Since the release of their first album, All Hours Cymbals, in 2007, Brooklyn experimental pop rockers Yeasayer have been consistently touring and releasing new music. A few years, another critically acclaimed album and being heralded as by the Hype Machine as the “Most blogged band of 2010” later, the band came back into the spotlight with their latest release – Fragrant World. Guitarist Anand Wilder sat down with MUSE writer Bhaswati Chattopadhyay to talk about the band’s new album, ongoing tour and coming to Boston.
Bhaswati Chattopadhyay: We’re all really excited that Yeasayer is going to be playing here on the seventh at the House of Blues. How’s your tour going so far?
Anand Wilder: It’s going great! You know we had to take a break . We couldn’t play Boston as scheduled in mid-September because my wife had a baby. So, we hope the Boston fans aren’t too torn out by the show being postponed.
BC: So, are there any destinations you guys are looking forward to in the upcoming months? You guys are embarking on an international tour, so, in Europe?
AW: It’s always fun for us to play in Europe, especially for me because I speak a little bit of French. And then when we get back from Europe, we’re going to go on the Coachella cruise. So then we’re going to the Bahamas and to Jamaica. Which is awesome.
BC: Wow. That does sound awesome! A few questions about your new album – Fragrant World. I’ve noticed that it’s been particularly analyzed in the context of your last two records, particularly in how it retains the same experimental style, while exploring greatly varying themes and tones. How was the band’s approach to this new record different from and similar to All Hour Cymbals and Odd Blood.
AW: It was similar in the way that we had demos that we worked out at home individually and we’d come together as a band and figure out the sounds and tones and drumbeats to accompany the songs in the studio. And some things were a little bit different because you get to hear a lot of different musicians – we had a lot of different drummers coming in. And we were doing a lot of drum programming. We were using Melodyne – which is a very cool software plug in that can separate all the different harmonics that make up the tone. We were basically playing around with the pitches of every sustained note it make an interesting dynamic.
BC: So, Yeasayer as a band has a very distinct sound and a great degree of versatility. And I feel that you can’t quite classify your sound as anything other than “pop,” because that’s the most all-encompassing term. And it seems like the band has a very interesting place in a music climate in which modern listeners seem to be moving towards caring less about genre divisions and distinctions. Where would you say Yeasayer fits into this climate?
AW: I’m really glad you noticed that we’re definitely pop music. It’s definitely the paradigm we’re working in. I’d say we’re a little bit too experimental for the current pop music climate. Which I think is rather dumbed down and boring. If you look at the Top 40, it’s full of very uninteresting, unimaginative music that panders to a specific Katy Perry-listening demographic. In that sense we’re actually against the pop trend that’s about making saccharine sounding, dewy pop-music, and signing with a major label and going for pop stardom. I don’t think that really interests us. We’re more about seeing if we can do something new, and interesting, and progressive with a bunch of different sounding instruments and cool melodies.
I’d say now that we’re more reminiscent of pop music experimentation that people like Peter Gabriel and Kate Bush were all doing thirty years ago. There’s still some experimentation going on in the pop world – like in Hip Hop. But I find a lot of the music today that are mainstream and popular to be fairly dull, you know?
BC: On the topic of mainstream and being popular: I’ve noticed that Yeasayer’s actually very active on social media. I saw that you guys were live-tweeting the last couple of presidential debates and asking via Facebook what your next single should be. You guys have quite the online presence. How would you say such close interactions with listeners and fans affect the band?
AW: I think it’s a double-edged sword. On the one hand, your fans feel a lot closer to you, and it’s an update of the old “Beatles Fan Club” and fanzine type of thing. “Be a fan! Here’s a song just for you!” You know? It’s really cool to share what we’re doing and to even have a conversation with people who are into our music.
On the other hand, some people use it as a place to get really offended if you say something that doesn’t perfectly align with their social outlook. That’s another reason I don’t think we are ever going to be a mainstream pop act because you’re going to have to be very restrained and apolitical to ever achieve mainstream acceptance.
Like, I’ll tweet something, and get a response, and it’s like, “God, this guy hates us. Why is he even following us?” I don’t want to engage in this, but it feels like you’re preaching to the choir a lot. Every once in a while, I’ve made a comment about Mitt Romney and polygamy or something, and someone’s like “Hey man, that’s not cool. I’m a Mormon and we don’t stand for that anymore.” And I’m like, “C’mon. Take a joke.”
BC: So, you guys are playing at the House of Blues in Boston on the seventh and you’ve played in the city before. How do you feel about the specifics of Boston – you know – playing here, our venues, our crowd?
I mean, I still have some preconceived notions of Boston. My stereotype of Boston is everyone wearing a Red Sox jersey. Which is cool and everything, but just really my scene. Then I went to Hmart a couple of months ago. I knew Boston had a vibrant ethnic food scene. It felt like I was walking into a market in Singapore! Complete with the really bright fluorescent light. And that was the place for me. Because usually you go to New England and it’s always about getting lobster rolls and clam chowder, and I’m kind of sick of that. Now I’m like, oh, sweet, Hmart. I gotta find that again.
That’s the great thing about social media. When I’m hungry, I can just ask “Hey people of Boston – where can I get pho or Vietnamese sandwiches?” And people will respond. It’s an amazing tool.