Gemma Dunleavy on her “everyday chat dressed as sonics” and the community injustice that spurs her on
ANAND WILDER, CHRIS KEATING and IRA WOLF TUTON are YEASAYER. When I last saw them, at the end of 2007, they were playing to twenty people in Brighton. Now, they’re in the foyer of a hotel on the Pentonville Road, at the start of a day of interviews. This is because for a lot of reasons, many people are interested in them and their new album, ‘Odd Blood.’
Back in 2007, when you had to describe their sprawling but effervescent debut, ‘All Hour Cymbals’, words like ‘amazing’ and ‘new age’ didn’t really fit. Now that tribal, world-y bands don’t need a “… but not shit” don’t need a suffix, Yeasayer are going to run the world. They’ve helped record Bat For Lashes’ ‘Two Suns’, played the Guggenheim and branched out into producing (Anand worked on the Suckers EP). They are also, for what it’s worth, pretty good company.
Yeasayer have always sounded more contained and clean than people (even themselves) gave them credit for, but ‘ODD BLOOD’, and its wonderful single AMBLING ALP take this further. As an album, it’s both wonderfully succinct and direct and also overflowing with ideas and directions. By deciding to focus on the perfect punch of the perfect song, they’ve allowed each and every sound its space.
And what sounds! Sonically, it’s a joy – here is a band that clinks, yells, sings, smashes, crunches and weeps. The reason for this is that they are a band who, as they reveal in this interview, are open, hungry, to everything around them and laser-minded in their chase on the New.
So this is a pretty short visit. When will you be over again?
ira: We’ll be over again in February, around the time of the album, around Valentine’s Day. Celebrating the gift of life with a gig or two.
Do you like touring?
Anand: It’s a mixed bag. It’s part of the job, and the hardest part of the job.
Ira: Which is when you realise it’s not that hard a job. It’s exhausting, physically exhausting. Sleeping in a different bed ever night, loading in, loading out. Constantly facing your demons in the mirror every night, hanging out with alchoholics …
Chris: The groupies, the overdoses, naked young boys running around….
Right. How much of the new album was recorded on the road?
Anand: None of it. We recorded in a studio in Woodstock, New York.
Is that in upstate New York?
Chris: Yeah, it’s exactly two hours north ot Manhatten.
Ira: I mean, for us, Woodstock was the inside of a house. We weren’t wandering around by the side of a lake, gaining inspiration. Though you do have the Catskills there, and that’s where New York’s water comes from, some reservoirs up there. That’s why New York water’s so good, it’s all fromt hese gigantic resoivoirs upstate.
Apparently that’s why new York pizza is so good too, the quality of the water.
Ira: Yeah, right. From huge massive aquaducts.
How did somewhere so rural impact the album? I mean, as an album, it sounds very clean, very sunny, like a very big lake…
Anand: The town itself didn’t impact the album so much as the house in which we recorded it. The building we were in had a load of instruments, loads of synthesisers all over the place that the guy let us use.
Ira: It was set up with a studio in his basement, and we took the gear and set it up all over the house. Recording looking out of big windows, the kitchen over there. it was very active.
Chris: There’s nothing like recording in the space you live in.
It sounds a lot clearer. Was that intentional?
Chris: A lot of the work on the last album was to get it to sound fucked up. This was a little more like How do we get that to be clearer? How do we get that to be seperated?_ We wanted to make a clearer album, as if the clouds from the first album were dissapating. Not necessirily like a sunny day or whatever… but certainly what is underneath all that haze.
Anand: Our intention is still to layer and layer and layer instruments, but here we were a lot more willing to just cut off sounds. Even something that we really love, we’d just get rid of it. We wanted a much sparer album.
Something that I love about ‘Odd Blood’ is that strictness. Like, ten songs, thirty minutes, simple, distilled. Were you deliberating going against the “sprawling second album” thing?
Ira: Yeah, we did want to get away from that, we did want to have sparer arrangements. We wanted to get away from the dirge.
Chris: Now I want the dirges back. [Laughs] We were like No! No songs over three and a half minutes. Then of course that doesn’t work out, but that was our intention. Ten songs, boom-boom-boom-boom-boom. It just seemed like a change.
People have said how lyrically, more optimistic it is. Do you agree?
Chris: Wait, domestic or optimistic?
Uh, I said optimistic …. but was it more domestic?
Ira: Well we were all living in the studio together for the whole time. It’s the most grocery shopping I’ve ever done.
Chris: And the grill? That grill was pulling me home. I don’t usually cook at home, but out there … I could grill like a man. You just go out and grill in the snow. Get some steak, some fish, some veggies burgers, it was great.
Ira: We had a few steak-offs.
Steak offs? What, like competitions?
Ira: Yeah. Chris here cooked a lot of seafood. Anand and me, we both had different ways of cooking seafood, both of which worked.
Anand: I’m more of a rib-eye kind of guy.
Ira: And you’re more into marinating.
Anand: Yeah, I like marinating. I like a good peppersteak. And I can make a mean egg pizza.
Chris: That was something I just thought would be disgusting, but it’s really tasty.
Yeah, your first Florentina is like …. wow.
Chris: Yeah, it’s nice, it’s really nice!
Ira: It’s good, it’s a quiche kind of vibe.
What was it like living in the same house? Do you get on each other’s nerves?
Anand: Well, we went home every five days, so it didn’t really come to that. Plus, Chris and I were roommates.
Ira: But the home studio was something we were used to. The first album was recorded in our homes. So that whole making food in the kitchen then playing thing was pretty normal.
