Tuesday, 9 February 2010

From The Jungle To The Dancefloor: The Progression of Yeasayer

It's a new decade and Yeasayer are full of the joys. I spoke to a loved up Chris Keating to get the lowdown on Odd Blood.

Yeasayer are in love. The Brooklyn band spent the course of their stunning and somewhat inauspicious debut set All Hour Cymbals bemoaning “the times we’re living in” and fearing “the future we’re born into”. Album number two, though, is a decidedly more starry-eyed brew. With cupid’s arrow firmly lodged in each of their three rears, Yeasayer have made an unashamed, dancefloor friendly pop record. Odd Blood is a libido led sonic boudoir. Their propensity to experiment remains, but their energy and residual creative schizophrenia have been channelled in what lead singer Chris Keating describes as “a more positive fashion.”

Keating was speaking to The Skinny a fortnight before Odd Blood’s release and was on hand to explain a little bit about the band’s change in outlook. “There are more love songs on this record compared to apocalyptic ones. There are still some dark themes there, but we are in a more content place now on a personal level than when All Hour Cymbals was being written. When we were working on it, this all started coming out without us even realising it. We’re all in relatively new relationships and we’re all very happy about that. So I guess that’s pretty obvious.”

The escalating influence of dance music production on Odd Blood, Keating goes on to tell us, encouraged them to be more open lyrically. “In reaction to the inorganic electronic sounds that we were getting from the instrumental tracks,” he explains, “we reverted inwards and started talking about personal things, like relationship dictions. We started telling little stories about that.”

The introduction of matters of the heart is not the only change the band has undergone since All Hour Cymbals. Around the time of their emergence, the drums of Africa were beating with increasing vociferousness over the work of a multitude of contemporary artists. It’s a sound that over the years has resonated heavily with New York luminaries, from Paul Simon to Vampire Weekend. Yeasayer’s debut trod a similar path.

Keating fondly recalls borrowing twenty records at a time from his local library and cultivating an encyclopaedic knowledge of Afrobeat reissues from the late 70s: from Chimurenga, to Highlife to Thomas Mapfumo. Upon discovering that bassist Ira Wolf Tuton shared his passion, it was incorporated into the very fabric of Yeasayer. Thus, its absence is one of the most surprising features of Odd Blood. They’ve peeled away the layers, raised the vocals in the mix and abandoned the sound of Africa. As Keating explains though, the ethos of the band dictates that change and evolution is compulsory.

“The idea is to never have to be pigeon-holed or pinned down in any one corner. We have to be cagy, like Mohammed Ali in the ring. It’s important to move from idea to idea, especially in this early stage in your career. We want to get as many different people to put as many different labels on us as possible… and then maybe slow down a bit when our fighting legs are a little slower. We’ll have to play rope-a-dope or something!”

Their kitchen sink approach may be the very thing that comes to define them. They throw everything at the wall and for the most part, it sticks. When quizzed on whether he finds it difficult to focus on a single idea, Keating insists that such an approach is intentional and in this day and age, perhaps more relevant.

“We try to make music that reflects how people are music these days. There’s a whole lot of scrolling through iPods, trawling the internet and MySpace and a general shift from the ‘album format’. The whole world is becoming chaotic in terms of information: we’re overdosing and this is how I want to make music.”

However settled and content Yeasayer may be with their personal lives, there are still grander issues that they feel strongly about. Keating is a self-confessed Democrat. He was vocal in his support of Obama’s election and his tone is lifted when he discusses the mood in New York City in the months that followed it. “It was ecstatic; there were parties on the streets and people cheering… it was insane. New York is a liberal place but for a few months it was crazy. You’d go up to people on the street and high-five them; there was a genuine sense of celebration.”

Yeasayer: 2080 / Tightrope on Blogotheque

But a year into his term of office, the critics are sharpening their knives. Despite (controversially) bagging a Nobel Prize, things have improved slightly, if at all. The American public’s optimism has waned and Keating is no different.

“Things are screwed up. Slowly there are minor changes, but the sweeping, hopeful change people thought was going to happen hasn’t materialised. I like the guy (Obama) but I’m done with the support. The Republican fucks in this country make me sick. The fact that a liberal like Obama has to appease them, these corrupt congressmen and senators, and can’t even squash them, despite having the majority, makes me sick.”

Keating goes on to voice his distaste for George W Bush, at whose feet he places the blame for the crisis enveloping the world: “Bush dumped out an entire trashcan of shit on someone’s doorstep and you try to walk into the house without getting dirty.”

For Keating at least though, the future is rosy. Odd Blood has the potential to earn them commercial success to rival the critical acclaim that met All Hour Cymbals. A wider audience may be just around the corner. To paraphrase: it’s a new year, and Yeasayer are definitely glad to be here.

Written for The Skinny

No comments: