking Heads or something like that.



PM:

You recorded but you never released any recordings I understand.



DY:

That’s true, yeah.



PM:

Do you know what happened to any of those musicians at all?



DY:

Yeah, the organist was Michael Tschudin and he did some work. I would see his name from time to time. He was playing around; I think it was Boston or New York. Walter Powers played in The Velvets after Sterling left. Willie Alexander went on to be his own sort of punk act and I don’t know what happened to the singer. She went somewhere (laughs) I think she actually went into folk music. And that’s about it.



PM:

Apparently you weren’t a big fan of The Velvets to begin with.



DY:

Oh, that’s not true. I had never been exposed to them until I went to a party in Harvard; it was some kind of an official function, a frat party. Anyway, The Velvets had been brought in and it was a big deal and The Velvets played that night. Maybe it was just like a concert in the university, I forget which, but there were people dancing and I went there with someone for some reason, I don’t know why, and this band was playing and I was knocked out, I was totally blown away. Not so much that I wanted to go see them or emulate them but what they were doing suggested a whole different, you know, sort of line of endeavor to me, more with theatrical kind of concept for rock ‘n’ roll. I was just one of those things that you see it and it kind of opens your head up and say “Oh wow, I could see a million things that I could do here.” You know.



PM:

So it was one of those shows where there was a lot of theatrics and a lot of visuals?



DY:

It was more of the theatricality of the music. It wasn’t a staged show or anything it was just the three of them playing, because it was funny, that night John [Cale] wasn’t there so it was just Sterling [Morrison] and Maureen [Tucker] and Lou [Reed] playing a gig and they were all dressed in black. But it was something about the attitude of the band and the sort of mental attack that opened up a bunch of stuff for me and I got real interested in more theatrical, a more dramatic I should say, kind of music. Because the bands before then had just played tunes, you know. You write a tune, you play a tune, you try and come up with a good solo…da da da da, but this was much more involved with musical attitude and like a musical chip on your shoulder.



PM:

And as a musician were you able to pick up that vibe a little bit more easier than the audience?



DY:

No, no I’m not the audience. It was pretty apparent to me, but I don’t know what they were thinking though.



PM:

Were you in touch with that sort of music scene or were you just getting exposed to that for the first time?



DY:

Yeah, that was the first time I had seen anything like them. And you know, remember I was playing folk music up until two years before that. I really only started to play folk music and blues and then I only started to play rock ‘n’ roll in college or just before college. Though I had probably only seriously looking at rock ‘n’ roll for a year or less.



PM:

So how did the opportunity present itself for you to join the band [The Velvets] in ‘68?



DY:

They were friends of the people and where I was living and Sterling listened to me practice and mentioned that I was getting better and when John got fired, they were looking for a Pisces and I was a Pisces so they called me up. Boom, boom, boom.



PM:

Did you find that unusual that they hired you because you were a Pisces?



DY:

I still find that unusual, don’t you?



PM:

Yeah.



DY:

It amazes me.



PM:

But it was a time and a place right? I mean the ‘60s, you know?



DY:

Yeah, it was big then and you know, and [Steve] Sesnick the manager, he was an oddball. And you know this is the story I’ve always told, you know, about how it happened, but it’s true. But there’s obviously a subtext to every relationship and every interaction and the subtext this I’m pretty sure, although it’s difficult for me to say ‘cause I was kind of young at the time, but pretty much what was going on was that Sesnick had felt that he would be able to control me because I was younger than the rest of the group. And so, he said about doing that because he basically wanted to solidify his control of the group and he didn’t want to let out, you know, where you have an audition and people come and you meet them all, cause he just wanted to block things down, he didn’t want to open the group up at all.



PM:

How old where you at this point?



DY:

20.



PM:

Where you younger than the rest of them?



DY:

By about four or five years.



PM:

So were you treated as little bit more naïve?



DY:

No, no…except by Sesnick, but not openly, you know, but I mean, everybody was really nice. “You’re one of the band? You’re here, okay…play!” They were very good, very friendly.



PM:

A lot of people who listen to the albums, I guess today, will notice by the time you joined the band took a sort of change of pace from kind of artsy avant-garde style to a little bit more mainstream rock, like when you did Loaded. Did you have any influence on the change yourself?



DY:

There was an album in between there.



PM:

Yeah, “The Couch Album”.



DY:

Yeah, “The Gray Album” we call it.



PM:

Yeah, including that album which a lot of fans say is a really quiet album, cause a lot of people question how did you go from singing about “Heroin” to “Jesus” in a matter of two years.



