Yellow Days: “real singing, real playing and real writing is becoming rarer these days”

The rise, fall and rise again of George von den Broek’s alter ego Yellow Days – now returned with new opus HOTEL HEAVEN

When George von den Broek, better known as musical wunderkind Yellow Days, learned that Tom Waits was in attendance at his show in San Francisco a few years ago, his response was a “who cares”, casual shrug. He was familiar with neither Waits’ name nor legend. It meant nothing to him. He was too young, and success had him unprepared for the company he’d keep.  

“Word got back that he enjoyed it,” he says now with a sense of relief. “I think it’s the unavoidable part of me being Gen Z. There are these ridiculous gaps in musical knowledge. Incredible blind spots!” The fact that the sandpaper-voiced singer songwriter was present at all is testament to the towering, preternatural talent of Yellow Days. Only 24 years old, he’s been in the business for almost a decade and experienced the rough end of the showbiz stick already. He will elucidate on his rapid rise and abrupt descent in due course. 

First of all, there’s the small matter of HOTEL HEAVEN. His first album in almost four years, it’s a high-concept affair. Freighted with existentialism, angst and a dazzling vision, Kubrick’s canon, Alejandro Jodorowsky’s mind-bending 1973 cult classic The Holy Mountain, and David Lynch’s small screen epic, Twin Peaks, were all sources of influence. 


HOTEL HEAVEN is a French rococo hotel where pleasure-obsessed people go to do mediocre things,” den Broek explains. “There’s this all-knowing, dirty-mouthed, fiendish concierge called ‘God’, who writes up people’s lives on a typewriter and resentfully assists them. There are these fantastic pink doors, which represent drugs, obsession, pleasure, everything.”

Loaded with the expressive peals of Plastic Ono Band-era Lennon, lascivious Prince-styled funk and Sly and the Family Stone sleaze, HOTEL HEAVEN tickles the ears and pulls you into its murky world of a decadent, devilish hotel situated somewhere amid the cumulus clouds. A place where you can check out but seemingly never leave. “[The story on the album is that] I’m trying to escape HOTEL HEAVEN, which represents the false utopia that is the entertainment industry.”

Born in Manchester to a Dutch father and a mother hailing from Yorkshire, den Broek grew up in a music obsessed household. On regular rotation would be the bona fide classics: The Dark Side Of The MoonAbbey Road, the rock and roll thunder of the Led Zeppelin catalogue, and servings of soul and blues. All of this seeped into den Broek’s fertile imagination; a cocktail mixer that would educate him in songcraft and old-school writing chops. As a teenager, he could be increasingly found in his parents’ garden shed composing music on his own. 

There was one day when everything changed. It should have been a school day like any other, but on that the morning of 6 December 2015, den Broek, under his alias of Yellow Days, uploaded a breakup tune he’d written to Soundcloud. Called ‘You Are Nothing I Can’t Get Over’, the bassline was familiar – a repurposed take on the fabulously seamy riff from Lou Reed’s ‘Walk On The Wild Side’ – but the atmospheric, ethereal vocals were new, something different. It heralded a new voice. Literally.

Yellow Days - You Are Nothing That I Can't Get Over

Once published, he picked up his schoolbag, span on his heels and headed for the door. Arriving home hours later, his inbox was flooded. “There was just every single major label in my inbox,” den Broek recalls in disbelief. “My mum and I started jumping up and down, laughing hysterically.” Before the dotted line nabbed his signature, his father took him to one side and imparted advice. “He said, ‘I can tell this is all you want to do with your life, and this could be fantastic, but one thing you have to know is that this is going to be a terribly lonely journey’. Those words echo in my life because it very much was.”

At first, things went well. Yellow Days signed to small independent label Good Years and 2017 saw the release of his acclaimed debut album, Is Everything​ ​Okay​ ​In​ ​Your​ ​World?It was in the aftermath of enormous success that problems arose. Still only 18 or 19, he switched to Sony and the wheels wobbled as the industry tried to sculpt him and force this single-minded artist into areas he wasn’t willing to go. “There was always this awful pressure,” he says despairingly.

“They’d fly me out to these places and demand that I write a hit. I’d come back with a 15-minute soul tune instead. I started to develop this parent/teenager relationship with the label. They’d say, ‘make the album seven tracks long’, and I’d make it 32 tracks long. I was quite contrarian.

“But I’d originally got success on a tiny label doing my own thing and exactly how I wanted,” he reasons. “Suddenly, all these adults were telling me what to do. They had a chart, and targets were pinned to it, like “chart at No.1”. Stuff like that. It created this awful dynamic. The industry hindered me. In a lot of ways, I got eaten up, chewed up and spat out again.” 

Yellow Days - Love Is Everywhere (Official Video)

A pained gestation eventually saw the release of Yellow Days’ second album, A Day In A Yellow Beat, in 2020. He was dropped by the label before its release as the pandemic struck, meaning there was zero promotion and Yellow Days was cast adrift. The album “flopped”, as the singer songwriter matter-of-factly calls it. 

“I went without management for a good year after that. I spiralled,” he says. “There was this feeling of defeat and failure. I’d already had this big moment. I’d met all my idols. Fantastic people who produced me and taught me things, such as Robert Glasper. Then it all came tumbling down. I felt like my moment had passed.” 

An avid participant in the party scene, den Broek sought solace in late nights on the razz, downing drugs and necking booze. Big mistake. His mind wasn’t in the right area code, let alone place for comedowns. His resilience was shot. It was an “awful” period. “It really got on top of me. I came to realise, however, that it’s in those moments where you decide what kind of person you want to be.”

He sorted himself out. He got engaged to his high school sweetheart (“the Mrs Yellow Days, if you like!”) and returned to the music of his childhood. “I started doing things that returned to the core of who I am,” he recalls. “I’ve been Yellow Days to everyone for so long, it’s only now that I’m getting older that I’m figuring out who George is.”

Yellow Days - FINER THINGS IN LIFE (Official Video)

This is where HOTEL HEAVEN comes back into the frame. The music was written entirely by den Broek in his bedroom in Brick Lane. The finished product is so sophisticated and grand that it belies this DIY origin story. It’s a neuron-stimulating conceit laced with sumptuous soul. It certainly signals a new creative dawn. And the concept is leading to discussions with filmmakers on taking it further, but that’s for another time.

HOTEL HEAVEN feels so incredibly cathartic, because it addresses that feeling of failure that I had,” he concludes. “It’s great to be back. I believe that real singing, real playing, and real writing is becoming rarer and rarer these days. Blowing my own trumpet but I’d say I’m pretty good at that, and I’m carrying that torch.” It’s time to follow Yellow Days into the dark.

Yellow Days starts his UK tour on April 9. Find tickets here

HOTEL HEAVEN is out now, available to buy and stream here