Unsparingly inventive, ceaselessly creative and energetic in all of the musical senses, Yeasayer are making a very welcome return. A band that has taken their self-proclaimed ”Middle Eastern-psych-snap-gospel” and infused it with hints of influences as wide and wild as Italo disco and contemporary UK R’n'B, Chris Keating, Ira Wolf Tuton and Anand Wilder are taking the term ‘new technology’ and moulding it into a shape that fits pristinely into the Yeasayer jigsaw. Charismatic, “caffeinated” and on the cusp of releasing their third album, we catch up with the Brooklyn band’s guitarist Anand Wilder to discover the method of invention that led to the band’s exceptional third album, Fragrant World.
When we speak to Anand, Yeasayer have just released an announcement on their website informing their loyal following that their new songs are readily available to hear on the Internet, all they have to do is to track them down. “Yeah, it’s pretty cool! The Internet’s blowing up,” Anand comments of the band’s musical treasure trail. “The whole Internet thing poses some wonderful problems [for musicians], and it’s interesting to try to solve them. Although, there are some great advantages, where we can do these interesting things in lieu of traditional radio promotion or whatever it is.”
An inventive step in the battle against illegal uploads and downloads, the band strived to think of a way that fans could use the instant access element of the Internet to hear their music, in a way where the low quality of illegal uploads wouldn’t tarnish that sacred first listen of the album.
“We have these songs that we want to put out there, and obviously people can buy CDs but then there’s also this whole free downloading thing that goes on. So this is our way of preempting someone uploading a shitty version of one of our songs, by saying ‘OK, we’ve commissioned this artist Yoshi Sodeoka to create a visual for each song, for the debut of every song.’ We’d rather have people look at something that’s been crafted by an artist we really respect than just going to download sites, so this was just an interesting way of using the Internet to share our music with everybody.”
And the result? An entire album stream, accompanied by a stunning set of specially crafted visuals is now available to see and hear at the band’s YouTube Channel, ensuring that the fans’ first listen of Fragrant World is experienced exactly as the band intended it to be, cutting out any kind of middle man activity which could compromise the details of the music’s portrayal.
“We just like to show appreciation to our fans,” Anand continues. “We live in this unique time where you can Tweet at someone. You can have a conversation with someone you’ve never met before, but we’re also somewhat detached – communicating through this weird, cold technology. But then we’re also kind of closer than we ever have been before. So it’s an interesting time we’re in right now. And we like to take advantage of all the benefits of this Internet technology.”
Fragrant World is the third record to appear from the New York band, following 2010′s Oddblood and 2007′s All Hour Cymbals. Extensive tours in support of these albums saw the collective travel the length and breadth of the world, bringing their unique musical creations, their seemingly boundless energy and their irresistible humour to fans worldwide, before the moment arose to return to the motherland to start work on their newest musical creation.
“When you’re finished with touring, there’s a certain sense of relief where you’ve really expunged all of the material and you want to move onto something new,” Anand explains. “I like to refer to it as the ‘creativity cycle’, where you tour for a year and a half or whatever it is, and then that opens up your brain to want to be cloistered in a studio, experimenting with sound. And then once you’ve done that – and that’s generally a much shorter period of time [than touring] – then you really want to present your work to the world and have it be appreciated, or judged or critiqued or enjoyed, and to provide entertainment for people. So that’s the more manual labour side of it, the time we take to go out on the road and keep your chops up and your vocal chords limber.”
The latest record presents the work of a band who have harnessed the wisdom, spontaneity and skill that can only be garnered through extensive performance, and engineered it into eleven tracks of musical sublimity.
“I think we wanted to explore more abstract electronic music,” Anand states of the aim when creating the record. “And to allow ourselves to be experimental and less reigned in. The goal is always to make an album that you’d want to listen to yourself, but of course, by the time you’re through with it, you never want to have anything to do with it again – that’s the nature of recording!”
