Yeasayer: Ambling Towards The Big Time

By: Wesley Hodges

Yeasayer by Guy Aroch
In the midst of Yeasayer's tour rehearsals, JamBase spoke with guitarist, multi-instrumentalist and vocalist Anand Wilder about the creation of Odd Blood, the band's expansive sophomore studio effort, to be released February 9 on the Secretly Canadian imprint. Odd Blood is an explosive, groundbreaking good time that will rattle the brain and move the body ("keep your feet, feet sliding to the side, to the side"), and could inspire some copycat attempts down the road. Although some of the singular influences like Pink Floyd, Depeche Mode, a number of '80s dance bands, Genesis and MGMT are prevalent, it's safe to say that you've never heard anything quite like Odd Blood. The band has worked hard to "combine a lot of different elements to create something that's original, something very different [from 2007's All Hour Cymbals], and something that would still be Yeasayer," as Wilder told us. From the austerely Battles-esque first track "The Children" to the rousing "Ambling Alp" and on to "Rome," Odd Blood runs a new kind of gamut. Inherently pop music at its core, Yeasayer's new brand of Adventure Rock or Bizarro Art-Pop (you just gotta make up fresh genre names with these guys) is ground level innovation that defies expectations and invitingly beckons listeners to join them.

JamBase: Give us an idea of the creative process that led to the new Yeasayer sound and album.

Anand Wilder: A lot of the songs began as demos that we would knock off in a few days off from touring. A good chunk of these songs came about in 2007 and 2008. Then me, Ira Wolf Tuton [bass] and Chris Keating [keyboards, vocals] rented a house up in Woodstock, NY from this guy named Jerry Marotta, who used to drum for Tears for Fears, Peter Gabriel, Elvis Costello and Paul McCartney. He let us rent his house with all of his music equipment in it. Jerry basically let us set up our studio in his house with tons of gear and allowed us to use all of his drums, synths, and microphones, and I think that really contributed to the sound of this record. With this album we really consciously set out to do something very different from our first record that would still be Yeasayer. We would explore all of our different interests, and we wanted to accomplish a more direct sounding record with higher vocals and make it a little bit dancier.

A lot of the record was influenced by performing live the last few years. When the first record came out we didn't know how much touring we were gonna do, as we were a completely new band. After a year of touring, we kind of thought, "What kind of stuff do we wanna create that we'll be excited about playing live?" So, that kind of shaped the sound of the album as well. Whereas the last record was very hazy, very psychedelic, we wanted this one to be electronic, very computer-based - kind of sci-fi - more of a body record than a mind record, while still retaining some of the headier, trippy kind of vibe.

JamBase: To me, this one still has the heavily psychedelic feel, just in a more unexplored, futuristic way.

Chris Keating - Yeasayer
Anand Wilder: Sure, the last one had the nature, communal, hippie kind of vibe that people kind of got and this one is more of a man/machine, one-ness with technology, and we used computers and music software to their full potential to create the sound.

The album has more of a humanistic feeling lyrically, whereas musically it's all future sounding. What events transpired in your lives to lead to this change?

It was more related with the vision and the crafting of songs. We wanted it to be different-sounding and different lyrically. The last album tackled the grandiose epic themes of the apocalypse and the future, and on this one we just said, "Let's see if we can just write some love songs." We tried to say the word "love" a lot to make it feel more personal, to bring it down to Earth. But we still kind of wanted to have that strange, odd Yeasayer juxtaposition, so if it was a very personal love song we'd make it the most sterile, cold, futuristic, sci-fi sounding thing we could possibly envision.

Odd Blood has an even more percussive sound than All Hour Cymbals. How were the drum tracks recorded for the record?

The last album we were very inspired by some really beat-heavy music, but I don't know if it really showed in the final product because it was so awash in hazy reverb, and this one we really wanted to pronounce the beat so instead of layering it, it meant taking away so that something more simplistic would come to the foreground.

The way we recorded some of the drums was to do one hit at a time and kind of compress the hell out of it. We had a really great engineer working with us up in Woodstock named Steve Revitte [Beastie Boys, J. Mascis]. He was a really invaluable resource to help us execute some of these beats. Then we came to mix in NYC with Britt Myer, we made sure that he focused on making the beat really heavy and bringing out the subs in the bass. He had a really objective ear and could say, "I don't know if this sampled drum is moving enough air." We really needed to get a high quality recording of live drums, to give it the kind of oomph that some of our demos were lacking. It was definitely a focal point for this album to make the beat as banging as possible. I hope we succeeded at least on a few songs.

Genesis is one of the artists that came to mind as an influence when I first heard the new record, especially on tracks like "Madder Red." Who else do you have in mind as similar-sounding influences for this record?

Yeah, that kind of sounds like a Genesis-type song. I always thought it was more of a Depeche Mode kind of vibe. I even was thinking that it sounds like some of the music from the '90s if like Tracy Chapman was singing over an industrial beat, or an Oasis song or something. But yeah, we just like to combine a bunch of different styles and if people say [it] sounds like "nothing they've ever heard before" it'll be a success. We try to combine a lot of different elements to create something that's original.

