Yeasayer, who first broke into the Brooklyn music scene in 2007 with their Middle Eastern-tinged debut All Hour Cymbals, have been creating eerie, intriguingly-textured electronic music ever since (even managing to maintain a certain mystique while appearing on video game soundtracks). At the beginning of this month, the band created a scavenger hunt for fans anxious to hear their new album, Fragrant World (officially being released August 21st). The truly faithful who were on their mailing list got a physical CD of the new single "Henrietta" (purported to be about Henrietta Lacks, she of the immortal cells) in the mail. Each song was eventually paired with a trippy "interstitial" by Yoshi Sodeoka, and Pitchfork collected 'em all for your listening pleasure.
We met with the band at the Wythe Hotel last month as they rested up for the remaining leg of their North American tour. They play the Music Hall of Williamsburg on Wednesday (it's sold out, but no fear, there's a live stream) and Central Park on September 12th. We spoke to core members Chris Keating, Anand Wilder, and Ira Wolf Tuton about synaesthesia, their music videos, and the next Brooklyn.
How are you guys finding New York?
Chris: It's beautiful. Beautiful here. I was just in Europe and I think they don't have summer there anymore.
Yeah, I was in Europe about a month ago and when I left England it was maybe 60 degrees.
Anand: It was part of the bailout deal. Germany was like, "We'll bail you out, Greece, but you'll have to sacrifice warm weather."
So you're releasing a new album in about a month? August 21st. Less than a month. It'll leak before then though. Have you heard it? Don't leak it, we'll know it's you!
Yes, I'm being very conscientious about it. I've already not paid for enough music.
Anand: I heard it was up on Spotify and it went back down.
Spotify, those traitors. I downloaded a leak of Odd Blood a couple of years ago. It was sooner after you played my college and everyone there was on this "Yeasayer High." Chris: Are they not on the Yeasayer high any longer? We'll be BACK! There's an entire generation of college kids who haven't heard us...
Anand: It was upstairs, it was in a weird gymnasium. Who opened?
Chris: After the show I went to some bar with Anand and ended up threatening people.
Anand: Our van that we rented broke down on the way there. I was with Grady and we had to go back and crossload and bring across all our shit. And then there was that promoter kid who was a little high-strung. Yeah, we see him a lot, actually. Nice guy, but, he was just like, nervous.
What conscious changes did you decide to make between Odd Blood and Fragrant World? Chris: At Odd Blood we did the press at the Ace Hotel [in Manhattan], and this time we're doing the Wythe Hotel. That's the only difference. It's like this, but it's in Manhattan.
Anand: Is it the same owner?
Chris: I don't know.
Ira: It's cooler, but this is a lot hipper.
Chris: Besides cooler, it's a lot closer to my house.
So you still have a house here, even though you guys are touring around? Chris: Whaddaya think, I'm a hobo?
Anand: Manhattan's cooler, like jazz and everything.... it's coooool...
Chris: I gotta have a house, gotta pay bills... where do you think I keep my stuff!?
You could rent a car for your stuff. Down the street from my house yesterday, a hoarder car blew up and there were paper doilies and smoke everywhere. Chris: That was last night?
Ira: What are you talking about?
It caught on fire. I don't know.(laughter)
Chris: Cars blow up all the time for no reason.
Ira: Especially ex-girlfriends' cars. Nooooooooo reason.
So, I noticed a couple years ago when the video for "Madder Red" came out it was pretty similar to MGMT's "Congratulations" video.
Chris:Ours came out first.
So, do you think there was some sort of...
Involving rubbery, 1980s-looking creatures and the people who fall in love with them, and then they fall apart, and it's sad?
Ira: I think it's corporate espionage. They were following their little creature like it was guiding them through the desert.
Chris: I can guarantee that theirs cost a lot more and looked a lot worse.
I think theirs is uglier in a way... well, they're both pretty ugly. Kirsten Bell was in it?
Anand (affecting Continental accent): We get the pretty lady! We got the pretty lady, her name Andrew Vanwyngarden!
It doesn't seem like the press are trying to group all of the "Brooklyn Bands" together as much anymore.
Chris: Because Brooklyn's not cool anymore! Yeah, it's going to be Queens next.
Or they're slowly going to push the cool people out into the ocean. Or the poor people. I don't know.
Chris: London is cool again.
Ira: London's very cool.
Anand: FLO-RI-DA. Cool again.
Very chillwave/seapunk down there.
The whole band: SEAPUNK!
Yeah, did you read that article in the New York Times about it?
