Ryan Kaiser, the Mississippi-raised, Nashville-based musician known as Yot Club, didn’t even have TikTok on his phone when his track “YKWIM?” went viral on the app. For Kaiser, who writes, records, mixes, and masters every song he releases independently, TikTok fame and the accompanying streaming boost (“YKWIM?” now counts over 100 million streams on Spotify) came as a shock. Soon, almost every major label in America was making him offers that would gouge Kaiser and steal his work.
These are fitting pieces of the hyper-american, overly commercialized machinery that inspired Yot Club’s new EP, Santolina. The record’s six tracks map the terrifying, carefully-manicured haze of American suburbia, based in part on Kaiser’s childhood spent in the suburbs of Jackson, Mississippi. This unfolds across lo-fi jangle-pop, indie rock, bedroom synth, and new wave, with occasional disco and instrumental flourishes. It’s all framed with a Wes Anderson whimsy, a pull to the idiosyncratic and deadpan while maintaining a vivid emphasis on the visual.
“The suburbs are a shitty place to be from, but they’re not at the same time,” says Kaiser. “I was fortunate to be from a place where kids were playing baseball in the streets and building clubs in the woods, but as you get older, you gain a more bleak perspective on everything. That’s the whole vibe of the EP really.” The title nods to the proposed Santolina development in New Mexico, which promises flawless suburban streets and identical houses while sucking local rivers dry to sustain the desert community.
Kaiser was raised in Madison, just outside Jackson. Without TV or video games, he distracted himself with his dad’s college boombox, flipping through his parents’ CD collection. That led him to discover grunge and ‘90s alt rock; early favorites included Grandaddy and The Meat Puppets. “That showed me early on that music didn’t have to be clean or polished for people to enjoy it,” says Kaiser.
At eight years old, his parents took him to a pizza place on Halloween where a live band was playing, including a guitarist wielding a red strat, dressed as Freddy Krueger. “It was the coolest thing I’d ever seen in my life,” says Kaiser. He begged his parents for a guitar. They finally rented him one, and after guitar lessons, he taught himself to play piano, bass, and drums. At 12, he started recording on his family’s computer via GarageBand. By college, he was faking his way into making beats for local friends by watching YouTube videos and scrambling up a DIY knowledge of Logic and Protools.
Kaiser began releasing music as Yot Club in 2019, when he moved to Hattiesburg, Mississippi for college. At the time, he had three jobs—two in restaurants and one as a pool boy. Between working and 18 hours of classes per week, he’d make songs for fun. Unsolicited playlist features and weekly bar gigs encouraged him to focus on music, so he dropped his jobs and focused on music. But Yot Club was never meant to be a viral sensation.
“It’s hard to put into words, but I don’t wanna be viewed as a product on a shelf,” says Kaiser. “I don’t really have hobbies outside of music. I watch trash-ass TV. I’m not trying to be a salesman, I’m just trying to be myself.”
Santolina begins with lead single “Alive,” with clean, chiming guitar riffing as open and broad as the plains before Kaiser’s vocals enter: “Straight lines, cul-de-sacs, white flowers and the TK/Bring back memories you’d rather just leave dead.”
Second single “It’s Easy” unfurls under a sedate, kaleidoscopic spiral of synths and a subdued drum machine beat, while Kaiser’s vocals, spacey and apathetic, lurk like a Gen Z Lou Reed. Third single “Deer Island,” a spritely morning gallop of drum machine and easy-going guitars, namechecks the titular piece of land off the coast of Biloxi, MS. It’s the last piece of something before endless miles of nothing, a tiny, fragile holdout in the clutches of the Gulf of Mexico.
On Santolina, Kaiser presents a record not avoidant of but rather in conversation with all those things that make modern America a hulking, unsustainable—but somehow still beautiful—weirdo wasteland: TikTok, corporatism, beige sandstone homes, private desert communities, manicured lawns, suburban surrealism. All in between are the people trying to make sense of it all. Yot Club is right there with you.