Continue reading for more on Yeasayer...

 
Whereas the last record was very hazy, very psychedelic, we wanted this one to be electronic, very computer- based - kind of sci-fi - more of a body record than a mind record, while still retaining some of the headier, trippy kind of vibe.

-Anand Wilder

 
Photo by: Jason Frank Rothenberg

Let's talk album covers and video motifs. On All Hour Cymbals, the man's face is completely obscured, as it is in the video for "Ambling Alp." On the Odd Blood cover the man's face is either in the process of waxing into a human form or waning/melting into a psychedelic mess. Does anyone in the band have an artistic background? How did this motif come about and how does it connect with the music?

Yeasayer from last.fm
Chris is pretty much artistic director, but this particular video was created by these artists called Radical Friend out in L.A., and they kind of collaborated with Chris about the conceptual ideas for the video and they executed the whole thing. It was kind of a combination of some old imagery that Yeasayer has been working with over the past few years. I kind of see it as the end of the song "Ambling Alp" and as a connection between the last album and this album. The video also serves as a link between the two. Hopefully the new singles will break some new ground and introduce us to some new audiences, while probably causing a few people to renounce their love of Yeasayer.

What song that you guys haven't played out on the road are you most excited to start working out for a live crowd?

I'm really excited about "Love Me Girl;" I think that will be really fun to play live. We've completely rearranged "Mondegreen," and done a complete 180 with "Grizelda." We haven't tackled "Strange Reunions" yet - that one will be tough - but "Love Me Girl" is really unlike anything we've ever done.

I understand that you guys were recording on a much higher budget for this album than on All Hour Cymbals. Did a higher budget provide more access to creating the album you've always wanted to create or did this contribute to the final product in any way?

We recorded the last album in a professional studio for five days, took it home and tinkered with it completely on our own for about four months while we were working day jobs, and then took it in for mixing and completed that process in five days. With this one, we had demos which were already in pretty good shape and we worked non- stop for four months without day jobs, with a lot more equipment and were able to just focus on making the album. Then we took it to a much more professional mixing studio and were able to spend far more time mixing each track. We were able to go back and do overdubs and beta mixes. After that it got mastered by a much higher-end mastering engineer. It was just the freedom to keep working at it excessively until we were happy with it. And then, as always, you say a couple weeks later, "Well, this could have sounded that way or that way," but there wasn't nearly as much of that as the last album.

What does Odd Blood mean?

Yeasayer by Guy Aroch
I don't know if it has a specific, singular meaning. Chris came up with the idea of Odd Blood. He explained it as a futuristic phrase, as a sort of derogatory slang towards someone, like saying, "He's an Odd Blood." I like to think of it as someone during the time of Singularity when we have little nano-robots cleaning our veins, someone who maybe has that removed like in Total Recall. Pull that homing device out of your nose and then you become an Odd Blood. I think it's kind of a sci-fi term. It also just looked really nice. I like the idea of "blood" being something organic and natural but it being Odd Blood, not natural blood but something strange.

With this being the biggest headlining tour you guys have done to this point, what can fans expect to see out on the road?

The shows will be a lot more high-paced and high-action with a lot more dance music, a lot more succinct kind of songs, and also a lot more long, drawn out dance jams. It's gonna also be a lot heavier, a lot darker than our last tours. I also think it will be a lot more exciting than it used to be. It should blow away our previous live shows.

I noticed you guys did a one-off recently at the Guggenheim Museum in New York City. How did that gig turn out?

It was a weird-sounding venue, but definitely a check off the list of significant New York monuments to play.

I want to ask about the video for "Ambling Alp" [see below] because it looked like such a fun video to make. It's a mind-warping display with all the quick cuts, the desert setting, the lone drummer, mirrors, naked people and melting faces.

I actually wasn't there for most of the shooting of it. All of the outdoor stuff was extras and other people. We shot in a studio that used to be Charlie Chaplin's studio and most recently belonged to Jim Henson. The video was produced by Daft Art, which is Daft Punk's production company. It was just a really well organized production and the people that were working on it were really fun and creative. It was a lot of work, getting covered in Dental Alginate and having to stand still while they peeled it off. You get a crick in your back because you couldn't move. I've never had an experience like that ever before. It's great just to go out to L.A. and shoot a music video. It's a pretty fun job.

It's good to see bands still creating interesting music videos as a visual accompaniment to the music. It really makes great songs come to life. Recently, I've noticed a trend with a lot of bands creating these "NSFW" kinds of videos with Sigur Ros' 2008 video for "Gobbledigook" and the recent Flaming Lips production for "Watching the Planets."

It seems to be the zeitgeist right now. No one gives a shit about making it on MTV and getting past the fences. The Internet has no censorship and also loves nudity.

ODD Blood is available for pre-orders now for both CD and vinyl formats. Order now and you will receive a high-quality download of the album right away. To order got to: www.scdistribution.com.

Yeasayer is also offering a free MP3 of "O.N.E," from Odd Blood at www.yeasayer.net.

And here's one from the previous album:

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