Experimental rock trio Yeasayer burst onto the scene a few years back amid a renaissance of vibrant and imaginative New York-based rock music. The band’s 2007 debut, All Hour Cymbals, was a brilliant collision of indie rock, house, tribal folk, and world music. Having recently wrapped up recording of their sophomore album, Odd Blood, the musicians are prepared for a big 2010.
Odd Blood, anchored by its effervescent, motivational lead single, “Ambling Alp,” has been touted as 2010’s most anticipated album, a game-changer that is set to blow Yeasayer’s fame and notoriety wide open. Which may be one reason crafty downloaders got their hands on it a full two months before its Feb. 9 release date.
The band is determined not to let such a setback get them down. Here, guitarist Anand Wilder talks about dance music’s influence on Odd Blood, the recent NSFW-music-video trend, and his dream of recording with “Weird” Al Yankovic.
Let’s start at the top: What is that on the cover of Odd Blood? It’s an arresting image, to say the least.
The cover of Odd Blood is the creation of artist Ben Phelan. He can answer the details about it, but basically it’s a 3D digital sculpture combining Ira, Chris and my faces.
Odd Blood has been hotly anticipated. Are you shoring up for the increase in attention? You ready to see Yeasayer on the Billboard charts?
It would be amazing to see Yeasayer hit the Billboard charts, but I’m not holding my breath. I’m thrilled people are excited about our new record. So am I.
To me the newer stuff sounds sunnier all around, maybe even poppier, than the stuff on All Hour Cymbals. Did you go into writing and recording with certain changes in mind?
I don’t think it really sounds sunnier, I think it’s just as dark as — or darker than — our last record. But I do think we tried to go for a sparer and dancier sound, so the songs are much more
rhythmic, and the vocals are higher in the mix.
Some of the percussion and synth work on the new songs sounds like it’s rooted in ’80s synth pop and house music. What, if any, role do you think that music has played in the formuation of the new album?
We were influenced by a lot of ’80s and ’90s dance music. A lot of the synths that we used were classics from the ’70s and ’80s, like the Prophet 5 and the Prophet VS, and these really influenced the sound of the record. I was listening to a lot of Arthur Russell, Kate Bush, and Real McCoy.
There are a lot of programmed elements at work in your sound. What kind of work goes into translating that to the stage?
A lot of the recorded sounds we abandon and try to recreate using live instruments, and the sounds we want to keep we just sample and play live using whatever technology available.
Has there ever been a song that works well on record but not on stage?
We still haven’t figured out how to play “Germs” off of All Hour Cymbals on stage. Hopefully we’ll get to it soon.
Chris Keating [vocalist/keyboardist] recently worked with Simian Mobile Disco, and Anand you’re working on a musical, and you all played on the Bat for Lashes record. Are there any other extracurricular activities on the horizon?
Nothing extracurricular on the horizon just now, but we all love collaborating with other artists. Makes you feel like you’re part of one big happy family.
You’ve occasionally done remixes, and there are already a few remixes of “Ambling Alp” out there. Is that something you’d like to get into more?
I don’t mind at all if anyone wants to remix our work; I’m flattered that people are interested in remixing Yeasayer songs. I’d be even more honored if Weird Al wanted to parody our work. We choose to put our sounds out there, so now anyone can do with them what they please. We just hope enough people buy our record instead of downloading the leaked copy, so we can continue to make a living.
Speaking of “Ambling Alp,” the video recently premiered, complete with bubbling goop, psychedelic colors and a parade of naked bodies. There’s been a ton of nudity in music videos lately. Why this sudden burst now when the form has been around for decades?
Nudity’s always been around in art. I guess now the great thing is that you don’t have to worry about whether or not MTV will censor your video, since there are no music videos on MTV. So the Internet is the place to spread your video virally, and the Internet loves nudity.
You recently had words for illegal downloaders via Twitter. Do you put in extra work to keep things under wraps, or is the leak now an unavoidable occurrence? How do you feel about people having access to your work weeks before you intended them to?
I think the leak is an unavoidable occurrence. I’m less concerned about it than our record company or publicists are, I guess. For me, I wish the album could come out the day after it’s mastered. Otherwise it’s just sitting there getting stale. So I don’t really mind. It’s sad that the leak can diminish record sales, but hopefully it will generate interest and augment sales. We just want people to come to our shows, so the more people that know about us, the better. People who want some amazing artwork though should definitely buy the album in the flesh.
Brooklyn is still a seedbed for good music. What’s in the water there?
Oh, New York has always been a hotbed for creative types. It’s just become so expensive to live in Manhattan that the scene has moved to Brooklyn. It’s the same as it ever was. Like the old song says, if you can make it in New York, you can make it anywhere.