Having produced a storming debut album way back in 2007, Yeasayer have proven themselves as one of the most sublime and cutting edge bands of the last five years. Now, the band is back with a new album, an exciting new sound and a whole host of psychedelic collaborations up their sleeve. James Watts caught up with singer and front man Chris Keating on the eve of their current tour.
You’re about to head off on a huge transatlantic tour. Is the prospect of being on the road for so long a daunting one?
CK: Not really, no. We’ve done similar sized tours before with British bands such as Bat For Lashes. It’s hugely exciting. We love being on the road, and we finally get to play new songs. It’s exhilarating and nerve wracking at the same time.
The new album “Odd Blood” has a more hi-def sound compared to your first album. Was this a conscious decision or did it just happen naturally?
CK: Well we had a lot more time with this record. The recording process itself was pretty similar to our first album. We rented a house in Woodstock, New York, had some friends come help us out and basically just stayed there until it was finished. The first record had a really distinct sound. It was really hazy and drenched in reverb. With the new album we wanted a lot more low-end and clarity.
You recently collaborated with Simian Mobile Disco on their latest single ‘Audacity Of Huge’. How did that come about?
CK: I wouldn’t say I was friends with them, but our bands had worked together before and they basically just called me up and asked if I’d like to write and record some vocals for their new album. I like the way it turned out too. They let me do whatever I wanted and I love their whole take on the dance genre.
How did the band come to be? Did you know each other before forming?
Anend and I grew up together in Baltimore. We used to play together in high school and carried on collaborating when I moved to New York in 2004. He then brought in Ira Wolf Newton, which kind of completed our sound. New York can be a very helpful but also very intimidating place for a band to start out in. It’s difficult to make your mark among so many other musicians. So to get those early shows was pretty difficult for us, especially when we were working other jobs. Then finally, we took off enough time to record our first album and it all basically started happening for us there.
The first album, ‘All Hours Cymbals’ has such a distinctly psychedelic vibe, was it quite easy to find your sound?
CK: We were definitely going for a specific sound with the first record, and just wanted it to stand out from all the other stuff that was out at the time. We were listening to a lot of ambient music and film soundtracks and instrumentals. And we just playing around and trying to make it sound interesting to our own ears.
How do you find the current British and European music scene compares to the current U.S scene?
CK: I’m listening to a lot of The XX like everybody is right now [laughs]. And I also really love Bat For Lashes too. We worked with her last year actually; I played bass on a couple of tracks on her latest album. To be honest though, I’m in a particularly Brooklyn-centric world of music right now. I’m listening to a lot of old school nineties hip hop such as NAS and Mobb Deep, the kind of embittered East Coast rap with a harsh realism to it. But then I’m also into lighter stuff like A Tribe Called Quest. Generally though I enjoy listening to any old music I can get my hands on, like old soul stuff.
So, are there any artists in particular you draw lyrical influences from?
CK: Well, of course David Bowie is a genius. I find the way he twists his words just mystifying. Bob Dylan, The Beatles, all the greats really. It’s just mind blowing how the Beatles managed to balance really earnest beautiful songs with all these really abstract ideas, but still managing to walk a line of being really obtuse and bizarre and making sure that even if a little kid heard it, they’d be able to sing along.
Would you say that’s what you guys try to aspire to as well?
CK: Definitely. Our main goal is to make Pop music on our own terms and to able to reference contemporary genre’s without cheapening ourselves. I have a friend with a five-year-old daughter, and the other day they left me a voicemail with her singing one of our songs down the phone, which was very sweet. But of course, that’s what we’re trying to do. To appeal to a very basic understanding of music, yet incorporate more abstract ideas on top of that.
Speaking of abstract ideas, you guys have psychedelic visuals in your videos and during your shows. Are there any directors or films that influence you in that area?
CK: I’m a big fan of seventies and eighties experimental editing techniques. Guys like Nickolas Roeg and John Boorman always had stunning, slightly trippy visuals. We just wanted to try and emulate those guys in our videos. And as for the live shows, it seems only natural to incorporate that side of things into it. I’ve a friend who hand-builds light sculptures for us and it gives the live performances a whole different angle.
Yeasayer are playing at Brighton’s Digital on February 26, and their new album Odd Blood is out February 9 2010.
Words by James Watts
(Photo credits: Guy Aroch)