Chris: You know, I hate studios. When people say Oh, it’s such a shame that this studio and that studio closed down, yeah, it is a shame, but those studios were uncomfortable. Like, we went to a beautiful studio, wonderful, but I was still like “….Would I want to spend every day for a month here?” Taking cabs in the morning, the subway back…
Ira: You know, you have that thing at a studio that you’re on the clock. If it’s not coming, you just have to bang your head against the wall. There, it was like you take a break, you go chop wood, you go kill some mice…
You go kill some mice?
Anand: There was no-one else there, so…
Ira: Yeah, I was the master. It was brutal. If you’re a rodent, stay the fuck away. City mice are hard to kill, but field mice it’s like … Wanna dance?
Which songs specifically were recorded after you’d just killed something?
Ira: Pretty much all of them. I’ve killed more mice than there are tracks on the album.
Wow. Did you need to kill a mouse before getting going?
Ira: Well, you generally set the traps before going to bed, and empty them in the morning. Any mice that were still alive, you had to go out back and finish them off with a shovel.
Anand: Remember that mouse that fell into that milk jar?
Chris: God, the smell. Our landlord were like “You guys stink …. “ And we were like “huh?” Then Ira found this milk bottle that a mouse had fallen into and died there, and rotted…
OK! I should ask you something about music. You use a lot of the language of folk music, but you compose a great deal on computers. What’s your attitude toward technology?
Chris: What is folk music? I don’t even know what it is. It’s the act of storytelling, isn’t it? It’s that refrain, that repeat. I mean, you take the sexiness and pain and dancy-ness of the blues and add it to the song structure of folk, you get rock and roll. That’s what it is. Where technology comes into it is that people get obsessed with their toold. People are like “Jimi Hendrix … He played a guitar. I wanna play a guitar just like him.” But instead if you say that I’m not going to do what he did because no-one can ever do it better, I’m going to take whatever I have, this fork, this fucking coffee cup [picks up coffee cup] just get that sound that I like, and use computers and technology to get the sounds you want, but still use tell a story. It’s getting those sounds that are interesting to you.
Anand: It’s that structure, isn’t it? That’s all folk is, and all popular music is folk, almost. I went to see this multimedia free jazz band the other night, and it was OK, you know, this guy playing an electric guitar, this guy playing a double bass, and it didn’t really go anywhere, which was a nice change I suppose from seeing all these folk bands, whether it’s electro or hip hop. But if it’s all about the feel, why are you playing it on a standard drumset? What don’t you play it on something else?
Chris: All those technologies are antiquated. There was a point when an electric guitar seemed like a betrayal of Bob Dyaln’s roots. There was a time when a making a beat from two records was new and mind-blowing. So what is the new technology? What are you going to use to make today’s music?
Ira: The idea of being a traditionalist is not exciting at all. All the way to back to the harpsichord, people who heard the first piano were like “Man, it’s too loud.” Glass and steel didn’t used to be thought of as architecture.
Chris: Musical equipment is so fetished, it’s so sexualized. Like, I want that snare, yeah, gimme a cymbal, yeah.
It’s the whole idea of the idea of the thing rather than the thing itself.
Chris: Exactly. We’re not above ripping things off, we just want to rip off so many things that it becomes original. I don’t feel any need to play rock n roll. It was singlehandedly created and killed by Muddy Waters. Once it’s perfected, it’s kind over.
It’s like hearing ‘the Freewheelin’…’ I mean, if you’re a musician, how can you listen to that and not pack up your guitar and harmonica?
Chris: Yeah! Like seeing Jimi Hendrix play in 68 – doesn’t that just end the conversation about what can be done with that there?
Ira: Repetition is valued, originality is not. Yu look at all those trade magazines, guitar player or whatever, and it’s all the guy who can play the fastest, not the one that is looking to take the music to the next step.
So you’re not shy about saying that you want to make original music?
Ira: Completely. Yes. That is the only thing.
What word would you use to sum up the album?
Chris: One word? ONE WORD?! To sum up an album?
Ira: That’s gonna be the whole interview right there.
Chris: One word? Fuck.
Ira: August. [Laughs]
Chris: Funky? Fuck, what a question.
Anand: I can’t think of one …. no, sorry.
Right, never mind. Moving on.
Ira: Yeah, nice question dude. [laughs]
Yeah. What was I thinking?
Chris: You dropped it there. You were going so well, then…
I mean, “one word?” Fuck.
Ira: [Laughs] “Fantastic.” That’s my word.” Fantastic.”
Final question, any tips, future plans, stuff like that?
Chris: Tips in life?
I meant musical tips, but yeah, life tips are good.
Ira: Wear a bicycle helmet. Stop worrying about your hair and put on a fucking helmet.
Chris: Put on the hat, take off the condom.
Put on a helmet, take off the condom? That’s a mixed message.
Chris: Yeah [Laughs]. Ira’s mom’s gonna be like “I liked what you said, but your friend Chris, I didn’t like it.” Tips… Stop eating tuna? It’s bad for you, it’s bad for the environment. Stop it. I’m a big fan of fish, see. Tuna? Let them fuck a little. Take a two year break from tuna and let the tunas fuck.
Ira: And don’t eat monkfish, man. You know, some of them are 150 years old? Jesus.
Anand: I’ve got some bands for you – Gates of Heaven, Heavy Birds, Sleigh Bells, Suckers, I just produced their EP, they’re cool.
Chris: Javellin, they’re great. Little Dragon as well. Lucky Dragons are also awesome.
Alright, sweet, cheers for that, I think we’re done.
Read our piece on another wonderful Brooklyn psyche band peaking now, GANG GANG DANCE