Chris: No, but I can imagine what it says! Some seapunk designed this wallpaper... it's union punk, this is union punk.
Yeah, yeah! it's got that Freemasons thing going on...
Chris: It's a repeated pattern which was very hip in 2001 so maybe that's coming back now...
Speaking of matchups between visuals and music, Chris, did you have any involvement with the album cover? Chris: The new one or the old one? What were we talking about? We were in the past for so long!
The new one.
Chris: The new album cover was designed by Ryan Waller. That's a lady dancing. He took a lot of photographs of a lady dancing.
Oh, so it's the filled-in form of her dancing... I could see that...
Chris: As much as the filled-in form of Ira is Ira.
Ira: She's like dressed up. She's like shrouded.
Anand: She has a club.
Chris: She's wearing something. She moved around and he took pictures.
A swishy skirt? I actually thought it was a foot, so I was about to relate it to the decomposing rubbery animal zeitgeist.
Chris: Where are you from?
I'm from around here. I'm going to be a senior at Wesleyan.
Chris: I took Adderall for the first time when I was at Wesleyan! Eclectic House. It was a looooong time ago. We were at a party and I talked about real estate for three hours. It was like, real estate, this is so interesting!
Anyway, I think you guys have gotten more consciously electronic as time has gone on. The first album is very organic-sounding, even though it's not really because there are a lot of parts of it that are actually looped-over...
Chris: Very good! Good job!
Ira: Brava! (clapping slowly)
I mean, I listened to it pretty intensely when I was 16.
Ira: What's that like?
Being 16?That was a pretty tormented time for me I guess...
Ira: Would you say our album saved you from the torment?
Yes, very much so... I would rave about you in the school music zine... but I would pronounce your name wrong, like "Yeah-sayer, "yeah-sayer."
Ira: Oh, that's a common misunderstanding.
Chris: Was it something you would dangle over people and be like "you haven't heard of this?"
Oh, definitely. I went to a small public school in Chelsea, it was on 17th street. Ira: Were the other kids like, "No man, I'm into Jonny Lives"!
It wasn't a suburban conformist school, you were admired if you were into stuff.
Chris: It's like "yeah, I'm in this this new underground, gay... sex... house... kinda like Black Dice but gayer..."
"You're 11 years old, how did you hear about this?" "Dunno, just heard about it."
"I'm 12 and what is this?" There was a widespread obsession with Joanna Newsom, which I didn't get. And the girl who ran the school music zine showed me Sublime. She had an older sister, so she was into bands that she would have normally been too young to have been into.
Chris: Sublime! Still kickin' around from my high school days!
Ira: That's surprising.
Okay, back to the music. So, why do you sound more consciously electronic? Was that your goal?
Anand: I wanna do what Sublime did!
I think there was a trend in the 90's to sound more natural and be like "don't be phony, guys". But I think you guys are very self-consciously "phony." There's a parallel between "The Children" and "Longevity," which has those modulator, talk box-type vocals. How did you guys come to be more electronic rather than just patching stuff up with loops like you did on your first album? I mean, EDM [electronic dance music]'s huge now.
Chris: I'm more into "IDM." Intelligent dance music.
It's too textural to dance to unless you're sitting there stoned thinking, "oh, this water noise is nice. I think I'm just going to accept this."
Anand: This is "ADM." Abstract dance music.
It's definitely something you can sit down and listen to, anyway.
Chris: If you're looking for new sounds and new textures, you're probably going to veer in that direction. A lot of the stuff is organic but it's treated. And using those treatments is fun. The treatment is a good way to embrace modern technology instead of just getting a nice vintage tone goin' on your amp.
With all due respect to the chillwave bands, sometimes it's nice to break away from the past.
Anand: Hipster Runoff coined the term chillwave when talking about Washed Out.
Chris: A little recent history lesson there.
Ira: Wonder if it hurts them or helps them to have a genre?
Chris: I was into chillwave when I was at Wesleyan in 2002, man! I can't be like "I was into that one Yeasayer album and then the new one came out and all the new kids were into it and I was like 'eh'"...
Ira: But chillwave is a pretty good description. It's a great term. it's a good term.
At least it's not one of those super-hyphenated genre titles. Those can get problematic and no one ends up using them.
Ira: Anti-social dance music. ASDM.
Post-traumatic stress disorder dance music?
Anand: Is abstract dance music a term?
Ira: Antisocial dance music. ASD.
Do you think coming up with a genre has helped you toward any goals in your music? You seem to have an increasingly decided sound. The first one, you were exploring more. What was that song, "Under the Eye of the Microscope?" When that came on it freaked me out. In a good way.
