Yeasayer’s Chris Keating On Justin Bieber, Being Rich In New York & New Album Concepts

Yeasayer hardly need an introduction to Australian audiences. Ever since they first made the spiritual journey from their home in mystical indie mecca of Brooklyn in 2008 they’ve amassed thousands of frothing antipodean supporters. The three-piece are returning to our shores in February with their highly addictive, dancefloor-ready psych-pop jams for the 2011 Laneway Festival dates, plus a couple of headline shows. Pedestrian recently caught up with front man Chris Keating to extol the pleasures of New York City, the sexually confusing Justin Bieber phenomenon, and a possible all-instrumental ambient album.

Chris, last time you spoke to one of my colleagues that I work with, you were talking about when you first moved to New York, you moved to do film basically. A lot of your videos, which are completely unreal and so entertaining, are very cinematic, with this narrative and story, is that your influence? Or do you work with directors? I think having that background has enabled me to think a little harder about who we get to collaborate with. Those videos are fully a testament to the skills and the imagination of the people that we work with. I just remember – and I still feel this way – seeing videos for many years and you know they had a huge amount of money, whoever it is, Madonna, or 50 Cent, and you think ‘They have all the money in the world, why aren’t they working with really talented, young directors who are going to push the envelope and make something at least stand out, if not look totally beautiful.’ I feel like having the opportunity to work with different people is really exciting.

I know this is kind of a trashy, Hollywood question, but how did you come to hook up with Kristen Bell for Madder Red? Oh man, it’s too scandalous to even mention. (Laughs). No, no… the whole idea behind the video is having someone who is recognisable, we wanted it to be an out of work actor in the video, to provide a parallel to real life, and she was really down to it, she’s super cool. It was really fortuitous and I don’t really know how it happened to be honest.

I thought you were about to unveil some sort of scandalous relationship. Oh no, my life is so boring; there’s nothing like that to reveal. There’s no scandal. I would put any scandal out on the table, I don’t have secrets.

Are you recording anything at the moment? You’ve put out two phenomenal albums, but are we going to hear any new material when you come out to Australia in February? Ummm, maybe. We’re actually right now about 10-20 feet away from the door to our studio – we’re been building a studio, so we’ve been here every day. I’m still working at home too, but kind of on little ideas. So we’re building this studio, like literally putting in this second floor loft area and getting all of our stuff situated which has been in storage, ready to record again. I don’t know if we’ll pay any new stuff in Australia, mostly because, it’s a festival – we’re doing Laneway – and generally I feel like festivals are a very bizarre place to debut new material just because you have limited time. With your own show you can dictate ‘we’ll play for an hour and a half, an hour and fourty-five minutes, an hour and fifteen,’ whatever, plenty of time to play a couple new songs. I don’t want to have a half finished song in a 45-minute set. It’s not a place to try out new things, but we’ll see. I mean if we get something done by then that’d be great. If we felt that we could really put it into the set and it’d work, then that’d be cool. It’s sort of the end of our tour with this album. We ended the last tour of our last album in New Zealand and Australia and we’re doing it again.

Nice. It’s pretty amazing that you’re building you own studio, is that a bit of a trip? To call it a studio is slightly a glorified term. It’s a soundproofed room. It’s in Brooklyn, so it’s smaller than it would be if it were in Philadelphia. We’re putting in all of our recording equipment in it and it’s going to a place to brainstorm and work, and practice and play. It’s not very fancy. But yeah, it’s cool, it’s exciting. We liked it and we record ourselves so, we’re pretty comfortable in that environment.

Do you surround yourself with particularly inspirational visuals or music that you like to listen to, because I’ve noticed that art and design in general seems to be a big influence or at least a focus of Yeasayer. Would that be an accurate observation? Yeah, I think that’ll come at the end, when we get it all situated. We’ll fill up the place with something that’s aesthetically pleasing and comforting, and nice to have around. I’m pretty excited by visual elements. I have a giant tour poster from Brian Eno’s 1978 album in my house that I have for a little bit of inspiration.

Very cool. I noticed, on that topic, on your Facebook page this morning you made a comment about Pitchfork’s Worst Album Covers of 2010 list, which they included you on; which you must be kind of pissed off about. Oh I had no idea that we were included on that list.

Oh maybe it was someone else from the band… I think Pitchfork’s [design] aesthetic is like the most middle of the road, bland, indie rock aesthetic, it could be a positive thing if that’s the case. They’re like into shit that I was into when I was twelve.

Well, this is your chance to hit back. When they talk about music, they can talk about music. But when they talk about design and visual aesthetic, that’s my world. That’s what I went to school for, that’s all a part of the people that I’m down with. So yeah, they can’t fuck with that.

Hah. That’s fair enough. Do you read your own reviews Chris? I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t ever do it, but I try not to though, because I’ve learned that it’s not productive. Even if it’s very positive, then you get a big head and if it’s very negative then you take that even more seriously. So I try not to.