DY:

No, you’d have to take this up with Lou, because they were his songs, he wrote them and he brought them into the group.



PM:

I’m not asking you about those songs.



DY:

Right, right. No, I understand, but I’m speaking to the overall thing, how does a group change? What happened? You know, there were a number of influences going on in that, one was that Lou himself and his life and how he was feeling about it and the other was Sesnick the manager who was manipulating people in various ways. And another was a new member in the group, you know the old person who left, John, was a very experimental person and he was also there from the beginning and I suspect that he felt that it was his group, that he could do what he wanted to do with it. Whereas, I’m coming in and I’m coming into someone else’s group and I’m trying to fit in and you know, I really didn’t feel that it was my place to try and play my stuff but to play with what they were doing. You know? So, there were a lot of things going on.



PM:

So I guess it was John who had the sort of playing the hell out of a viola, sort of really avant-garde style once he was gone there was something else to be put into it, a little bit more mainstream style of music? Would you say that?



DY:

Well, you know my personal sort of direction has more to do with rhythm and feeling and harmony and melody. And I play the violin and when I play the violin and I’m not interested in pushing the envelope with it, I’m more interested in making something that’s pleasing to my ear. I think John is a more expansive person than I am, he’s got more curiosity, more vise to see what he could do. It’s all in different directions.



PM:

How did you get the opportunity to sing lead on a number of those tracks?



DY:

Lou asked me if I wanted to sing and I said sure. In fact, the first time that happened was on “The Gray Album” he asked me to sing “Candy Says” and at first I didn’t want [to], but then I did and it was fun. But he was singing every song and he wanted to get away from that.



PM:

Did it ever get frustrating? You had this similar voice to Lou Reed and that you may have looked like him a little bit, did that ever get frustrating?



DY:

No. I don’t look like him. (laughs)



PM:

Well, a lot of people would address the story of how he said you were his brother on stage.



DY:

I know, it was a riff; he was running on the audience. He was just mind fucking with people. He trying to shift a little focus away from him too, and he had been the focus of the band and that brings some bad things as well as some good things.



PM:

Well I just want to get a certain understanding, when Lou Reed is sort of mind-fucking with people do you want to be in the middle of that or did that feel like sort of a burden, like “This is my brother Doug.” You know, he’s kind of putting you in the middle or did it feel like that all?



DY:

No. You know, it’s just a thing that kind of rolls off your back You don’t really worry about it too much because I don’t have the same demons that he did. I didn’t bother me. Would it bother you?



PM:

I don’t know, its kind of very interesting factor I guess. To have a new member in the band…I don’t know I wasn’t there but you know, I guess it’s feeling like the new guy. You know what I mean?



DY:

Well I was.



PM:

I wanted to ask about some Velvet Underground tracks that were left out of the albums, not in particular but…



DY:

Which album?



PM:

I guess both of them, the ones that were released in the ‘80s the ones that got left behind and came on the two separate collections. Would you know why those [tracks] were left off?



DY:

Oh, you mean the material that was released after the group broke up? Well some of them were tracks that were recorded and just not included in an album so they were sitting around in a vault. The MGM stuff were things that were recorded as preparation for an album, and then you know, we switched labels and then it never got used. When you’re releasing albums you’re sort of picking and choosing and trying to get the best material and it fits together, but when the group’s broken up they’ll take anything.



PM:

What was the switch to Atlantic Records like? Was that a big deal for you guys or just a natural move?



DY:

I think it was more a business decision than anything else. MGM figured out that we weren’t making any money…so we went onto Atlantic. So basically MGM would have dropped us and they had been charging traveling expenses to future royalties, so they said they weren’t going to make any money on us. In terms of the band it just didn’t really make any difference, it just meant going to a different studio to record, which is nice because Atlantic had a really nice studio in town.



PM:

So you recorded Loaded and that’s when the band started to break apart?



DY:

It was during that summer. It was when Loaded was recorded when Lou left the band. The band was still together, Sterling and Maureen was still there and I was still there, Lou left after the Max’s Kansas City stint. And Maureen and Sterling and I got a hold of Walter Powers to come and play bass and I took over the guitar.



PM:

So then it was something to keep the band flowing or did you think it was a good idea to keep the band going without Lou or did you keep on going with it?



