Interview & Premiere: Yeah Is What We Have

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Even if you listened to Yeah is What We Have without knowing that frontperson Tom Werring used to work with Oso Oso’s Jade Lilitri as part of their prior project, State Lines, you could potentially draw a comparison anyway. These groups excel in indie-twinged emo that doesn’t put you to sleep – an accolade in a genre that can sometimes feel inadvertently stark.

Yeah Is What We Have’s debut record which is slated to be released November 1 on Counter Intuitive, is thorny yet radiant, sporadically tumbling into unraveled instrumental pieces at several points. “Loner Sky,” the track that’s out today, is decorated with jutting hooks and a folksy aura. I spoke with Tom about the different directions his life took – and how many of them were underscored by music.

The Alternative: You were the guitarist in State Lines, which laid the groundwork for Oso Oso. What spurred that transition?

Tom Werring: Jade Lilitri was the primary songwriter for State Lines. I left in 2014 to focus on finishing college. From there, they dissolved State Lines and Oso Oso took over. 

How did it feel to come to terms with the improbability of being able to both focus on school and tour? What pushed you to prioritize college?

It was a huge bummer, but I wanted to have a comfortable life. We weren’t making a whole lot of money – and I wanted to be able to do things like pay rent and take my girlfriend out to dinner. That’s not to say that never would’ve happened in a touring band. I made my decision without knowing how successful Oso Oso would become. I didn’t think at the time – at least for State Lines – much would happen. Oso Oso’s doing really well – and that’s entirely attributed to Jade’s artistry and business-mindedness. He was the primary creative force and a leader in many respects – and I was somewhat reliant on him. I didn’t want to expect anything from him.

I loved everything about touring except being smelly and uncomfortable. We never did much longer than a two week tour, so it wasn’t even that intense. I don’t know if i would’ve been able to handle two months of straight unpredictability and discomfort. I like sleeping in a bed and showering every night. It took a lot of time to reconcile with the fact that it’s okay to want those things.

What college did you go to and what degree did you earn?

I went to NYU and graduated with a degree in music education in 2015. 

Was that in hopes of fusing music with a more concrete career?

When I started college, I was thinking, in the most naive way possible, that I could be a teacher so I could tour during the summer – but that didn’t pan out. When I was a student teacher, I realized it wasn’t something I could see myself doing. It made me anxious. In order to be in front of a class every day, you have to be a really great improviser and public speaker. I felt pressure to be “good.” You can afford to make more mistakes playing in a scrappy punk band than you can teaching chorus. And maybe, I would have eventually figured out how to do it well, but I became afraid and went in a different direction, which was working at Carnegie Hall.

What did you like about working there?

It allowed me to be involved with music without the nervousness that a classroom elicited for me. They have a lot of cool practice spaces in there in which I recorded some demos for this album. It was a way for me to not drop out of music completely. Carnegie Hall is very classical music-oriented, though, which differs from my current job working for Patreon. Now, I get to work with creators beyond music – like podcasters and video creators. It was a good fit for me because I have a natural curiosity about other forms of media.

Is Yeah is What We Have your first project since State Lines?

No, but since I was busy with school, I only really made music for fun. I was part of a band called Who Are the Toms in which every member was named Tom. We just thought it’d be a silly thing to do. We released a split with Snooze, a band that includes Just Friends vocalist Sam Kless. I love him to death.

In spite of finishing college in lieu of continuing to tour, you’ve never thoroughly abandoned music. What has kept you roped in?

It’s really important for me to not feel like a boring person, so making music helps combat that. I need to feel like I’m doing something creative or else, I feel like I am not contributing anything – but that kind of sounds like I’m gassing myself up too much.

Has your approach to making music shifted since State Lines?

With State Lines, Jade would write a song and bring it to me or [bassist] Johnny and we’d possibly add some parts, but it was fundamentally up to Jade because it was his song. I have more agency with this project, so it definitely has a different meaning to me now. I think a lot of songs on the record are pointing more towards questions more than answers. I’m still figuring out what it means to be a working adult. I have no expectations whatsoever for YIWWH. I just want to write really good songs for myself. 

What inspired “Loner Sky”?

In terms of sound, I think that was influenced by me listening to a lot of David Bazan (of Pedro the Lion). The song is about wanting to isolate myself instead of feeling okay with other people wanting to be in my life I was thinking about a drive we went on while touring for State Lines through a desert in the middle of the night. It was just so beautiful and it impacted me. 

What’s your favorite dessert?

I don’t really like sweet stuff, so I’m going to say Trader Joe’s movie theater popcorn. If anyone from Trader Joes is reading this: please bring the pickle-flavored popcorn back.


Bineet Kaur//@HelloBineet

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