Since you guys released Odd Blood what’s been the biggest change for you guys; because you’ve really kind of blown up with this album. All Hour Cymbals had a lot of success and you got a lot of positive feedback but I guess you’ve really grown your fan base with the release of Odd Blood. Have your lives changed significantly? Are you guys rich now? Yeah we’re so rich (jokes).

You’re wearing a fur coat now aren’t you? My life is basically exactly the same. I’ve lived in the same building for seven years. I used to have roommates but now I don’t. My wife is my roommate. The ability to support myself through music is a good thing, but in no way is it close to being rich. Actually Anand [Wilder, keyboardist/guitarist] bought a car – that’s big. Nobody has a car in New York. He bough this car and I was like ‘oh my god, we’ve made it.’

Haha. I love it. That’s like the yardstick: if you have a car. In the rest of the world and any other part of America, you’re seen as kind of poor if you don’t have a car, but in New York no one has cars. Except for people that inherit a car, they drive their parents cars, or they’re rich. Or they’re just ballin’.

What’s your favourite part about living in a city like Brooklyn or New York where you can’t even have a friggin’ car? I think it’s a very exciting, vibrant place. Just the fact that I can… – standing right here, I’m in this bar on the corner, a really good bar which is on the street of another good bar, down the street there’s a great restaurant, that my friend owns, that’s 20 metres away. And I’ve got friends that live here, people are always doing something and it’s super exciting. It feels like a good place to be, it’s engaging and energetic. Aside from the nightlife, the food, the people, the fact that nobody has cars – they’re always walking, always doing their own thing. I was at the MOMA (Museum of Modern Art) yesterday with my friend and then we ended up going to this restaurant randomly with another one of his friends who records Passion Pit. It’s fun to hang out with different people and everyone always comes through here, so friends from Australia or England, they’ll come through New York at least once a year and you get to see everybody.

I guess, in terms of Australian cities, New York is in some ways it’s similar to Sydney; not a lot of people drive because parking is such a bitch – you’re like the richest/luckiest person alive if you’ve got a parking space in the inner city. There’s a bit of similarity there but obviously on a much lesser scale. There are definitely some similarities, the culture in Sydney and in Melbourne too: easy to walk around, easy to get around by public transportation, and there’s kind of vibrant stuff going on. New York is also huge, but it has that enormous, overwhelming feeling which can be bad sometimes, but it’s still really an exciting place.

So if you weren’t living there, what would be your second choice? I don’t know. Honestly, I really love Australia, I’m not just saying that. San Francisco has always been one of my favourite cities in the world. But other than that, I’d probably not do the city thing. I’d live in the middle of nowhere, like three hours from the city, outside… somewhere in between San Francisco and LA.

Tell me about the writing process of any new music that you’re going to work on, because there was quite a different sound between your first two albums and you kind of moved into this more pop, hooky direction. Are you staying within that realm of exciting pop music? I don’t know. We definitely threatened to our label that we were going to release an all-instrumental, ambient album.

Is that a possibility, or is that just an empty threat? I mean, that’d be a possibility. I like writing songs that are pop-structures and hooked, and I like dance music and I like three and a half minutes songs… I would never release an entirely ambient record, but I would do something that was like an A and B side, day and night kind of album, that had certain feeling on one side; or a double album, or something like you buy one album and download the other album for free. I don’t know, kind of experimenting with the structure of it.

Cool. So is that in the pipeline? Well I need to finish this loft in our studio first before I can even think about it. But I’m thinking about it before I can even lay it down… who knows.

I love that concept. Or else we could give it all up and produce the next Justin Bieber album.

Haha. I’d love to hear that. Do you get the whole Justin Bieber thing, out of curiosity? Ummmm no. If I were a twelve year old girl, then maybe he would get me off or something. He’s like a good-looking little dude and can dance and shit but I think the songs… yeah I don’t get it. I’m like a 30-year-old white man, I don’t get that shit.

Hah. I don’t either. I mean he’s… – He’s almost like a cute girl. Am I sexually attracted to him? I can see why a girl would be down with that.

It’s like the Hanson thing. Remember Hanson? Except Bieber can sing, and he can actually dance pretty well. I saw him dancing and he’s got the Usher dance moves down. It’s sexy.

He’s got all this… urban cred (Groans) That’s kind of lame dude. Urban cred ain’t what it used to be. I think a lot of urban cred these days is awful.

So of what you’ve heard over the last year, what are some albums or artists that you really like or have been really into? I don’t know, I always end up saying people that I know because that’s who I’ve heard the most. Sleigh Bells, Washed Out, Javelin – amazing, they’re really good. They do beat-heavy, production style sort of stuff, they’re from Brooklyn. It’s hard. I like Zola Jesus and The West Coast, who I haven’t met yet but I like their stuff.

My time’s up Nick. Thanks for chatting – I’m looking forward to seeing you play when you’re down here. I’m looking forward to it too.

For Yeasayer’s Australian tour info visit the Laneway Festival website

Title Image by Nick Sethi