DY:

Well you’re looking at it from hindsight, you know. I don’t know how it is today, because I don’t play…well I do play in a band, but it’s a different kind of thing. In the ‘70s if you were in a band and somebody quit, and the band still had gigs and stuff to do, you got somebody to replace him and kept going, you know, you were still a band. If you had a player on which the band was keyed, you know as if it was Lou Reed and The Velvet Underground, then you know, you basically had the Pips without Gladys Knight right? You could still play but it was not crippling, this was a situation where Lou quit and we had gigs so we kept playing, we kept going, we got somebody else and kept going. It never came up that the band was destroyed because Lou left that was not an issue.



PM:

Well, I guess why some people, maybe including myself, would look at it at hindsight is that it’s just so obvious that today people see Lou Reed as the integral part of The Velvet Underground.



DY:

So do I.



PM:

And you know, even today with all the albums, without Lou Reed they don’t pay much attention to it.



DY:

Neither do I. (laughs)



PM:

What about the Squeeze album? I have to bring that up. I haven’t heard it. But the thing with that album is that how many people have heard of it, you know. Go on a lot of Velvet Underground sites, they don’t mention that album once, so a lot of people would consider it the Doug Yule solo album with the Velvet Underground name on it.



DY:

Well, that’s because of Mr. Sesnick that all was his doing.



PM:

So, he manipulated the name to sell it or something like or was that the circumstance?



DY:

Well he signed the deal with Polydor, he arranged the recording sessions and then he took the money. And there’s an example of something being just done for the money, he did that just for the money and not for the ultimate sales, but just for the front money.



PM:

How would you look at that album musically? I’ve never heard the album.



DY:

That’s good! (laughs) Because the people who have heard it, some people like it, some people like parts of it. I personally have one or two songs on there that I’m fond of, but you know if you’re a writer and write a book and it gets published in a very small market and then 15 or 20 years down the road you look at that book and go, “Jesus, I was really, really raw at that point!” It’s not something you’re real proud of but that’s what you were doing at the time. It’s part of your development. So, that’s the way I look at it. It was what got my to the point of where I am now, in terms of learning how to write music and write words, you know. I mean Lou is a very talented guy, he learned how to write words when he was very young and he had an innate ability to adapt music to his needs and to create songs out of the notes that were available to him. But me, I had to learn it; it took me a lot of years to learn it. So I look at Squeeze as being, it’s like the equivalent of a tenth grade term paper, it’s a piece of work that I did, it’s not my best work, but it shows a lot of where I was going.



PM:

And so when that was done, you were involved in doing some work on a couple of Lou Reed solo records?



DY:

Well, Lou called me in ‘74, and said they were doing Sally Can’t Dance and he thought that the way I played bass would be really good on one of the tunes which was “Billy” and I went in and played bass on it. It was fun and he was right, it was a perfect song for the kind of bass that I play, which is very melodic.



PM:

And you also have the Live In Seattle record?



DY:

That was two shows that were done a couple years back and it was a benefit tribute to The Velvet Underground that I got involved in. They asked to come and play and I did, Sal [Mercuri, the manager] was the one who got me involved in the whole thing and it with some local musician and I, we just practiced for that and played and then the Terrastock came out of that. It’s a psychedelic festival and they asked me if I wanted to play and I said yeah and I suggested that Maureen might be a good drummer to do it so we both played a set and found those people in Japan who were interested in putting it out as a CD, so it’s just out there. You know, it has the roughness of a live performance, that’s kind of recorded on a cassette but although it was a digital cassette. It’s material that I wrote from ‘97 until 2000 which is part of a large body of work, which is interesting, one of these days I’m going to finish recording it on the multi-track machine and release it, the whole thing.



PM:

What sort of music do you enjoy listening to?



DY:

What I’ve been playing for the last five years, for myself, is mountain music; fiddle music of Kentucky, Alabama and Carolina, all through the Appalachians and I find that very exciting. It’s hard to describe why, if you come to Fort Worden in July and hang around for a week you could experience it, but it’s hard to explain how it works, but it does. It does what rock ‘n’ roll could never do, cause rock ‘n’ roll was ultimately always for money.



PM:

You also did other lines of work, like a carpenter.



DY:

Well that’s pretty much been my trade; I’ve been a carpenter since early seventies I guess, in one form or another. Mostly making furniture and things.



PM:

I was on this Velvet Underground website that had a booklet of photography that you apparently did for the band. Have you done a lot of photography or was that just something you did for the band?



DY:

I had a dark room for a while in Berkeley from about the early nineties I guess for several years and I was very heavily involved in photography and I still would like to but I don’t have the space or the time. It was black and white photography and I liked it a lot, it was very nice. But you can’t do everything right?

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