Yeasayer craft danceable psych-jams that deftly marry an ear for pop with esoteric influences. It’s a tenuous balance and one that the Brooklyn three-piece only hinted at on their confident 2007 debut All Hour Cymbals. Their second studio album Odd Blood on the other hand, is full of ear worms masquerading as monsters. Lift the noodling sonic fog and pop masterpieces shall be revealed. Pedestrian recently caught up with front man Chris Keating to discuss the virtues of Avatar, Saturday Night Live revenge and cabin fever in Woodstock.
Hey Chris, what have you been up to today?
I just came down today to hang out with my Paps a little bit before I go back up to New York the day after tomorrow.
Is it good to get out of New York? Do you get to do that much besides when you’re touring?
Yeah well Baltimore is about 3 hours South if you drive, so I can get out of there. I like to get out because it gets a little crazy in New York sometimes so it’s nice to get away from it for a minute.
There seems to be a spotlight on Brooklyn at the moment. Can you offer an insider’s perspective? Because we’re on the other side of the world hearing about this massive creative input coming out of there, is that what it’s like from the inside?
I think it’s hard for me to tell and you may even have a better perspective on it then me. I have friends in different parts of the world and they’ll be like “oh, what about this band or this band in Brooklyn?” and I’ll be like “I dunno man, I haven’t heard of that band yet”. There’s just a lot of music going on and it’s rad that that’s happening because it’s inspiring and any night of the week you could find yourself going out and hanging out with these musicians and making friends, and that’s totally cool. I’m inspired by that, I like that kind of community but some people think that all the bands hang out in some big club house together, so I’m not really sure what people think. Yeah everyone seems to know each other which is cool!
Are there any drawbacks with that? With this kind of microcosm of music existing in this one area.
Oh, no I don’t think so. I survive on competition, not competition in a negative way and trying to be better than someone, but just being inspired. You know, that fuel that it gives you to work harder. And it’s weird because recently my friend said “you’re not a New York band anymore because you’re a band that tours around”, because there’s bands that stay only in New York and they play over and over and over again. And that’s a problem because you can get sucked into that world because it’s a big city and you might think “oh man, look there’s 300 people at my show” but then there’s zero people at your show anywhere else. New York people can be supportive but that can also bring you down. It’s that centre of the world mentality that every New Yorker has.
Tell us about your new LP “Odd Blood’, how was the recording and writing process? Was it easier this time around?
It was probably easier because we were doing it full time as apposed to trying to fit it in and do it after work. But it was nice because we got to get out of New York to record, we rented a house 3 hours up state in Woodstock, NY and we turned it into our recording studio for 3 months. And we were isolated up there, there was nothing to do, there was nobody around and then we’d get snowed in, so we’d just work all the time. And it was really nice, it was a really great experience and it felt very magical and now thinking back on it, it was a very special time to be able to full devote yourself to working on a record 20 hours a day.
What did you do to avoid cabin fever out in Woodstock?
Well, if we were feeling like we weren’t being productive or we were hitting blocks, we’d come back to New York.We’d jump on the bus or we’d drive and just hang out back home. We’d listen to our stuff we were working on, on our iPods or a CD, and we’d kick it in Brooklyn for a couple days and then go “okay lets get back to work”. But with cabin fever, we were working on what we wanted to do, so its not boring. Well some parts are, you might think “oh I have to learn how to play that part better” or “I have to do all the editing on the computer” and we’d put that off a little bit but mostly its fun.
For a lot of people the first taste of the new album would have been the Ambling Alp clip which was probably one of the best videos that was released last year. Did you guys have a hand in the conception of that?
Well I had seen some of the work that Radical Friend had done for a band called Black Moth Super Rainbow and they did a interactive web video for them so I got in touch with them and we just really hit it off. When we started rapping about ideas, we were right on the same page with everything we wanted to do and the stuff we wanted to reference and the way we wanted to make it look. They’re just really great, and then they just took it from there. It’s fully their video, they directed it and everything, but I went to school for film and I’m really interested in making good looking things and even if it fails, I’d like it to be striking and interesting looking. I didn’t want it to just be the band playing guitars and it’s slow motion and there’s fucking water splashing around or some shit. You know, I need it to be interesting.
