Live @ Bristol Thekla Social
February 25, 2010
Interview & Photography: Steve Bateman

“Odd Blood is every bit as dense as its predecessor, with every inch of space teeming with exhausting polyrhythmic detail and time-warped synth sounds.” THE ONION

“The album has the feel of a stopping-off point of sorts, for a band on an evolutionary path, headed toward an even higher level of greatness.” ABSOLUTE PUNK

“Not so much a step-up, but a masterclass in modern, multicultural, weirdo pop music, Yeasayer’s second album is both odd and bloody marvellous.” THE GUARDIAN

‘Middle Eastern-psych-snap-gospel’, is quite an attention-grabbing way for a group to bottle and sell their own sound and musical vocabulary, but that’s exactly what’s listed on Yeasayer’s MySpace page. For they give birth to histrionic pick ‘n’ mix music that pushes boundaries, breaks moulds and isn’t consigned to a particular style – moving one critic so much, that he wrote: “An eclectic, genre-bending journey into pop, rock, Middle Eastern and African music, folk and dub.” Or if that doesn’t help, try thinking of a head-on collision between Talking Heads, Tears For Fears and TV On The Radio! Based in Brooklyn, Anand Wilder (vocals / guitar), Chris Keating (vocals / keyboards) and Ira Wolf Tuton (bass) – now a three-piece after the departure of drummer Luke Fasano – were one of 2007’s hottest ‘buzz bands’, which was also the year that their first record, All Hour Cymbals, was released to widespread acclaim and saw them being lumped in with the likes of MGMT and Vampire Weekend, as part of the budding New York scene.

After touring the globe and playing their songs to ever-growing audiences, understandably, for their follow-up album, the trio wanted to progress sonically, and so upon their return to NYC in early 2009, they decided to isolate themselves from the distractions of the City. By retreating to Woodstock and renting a studio owned by Peter Gabriel’s drummer Jerry Marotta, which was crammed with rare synths and percussion instruments. The resultant LP, Odd Blood – partially inspired by inventor Ray Kurzweil’s theory that computer intelligence will eventually supersede the human mind – sees Yeasayer streamlining their musical palette and producing far more accessible / immediate tunes, with pop choruses, hooks and melodies.

However, the worldbeat, psychedelic, earthy, tribal, dancey and experimental elements which the group built their name upon, are still present and correct, along with the multi-part harmonies (skills honed growing-up singing in church choirs, a cappella groups and barbershop quartets). Albeit now much more purified and smoothed-out, with greater clarity, cleaner / higher production values and lead vocals to the fore. In a pre-release interview with onethirtybpm, Anand averred: “On the new record, there’s still a lot of layers and a lot of components, but we worked hard at gaining a lot of separation amongst them, so they can attack you from different angles and we also learned that a song can sound a lot more intense if you strip them down.”

Adding: “We wanted to make everything more concise and shorter. Make our transitions tighter, tighten-up our arrangements and have our tones be more pointed. We really wanted to create a oneness with the machine, and I think we were definitely trying to take the idea of a collage aesthetic which we developed in the first album, and take it to the extreme. I think this one sounds more like a real professional recording than the last one, which was more kind of home recordings. It has its charm as well, but we wanted to make something completely different than the last one, while still retaining that kind of Yeasayer core. In general, most of the songs are conceived using computer-based software: Pro Tools, Logic, Garageband and Reason. We try to use the technology to sort of help us co-write the songs.”


A record of two distinct halves – like vinyls used to be – one review outlined: “If All Hour Cymbals was Yeasayer’s attempt at global and ambient cultural mash-up, then their new album, Odd Blood, takes place in an off-world colony sometime after the Singularity. Glimmering reverb haze is eschewed and replaced by a cavalcade of disorienting pitch effects and flickering ectoplasmic wisps.” While another write-up recognised: “It fuses an electronic sound that harks back to The ‘80s with a modern twist of great songwriting. You can easily tell that all the members in Yeasayer are highly skilled musicians and they know how to use their skills in effective songwriting techniques. Most importantly, the songs are catchy and don’t require many listens before they creep into your brain and settle in.” Friend and one-time touring partner, Bat For Lashes, even drafted in Chris and Ira to help her with some tracks on her last long player!

Lyrically, apocalyptic, existential, impressionistic, obtuse and spiritual subject matter – or lyrical codes to crack – have given way to happier and more personal themes of love, romance and passion, where the depth of the songs now match the three-piece’s ideas much more closely. In summation, when Yeasayer first started (a name they christened themselves with because it was positive, was easy to search on the Internet and looked nice written down), they “wanted to sound unique and filter everything they liked musically over the past 50 years through their own lens.” Which is precisely what they have accomplished! One writer even pointed out: “Rather than succumb to cheap ethnocentric tropes, Yeasayer imparts a highly personalised aesthetic and symbology to their sonic omniverse. Revelling in music’s transformative cathartic power, Yeasayer have crafted a bold, astonishingly original take on anthemic rock.”

Ahead of their powerful live show at the Bristol Thekla Social, I spoke to the benign Anand, about releasing one of 2010’s most satisfying albums so far, being like nobody else and how it feels creatively, for the band to have graduated to the next level…

Lucy: Your band have been quite quiet for the last few months. Are you looking forward to playing gigs again?
Katie Jane Garside: I think I give very obtuse ans

1.There was a recent discussion about how so many different musical avenues have now been explored, that there may never be another innovative musical movement. Would you agree with this?
“I don’t know, I think you can never say never! But, I think we sort of feel like the way to be innovative, is to combine many different genres and to sort of embrace the availability of so many different types of music. The fact that people aren’t so strict about genre definitions anymore (pausing), you can easily like something that’s from around the world, as much as something that’s part of a local music scene. So, I think our way of being contemporary, is to really embrace a kind of openness. But, I do hope there’s something innovative that will come out, which will make me go: ‘I’ve never heard of that style of music before!’”

2.Throughout the history of popular music, which artists / bands do you think have successfully managed to re-invent themselves and keep pushing things forward?
“Well, let’s see (thinking)… I mean I think The Beatles were really good at re-inventing themselves. I think David Bowie is good at re-inventing himself. Bob Dylan I think has a lot of cool styles – I really like Time Out Of Mind and some of his later albums. Leonard Cohen, he has a great lounge / Serge Gainsbourg-style album from The ’80s, called The Future, which we were all really into. Neil Young changes it up all the time. Prince… Obviously, I could keep going on and on (laughing), but I feel like anyone that I really, really respect and love, doesn’t do the same thing over an over again you know?”

3.Would you say that Yeasayer could have existed in any musical decade?
“I don’t think so, because of the technology that we use. The way that we use computers to kind of help us write songs, is very contemporary (pausing), I suppose if we were alive in different eras, we would probably be trying to make music. But I don’t know if we would have been able to achieve the same kind of success that we have in this day and age, without the advent of the Internet and the spread of music digitally and the blog atmosphere and everything. So, I think we’re definitely very fortunate – right time, right place (smiling)!”

4.How often do you learn / deconstruct other people’s songs, to help develop new techniques and increase your knowledge of sounds etc. and do you have any specific examples of tracks that you’ve analysed, or musical arrangements that you are fascinated by?
“I don’t really do that, but I love figuring out chord progressions to songs and having singalongs to Tom Petty or something like that. I’ve thought about as an exercise, trying to recreate a David Bowie song or something, but I’ve never really followed through with it. Once when I was in school, I was in a video class and I (pausing), I wanted to just play one of my own songs to make a music video, but for some reason, we weren’t allowed to. So I did a cover of a Kraftwerk song, called Neon Lights, and made it much more organic sounding and weird, with cello and harp, stuff like that. So that’s the only time that I’ve ever really done that, with a pop song.”

5.Ian Curtis believed that “every song you start, you should finish.” Would you agree with this?
“I mean, John Lennon had a theory that if you start writing a song, you should finish it that same day or something. I’ve found that sometimes that works, that’s good, but then other times, I find it’s good to come back to something after you’ve reflected on it, or to take an incomplete / partial song and present it to your co-creators and collaborators and say: ‘Hey, what can you add to this?’ And then they make it way better and you have this kind of synergy, that you wouldn’t get by just sitting there and finishing it an hour. So, I don’t know? But yeah, it’s worth it to explore a sentiment and to see it through and not give up.”

6.On a similar note, how closely do your songs match what’s in your head?
“Well, the thing is, I don’t really ever create songs in my head – I’m not like someone who has a full song in my brain that I just need to get down on paper. I’m not like a Mozart genius (laughing), and I think all of us like to tinker, where we play something, get something going, create loops and experiment over the top of it. We sing various melodies, see if it sounds good and create words to fit to it etc. So, you’re constantly transforming what your idea of the song is. But there have been songs that I’ve completely demoed out and I’ve seen them through to the best of my abilities to completion, and then I bring them to the band and they completely change. That happens quite often too.”

7.Of all your songs to date, are there any that have taken on a life of their own / gone beyond your expectations, i.e. people’s reactions to them?

“No, never (laughing)! The more you listen to a song, I feel like the more (pausing), you know, we had this one song that we were constantly mixing and then suddenly we thought: ‘Oh shit! We lost the goose-bumps – what happened!?!’ I don’t know if we listened to the old version now, if we’d be like: ‘Oh, there’s the goose-bumps!’ Or if it was just because we listened to that particular mix ten times, so that by the eleventh time, we didn’t get goose-bumps anymore? Then you start to wonder if it will give anybody goose-bumps. But, I think the more that you beat at a song, the worse it gets. So, you just hope that even though you’ve listened to a song a thousand times, that someone else will find something good in it.”

8.Is there a track that you consider to be ‘A Perfect Pop Song’?

“(exhaling a deep breath) Oh man! ‘A Perfect Pop Song’ (long pause + thinking)? Probably Time After Time by Cyndi Lauper.”

9.What was the first instrument that you ever owned and is there an instrument that you would still like to own?
“Well, I’ve actually played cello my entire life, but I’ve never owned a cello. Because as a child, I was always growing through different sizes and they were very expensive, so I never owned one, I always rented them or borrowed them from people who owned them. So that’s something that I would like to own, just for my personal pleasure of spending leisure time practising cello (smiling)!”

10.You’ve now played shows all over the world – but have there been any particularly memorable places for you?

“Oh god (thinking), I’d say Australia and New Zealand were pretty amazing, yeah! In New Zealand, we went to this beach called Piha Beach, which was this volcanic black sand beach and you could climb up this rock – I think it was called Elephant Rock or something. But at one time, it was a fishing village, so when you climbed to the top of the rock you could see the whole coastline, so that was pretty beautiful!”

11.At a guess, how many gigs do you think you’ve played since you started as a band and what has been the most memorable crowd / incident that has happened at a show?
“Well, we’ve played a lot of shows, but just last week in Glasgow, we played to a pretty memorable crowd. There was a guy who just got up onstage with face-paint on and started dancing – he was probably 13-years-old – but that was pretty awesome because he had to get up onstage and do like a little jig. It was great (laughing)!”

12.If you had an unlimited budget, what would be your dream stage set-up?

“Oh god, I don’t know – we’d probably have a crazy light show! We were talking the other day about having these screens that project on a 45-degree opaque sheet of glass, and then that creates this hologram onstage. I think it would be great if we could be dancing next to holograms onstage (laughing).”

13.Last year, 20 acts paid tribute to REM @ Carnegie Hall, NYC – a night billed simply as ‘The Music of REM’ – and the show was the fifth in a series of charity events which have previously honoured the likes of Joni Mitchell, Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen and Elton John. But if you had to choose a legendary artist / band to be honoured in the same way, who would it be and why?
“You know, whenever I think of artists that I really love, I think about how I really hate it when other people cover them. Like Arthur Russell for example – I love Arthur Russell – but I don’t want to hear Jens Lekman doing a cover of an Arthur Russell song you know? With someone like Neil Young, or whoever, they have such a distinctive style that it makes the song so unique, that when someone covers it, it just cheapens it and it becomes a coffee-house kind of thing. So, I would rather people keep creating original things, unless you’re really going to do something strange as a cover.”

14.Do you have any hobbies outside of the band?

“I’ve started playing squash, so I’m trying to get into that – that’s going to be my work-out to get me into shape (smiling) – and I like watching movies as well.”

15.I was reading the other day, how when The Jam spilt in 1982, it made the national news in the UK and came as a great shock to the band’s fanbase. But, has there ever been an artist / group whose decision to call it a day took you by surprise, as you felt that they still had so much more left to give?
“I was pretty sad when Pavement broke-up – although now they’re getting back together, but just to cash-in on their popularity really I think, because I don’t think they’re doing any new music together. I mean, I was very sad when Kurt Cobain died obviously (pausing), gosh, I’m trying to think who else (thinking)… Michael Jackson, that was sad, not that I was expecting him to do much good work after 1990, but… Um (thinking), that’s pretty much it, because I wasn’t alive when The Beatles broke-up to be sad about that (laughing)!”

16.With the recent release of new Johnny Cash and Jimi Hendrix records, what are your feelings on posthumous releases / people vault-raiding?
“I think if it’s done in a responsible manner, posthumous releases can be wonderful. I mean, I think most of the Arthur Russell stuff that’s out there was posthumously released – I’m sure he may have been really disappointed with that – but at a certain point, you have to realise that he was someone who had an incurable illness and just couldn’t release stuff that was perfectly good. So, if someone was to go into my computer hard drive and dig up incomplete Pro Tools sessions after I died, I would be really, really pissed off! But you know, I don’t think we’re at that level of interest where people just want anything from the brain of Anand Wilder (laughing). Pretty much everything that we write and that we’re proud of, we put out anyway – we’re not hoarding any tapes (smiling), because if we’re not recording, we’re on tour (laughing)!”

17.Has there ever been an artist / band that you’ve religiously collected everything on, from records to memorabilia to press-cuttings to TV clips etc.?
“No, I mean I think of myself as a Beatles buff, a little bit, and other things that I have the most comprehensive collection of are Neil Young and David Bowie, stuff like that. But, I don’t think I’ve ever been one to just go completely bonkers for one particular person though. I never put pictures of Syd Barrett all over my wall, I just had one poster of him (laughing)!”

18.Chris once said: “Personally, when I write songs, I think about little movies.” So on that note, I really love your promo videos, but if you were put in charge of an MTV Takeover, of all your favourite music videos, which ones would you absolutely have to play?
“It’s funny, because we actually had this assignment for some TV station. We compiled a big list of videos, but they wouldn’t let us play any of them, because we had to pick from their 45. But we came up with a great list that included Fad Gadget, Collapsing New People, there’s this great Herbie Hancock video called Rockit I think, I love the Lionel Richie video for Hello (laughing), that’s a really good one! Like A Prayer by Madonna, I really like that. There’s a Siouxsie And The Banshees video that we like, but I forget what the name of the song is. There’s so many great videos out there, but so many really horrible ones as well (laughing).”

19.Have you ever bought, or been tempted to buy an album based purely on the artwork, not knowing what the actual music was going to be like?
“No, but I hope that people will be tempted to buy our records because of the artwork (laughing)!”

20.The Fiery Furnaces once asked their fans to send in reviews of how they thought songs on their next record were going to sound, without having heard anything from it, and they’re eventually planning to make an LP based on the results. Do you think this is an interesting idea?

“Yeah, that’s cool, but I mean I don’t really have any interest in what fans expectations are, or what they want us to do or anything like that. I think our job is to keep fans on their toes and to keep tricking them and subverting their expectations!”

21.When you were younger and prior to actually making records yourselves, did you ever look at album credits, to learn more about producers, engineers and the equipment / instruments used in recordings etc?
“Oh yeah (excitedly), for sure! And I think that’s part of the reason why people go to see live music too, because you have this completely audio experience and then you need to fill-in that information that’s missing, by adding a visual element. A lot of people think: ‘Oh, that’s how that band recorded their album – it’s just them recording their live sound’. But then you realise, that maybe that’s how it works for some bands, but for the likes of us, we’re basically covering the songs that we create in the studio, in a live setting.”

22.Do you think the length of an LP is important, and what are some of your favourite long and short records?
“I think it’s important for what you want to achieve. If you want to achieve the epic OK Computer, 53 minutes long or whatever, that can be great – that can be a wonderful experience all the way through. Or, if you want to do something that’s a little bit shorter (pausing), like the early Beatles albums are like 30 minutes or less, and each song is jam-packed even though some of them are under 2 minutes. So, I just think it depends on what you’re trying to achieve and I think with Odd Blood, we were trying to be a little bit more poppy, or have more verse / chorus / verse kind of songs. The intention from the beginning, was to have a shorter album under 30 minutes, so that when it finished, you’d maybe say: ‘That was short, I wish there was more’. Rather than get to the end and be like: ‘That was a little long, can we change it’ you know?”

23.If you could collaborate with any dance act or DJ to create a Yeasayer Vs. crossover track, who would it be?

“Um, I don’t know, it would be fun for us to do something Vs. Major Lazer, that would be fun. Or Yeasayer Vs. Spank Rock (laughing)!”

24.What do you think it is about NYC that has bred so many classic bands over the years, and who do you consider to be among the City’s finest?
“I think it’s just an artistic and cultural centre for the United States. It’s a place where you can work freelance jobs and not have to hold down a 9-5 and have time for your creative efforts. There are a lot of venues to put your art or music on display, and there are a lot of people who are really enthusiastic and encouraging – it’s a very encouraging environment for creativity! I think some of New York’s finest include: Blondie, Talking Heads, Television, Simon & Garfunkel, Wu Tang Clan… But there are so many, and I know I’m definitely going to think about more 5 minutes from now (laughing)!”

25.Lastly, chips or cream buns?

“Like sweet or savoury? I always like to do a combination. I think I used to be a salt guy, so I would have gone straight for the chips. But ever since I stopped drinking as much as I used too, I’ve been going for the sweet, because you need that kind of pleasure in your life (laughing)!”

A very special thanks to Anand, to Yeasayer for kindly allowing me to photograph their soundcheck, to the band’s Tour Manager Iain, and to Nita + Josh @ Goldstar PR, for all of their time and help.

“You must stick up for yourself son
Never mind what anybody else done”


wers to questions...It's never about looking forward to it. Actually maybe I should change the
script, maybe we are looeir musicm the 3rd album?