Interview-Yea! Brooklyn quartet is a band for today
Before they landed a deal with Baltimore-based music label We Are Free, Brooklyn quartet Yeasayer had a press release that read: "Yeasayer is a band for the future." The mantra means nothing, according to guitarist Anand Wilder– just that the up and coming band didn't have the most savvy promotional skills. Yet Yeasayer (the opposite of “nay-sayer”) is quintessentially a forward-thinking band, drawing inspiration from the lineage of rock while also utilizing modern musical technology to craft an indie-rock mesh full of harmonies and multi-faceted instrumental layers and textures.
"Maybe the next album will take place in the future, but the first one was pretty rooted in the present," Wilder laughs. "We never were a part of that mythology that we're a back-to-nature kind of group– we're a band that fully embraces technology and sees no reason not to."
Apart from their hypnotic rhythms and intriguing influences – Middle Eastern melodies here, gospel layers there – Yeasayer is a band popularized by their lyrical reactions to present global affairs– one of their first singles, "2080" begins, "I can't sleep when I think about the times we're living in / I can't sleep when I think about the future I was born into." Yet Wilder insists reactionary is different from pessimistic. "I think you're constantly reacting to other music that's going on and trying to set yourself apart," he says. "I thought the first album was hopeful."
The Hook: Do you feel like being heavily identified as "hip" or "indie" might eventually be problematic for your band?
Anand Wilder: I don't really think about that too much– for me, the whole "indie-rock," DIY thing is totally positive. It's saying your aspirations are not to become the next Fall-Out Boy, but to become something a little more experimental. There's another stereotype synonymous with mediocre music, reacting against mainstream pop music– that's not essentially progressive at all. I like to try and push the envelope, reflect the times as best as possible.
The Hook: Is that why we should be listening to Yeasayer right now, as opposed to other successful indie rock bands like MGMT or Vampire Weekend?
AW: Because we're the greatest rock band in the world right now [laughs]. It's not a competition between us and those bands. Those bands are amazing and doing their own thing completely distinct from what we're doing– each have talents that we would never claim to have. They're a couple of the biggest bands in the world right now– I would be a lot more nervous about replicating the success of our first album than I am now. I don't want to worry about being dropped from some major label.
The Hook: Now that Yeasayer is an "it" band, are you afraid of a sophomore slump?
AW: Are we an "it" band? No, I'm not afraid of a slump– I feel like we can keep growing at this slow, organic rate. With the second album, I'd rather slump and try something new and risk completely alienating our entire audience than just repeat ourselves. We could write more "2080"s, but then we'd just feel shitty about ourselves.
The Hook: Does technology make it easier to be a musician?
AW: It's easier to get across some experimental ideas with technology today, definitely. We're not good songwriters, we let the computer write the songs for us– we just have good taste. That's the true genius of old bands– the fact that John Lennon came up with a song on acoustic guitar and was able to lay it on tape. That's not how we work. We prefer to mess around with a song, rather than be stuck to whatever comes out of the brain the first time.
The Hook: What first prompted you to start working in such diverse sounds and samples?
AW: It was just a gimmick to get yourself noticed in the beginning– do we want to be another guitar rock band trying to be the next Killers, or do we want to set ourselves apart and align with the mentality of people who experiment and acknowledge music outside of post-punk England of 1977? We had a few gimmicks for the first album, used a lot of world music in the guitars or samples we used– and it worked. This time I think we are following up on our love of the spare, not as much West African influence, not as many harmonies.
The Hook: What inspired the frequent use of vocal harmonies on All Hour Cymbals?
AW: Part of that was because we were doing all the vocals at home with really crappy equipment, so if you only sang one voice, it sounded really bad– but if you kept layering weird voices upon weird voices, it gave it a kind of texture. The next album will be more polished, with more solo performances– we're committed to the lyrics, not hiding them under a haze.
The Hook: When is it due?
AW: I think the album will be out in late January of 2010. If it were up to me, I'd put it out right when the album was finished, but unfortunately there's this whole system where you have to play by the rules, especially if you're an up and coming band. It drags out until songs aren't fresh to you anymore and you're tired of them before the album even comes out.
The Hook: It's been said that "2080" is a reaction to the current mix of conservative values and advanced technology– what do you think now that we have a hip, liberal government?
AW: I liken it to the 60s, when you have our parents' generation being all hippied out, then growing up and turning into yuppies in the 80s, voting for Reagan, turning into neocons. I think Obama's awesome, but the biggest threat is complacency and thinking everything is solved now that we have a black president– I don't think that's the answer at all. At some point, it's needs to be "F*** GM" if they're not willing to move forward– if they're going to keep working in the same old paradigm, let them crash and burn.
Yeasayer performs at the Outback Lodge on 6/11. The show starts at 9:00pm, and tickets are $15.