Chris: It's our chillwave song!
I don't think chillwave is vocal effects. It's more of a general haze over the whole song.
Chris: Sidechain compression is what you're talking about!
Ira: It's like Toro y Moi.
Chris: He sends it through a sidechain compressor and it goes, shwup shwup shwup.
I thought that's called flanging.
Chris: The sound coming out of my mouth was flanging but the sound I was trying to replicate was called a sidechain effect. So it's a little more subtle.
Oh, I see.
Ira: It's usually triggered by an instrument. Like a kickdrum comes in and everything gets quieter. Listen to Toro y Moi's first album. It's subtle, it's not crazy, but you notice it.
Chris: We used some sidechain on this album.
On "the Glass of the Microscope"? Chris: No, I think that was all, we didn't use sidechain compression anywhere else. (Laughs)
So, I heard you worked in the studio that Ford and Lopatin used? Ira: Yeah, you like them? Whatever happened to that band. Great band.
I dunno, they put out an album last year. Their new name is less catchy than Games [their old name], I think. I always stumble over it.
Ira: It's more memorable. Easier to look up on Google, though.
Did you have any personal contact with them?
Chris: Yeah, Lopatin we've known for ten years. I met Lopatin when I went to Hampshire one time to hang out. With people. We were at a party.
Ira: You know, he not only went to Hampshire, he graduated from Hampshire. One of the like, 2%. He was like a mop with a graduation cap.
Ira: And then I realized he was my brother. Two years ago, my brother found out we were related. Same sperm, different mom. We decided to just not deal with it, we decided to just keep our respective families, just because it would have been more difficult to integrate the two worlds we grew up in... but it's still an interesting factoid.
That must have been a very electronica-inspired sperm.
Ira: Who knows, could've been an electronica-inspired egg. Yeah, and the sperm could been the rhythm and the egg could have been the smoooooth.
Anand: Maybe the sperm was just responsible for his nose...
Chris: Hah, it's like a sperm with a nose...
Sperm with physiognomy... it's like in the Simpsons when they show the little sperms with Homer's head on them going into the Marge egg...
Ira: Through Daniel Patton we met Al Carlson, who engineered the record. He was the one who engineered it, recorded it, facilitated the experimentation.
Yes, I could see some production similarities between this and Ford and Lopatin. It's less bassy, in my unscientific estimation. But I guess you guys are less retro than they are?
Chris: I would say so... don't like it when people put words in my mouth, but when they're those words, I like it.
So, that's something you think you do better than they do?
Chris: I didn't say that! I didn't say that! That was a retro sound they did. They do a lot of cool experimentation sounds very futuristic. Like Oneohtrix Point Never.
That's more ambient. Anand: That new one, Replica? Check it out. It'll blow your mind.
I always thought music with no people on it was pretty apocalyptic. That post-human aesthetic.
Anand: Do you hear people when you hear guitar?
Yeah, unless the guitar is played in a really unexciting play...
Anand: You can see the face?
I can see a scrunched-up face.
Anand: You can see the jeans they're wearing?
Anand: I can always see the jeans of the person who's playing.
Doesn't everyone just wear skinny jeans now? I guess with men it's different.
Anand: Yeah, it depends. Sometimes I hear the guitar tone and I'm like "that guy is definitely wearing cutoff shorts."
Is that like Wavves? Best Coast?
Ira: This is a great interview.
Chris: This is the best interview ever, if you like a lot of nonsense.
Ira: At least you've got something original.
How did you guys get so into synaesthesia?
Anand: I heard a song today... I think it was "LIKE YOU'RE THE ONLY GIRL IN THE WORLD."
Anand: Yeah. I think it was that song. At the end of the song it had a little... nice... little Calypso synaesthesia. I heard the vocal and I thought I was drinking a slurpee.
Weird. Maybe it was just some sense-memory of walking through a mall and listening to it or something.
Anand: No, I heard the voice and it was actually a slurpee going down my throat.
What would you say is Yeasayer's synaesthesia on the new album?
Anand: Uhhh... a hot dog going through a blender.
Anand: You want baloney?
Chris: With a little strawberry jelly?
Anand: Put waffles on it?
That sounds refined. It's munchies-core. For when you just want to eat a ton of things at once.
Chris: You run with it. You can say we said whatever you want. They were taking ketamine... They were fucking a goat. They were actually smoking salmon.
They took the salmon out of the tank, chopped it up and did something incredibly dirty with it, Led Zeppelin style.
Chris: Hey, hey, we're not douchebags.