FEATURE: Yeasayer Has Nothing to Fear

To understand how and why they never really felt the need to fit in, it helps to go back to elementary school. Keating and Wilder met in Baltimore in first grade when Keating kicked Wilder in the balls for no reason. “I don’t know why, but I think about that a lot,” Keating says. “I think your concept of what hurts in first grade is different. I had a lot of anger issues, it turned into a big deal and he hated me. Then in fourth grade we became friends because we were both sort of obnoxious or whatever.” Meanwhile, Wolf Tuton was growing up in a musical house in Philadelphia, his dad a jazz bass player and much of his mother’s side of the family classical musicians. As a result, when Wolf Tuton picked up the bass, he played to impress—ignoring song structure and hooks in favor of technical fingerwork and low-end theatrics. Eventually he’d realize he “didn’t have to be Jaco Pastorius. I just had to have my own voice.” Wolf Tuton would meet Wilder and Keating through a complex familial web that involved Wilder’s cousin getting married to Wolf Tuton’s sister. They started bro-ing down over shared and unshared music obsessions, so that by the time Wolf Tuton joined Keating and Wilder in New York, starting a band seemed an obvious choice. “I don’t pay attention to any of the history without me,” Wolf Tuton laughs. “It’s not very important or interesting. Somebody was doing something, then I showed up. That’s when we really got going.”

Yeasayer’s new album, Odd Blood, is the fully realized result of this random violence turned friendship and strangely destined new path, inexplicably blending heartache and the looming global apocalypse. Where Cymbals dulled the impact of their doomsaying by sheathing it in gauzy jams, Odd Blood punctuates it with sharp hooks and clear vision. It’s almost deceptively simple on the surface, but underneath runs a churning and meticulously strange thought process. There is an ominous intensity even in the most outwardly exuberant songs—a thread that Wilder confirms runs through the new album. “We found our juxtaposition,” he says. “We like to have things that are at war with one another. When we did ‘O.N.E.’ I was sort of against it at first. But then it was like, Let’s make a dance beat that’s undeniable.”

“O.N.E.” sounds like it’s from an ’80s beach party montage, with hyperactive drums and calypso synth, but the lyrics are the confession of an abandoned infatuation. “Mondegreen” works in reverse, employing a heavily processed horn section, urgent handclaps and martial tempo, clashing with the carefree chorus Everybody’s talkin’ about me and my baby, making love to the morning, morning light. Knowing Yeasayer’s decidedly bleak perspective, these juxtapositions become disconcerting, the last desperate pleas before the end of the world. “You can’t help but look around the world and think that something is really wrong,” says Keating. “You go to Bombay or Rio and there’s a pile of trash and smog and that’s an example of what America is going to become: absent middle class, huge lower class, elite fucking ivory tower bullshit with the ruling class. The future is a little bleak. I read the newspaper, and I’m interested in what’s going on in the world, but I don’t consider us super political. I don’t know where to start with that.”

There seems to be some uncertainty about how their existing fanbase will take Odd Blood, a record that is tighter, more dense and considerably less mystical than Cymbals. “I feel like we’ll probably alienate some people,” Keating says. “I wonder if people are going to be bummed, like our hardcore hippie fanbase. [The British press was] so into their shitty version of fashion that they’re like, Are you guys hippies? And it’s like, What are you talking about? What do you mean? Do I have a dreamcatcher hanging off my shit? I don’t know! I didn’t shave. I’ve been on tour. We’ll totally embrace some kind of post-version of whatever the hippie lifestyle means, but we’re city guys.” Odd Blood’s first single, “Ambling Alp,” might be the best example of this conflicted and hermetic philosophy. At first it seems emptily inspiring, Keating singing about sticking up for yourself in the face of anything that comes your way, and then there’s an unusual reference to Nazi boxing champ, Max Schmelling. “My grandfather was a boxer,” Keating explains. “I grew up with a lot of that stuff, boxers were emphasized. It’s almost like someone’s giving [a young] Joe Lewis advice—this is how you fucking be tough and stay positive. It was a good challenge for me to try and include these archetypes and historical figures that I like to read about. I’ve never really been able to do that.” Then Keating shows me a massive crab tattoo on his arm that people often misconstrue as an astrological sign but is actually a dedication to his Baltimore roots. It seems no matter what Keating, Wilder and Wolf Tuton do or say they will be misunderstood because no one can pinpoint exactly what Yeasayer is about. They will always be on the outside, looking even further out.

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POSTED April 7, 2010 7:16PM IN FEATURES, MUSIC INTERVIEWS Comments (8) TAGS: , , ,

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COMMENTS

  1. Will says:

    Great interview Sam. I really enjoyed this, and learned a lot about the band.

  2. Pingback: Must Read Pieces on The National + Yeasayer | We All Want Someone To Shout For

  3. Flightly says:

    Thanks for the awesome interview. I think I love Yeasayer ever more than I already did.

  4. Jen says:

    Great interview and wonderfully written – thanks!

  5. Maggie says:

    Gosh, they really do just sound like my cup of tea. What a great capture of them in this interview. Well done Fader.

  6. Pingback: Yeasayer Backstage Interview in San Francisco « The FADER

  7. mimi l says:

    good article

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