Have you explored any film stuff on the side as well?
When I moved to New York, I was originally working and doing a lot of film work. I worked on some movies doing props and building sets, and I worked for Saturday Night Live and they were all kind of day jobs I was doing while I was trying to get my music going. Ultimately I don’t want to be part of the film industry, because you can’t really run your own show unless you’re a Director and I don’t really see that happening for me anytime soon and I don’t really have $3 billion to make Avatar II (laughs). Making movies costs a lot of money, even making a small film whereas making a song is free. I have a little program on my computer and you spend $1000 and you have all the tools you need at your disposal and I’ll just make a song.
So what did you think of Avatar by the way?
Oh I was psyched on it. I really thought I was gonna hate it. It looked so damn stupid from the trailers and I thought it was going to be like Chinese Democracy and it’d be the biggest 10 years in the making piece of shit, but I saw it and I was blown away. And it’s in 3D, that’s fully at the next level of insanity. I thought it was really surprisingly beautiful.
Yeah when I saw the trailer I thought it was going to be the hokiest shit ever…
It looked like a new Star Wars with the return of Ja Ja Binks (laughs) or one of his blue friends you know? But I was flipping my shit when I saw that. It was just really pretty and the way he did all the nature stuff, it was an interesting movie, I’ve never seen anything like that in my life.
I agree. So what did you do for SNL?
When I started out I was driving trucks! I’d be delivering and picking up all the equipment, and just being on set and doing the fake commercials, I was a PA and then I got promoted to the coordinator. But it was pretty horrible, it’s a horrible show. I like the fake commercials but in general I’d work 18-hour days so it wasn’t that great.
That’s crazy. So have you guys played there yet?
(Laughs) no, but that’s the one goal that I have just so I can feel vindicated about all the fucking coffee making and trucks I had to drive and 20-hour days I had to spend lifting shit.
Aside from playing SNL in the not too distant future what’s your favourite memory when playing live?
Ah, probably some of the rowdier ones. Like in smaller clubs where all the shit just went haywire but it was still really fun. I mean, obviously playing festivals and big venues is amazing and I love playing in San Francisco. going down to Australia the last time was a highlight for us because it was such a weird experience to be that far away from home and playing to people who seem to know your music. But I’ve always liked a smaller crowd that gets really into it and gets really rowdy.
One time this dude took off all his clothes and got on stage with us once and then just stayed there for like 4 songs and then for some reason we decided to hold him so we were holding this naked man on the stage (laughs). Or even usually at college shows where everyone’s just high out of their minds and just acting silly and just psyched that there’s a band coming.
So you mentioned before that the writing process is done on your computer – what do you actually use?
On my home computer I have Logic. Fuck I even used Logic before Mac bought it, back when it was the eMagic program. I got it first when I didn’t know any better and a friend got it, this was like 10-years ago. I had to struggle through learning it and I’ve been doing it for 10 years and then they finally changed over and it got a lot easier to use. But to make the record we used a combination of Logic and we use Protools, but I don’t think I like Protools, I don’t know I’m not really sure how I feel about it anymore.
Is it just a habit thing now because you’ve used Logic for 10 years?
I think Logic is a better program for me. I think it’s a nice, really well made program for creating music. And I think Protools is good for recording a live band but we don’t really make records like that, we use samples and sequencing and we do a lot of electronic stuff and Protools isn’t really set up like that it feels like its been made by an old man whose really out of touch.
Its like when I was editing movies on Avid, its all fucked up and it’s like “hi this is my first computer editing program’ and shit doesn’t work right and it’s just dumb.
Technology is a bitch like that but at least it produced Avatar.
Good point, I’ll remember that for next time.
Well thanks so much for your time Chris and we hope to see you soon in Australia.
Sure thing. Thanks dude. See ya!
Thanks to our good friends at Spunk Records Pedestrian is giving away five copies of Yeasayer’s “Ambling Alp” on 12″ Vinyl (with remixes from Memory Tapes and DJ/rupture). To win email firstname.lastname@example.org and detail the most surreal dream you’ve ever had.