“We were excited about a lot of English electronic music, so we wanted to do our own take on some contemporary R’n'B and really just try to stay in the moment of contemporary music culture right now. We had a lot of new toys to play with, we were using new software. There’s so much strange music equipment out there right now that can really make your sound sound so unique. And a lot of it is software programmes, like we use this thing called Melodyne and that’s an infinite capability to break down chords into individual notes… our engineer was obsessed with us tinkering with sound using Melodyne.”
Celebrated for their inventive use of instrumentation and sound, it’s not unexpected that Yeasayer would’ve “tinkered” with new toys in order to push their musical boundaries further than ever before. A plethora of new equipment was employed in order to embrace a sense of limitless creation, and to make sure that no sonic stone was left unturned.
“We were also using this thing called Maschine by Native Instruments. It’s pretty awesome, making beats. Then I use this thing called an Electribe which is a sequencer. It’s kind of an old sequencer, but it’s new to me. We’ve been using samplers ever since the beginning, and it’s all been detached from the computer. And that’s cool, because you don’t have to have a computer or to worry about that at all, but once you use a totally computer dependent piece of hardware, it makes the possibilities so much more limitless and the ease of use is so much greater. You take a sample, load it up, cut it up, it’s just crazy.”
Limitlessness, with all of its advantages and possibilities, does pose a threat though. With these infinite sonic capabilities, how does the band possibly know when a song is complete, and when is the right moment to stop and just let the track ‘be’?
“I don’t know if we do know when to stop…!” Anand responds, laughing. “But we have due dates, when we have to turn things in by. Otherwise, we could probably tinker with something forever. You just have to trust your ears. When we were mixing, we were experimenting by adding some instruments in the studio, and you could pretty much tell just by using your ears if something was filling up the empty frequencies. Or, you’d be playing a theremin and thinking ‘this is really cool, i’m learning how to use a theremin!’ and then you’d think ‘wait… this is not right’. And even though i’d be working on it for an hour, trying to get the theremin to sound somewhat melodic, it just wouldn’t fit with the song, and sound too much like Dr Who.”
“That’s always the line when you’re experimenting, ‘this sounds really cool, but does it sound like a Nintendo game when you drop down to a dark level?”
A recent, intimate performance at London’s The Lexington showcased not only a series of songs from new album Fragrant World, but also uncovered a new approach and a revamp in sound of the band’s back catalogue.
“It’s to keep it fresh for us,” Anand explains of the live reworkings of tracks. “And also, it’s so interesting to think about what it is about the band that people like. It’s really hard for me to qualify that because i’m in that bubble. I’m never driving in a car with someone listening to a Yeasayer album and talking about it frankly! It’s one off those things – i’ll never be able to see a Yeasayer show! Unless I get an Indian lookalike to play my part. But it’s one of those things, like how much can we deconstruct the song and really keep the bare essentials, the lyrics, the melody and a few of the chords, and to see if people will still react in the same way. And it’s been amazing… I’m sure a lot of people are disappointed that it’s not the exact version that they’ve come to love on the album.There’s a line, but I think it’s boring to just play something exactly as it sounds on the record. You might as well just stay at home.”
For Yeasayer fans however, “just staying at home” has never really been an option, as the truest and most inspirational way to experience this band’s music is to put an image to the sound. Through creating a visual series to accompany the tracks on Fragrant World, Yeasayer have not only ensured that the release of their music happens on their terms, but they’ve also carried the interactivity of their live performance over into their recorded work. Yeasayer’s intention and fervour when it comes to the presentation of their music is pretty inspirational in itself, as is their determination to not be sucked into the daunting vortex that’s known as the modern music industry with all of its technological discrepancies. There aren’t many bands that have the creativity and energy to tackle an issue such as this head on. And there certainly aren’t many that could pull it off with this much style.
Fragrant World will be released via Mute on 20 August, and will pay the following UK dates in September:
27 Sep – London, O2 Shepherds Bush Empire
28 Sep – Glasgow, Arches
29 Sep – Manchester, HMV Ritz