I found this quote on Le Blogotheque, which is the website that does the Take Away Show you guys participated in back in 2008. It said, That evening, we talked Yeasayer into going wild, but they went even further: they dragged us. Yeasayer are fun. Watching one of the videos, there seemed to be some reluctance and confusion by a couple of you regarding actually doing that performance. What can you tell me about that night?
With those kind of live, impromptu things, they can either go really well or they can be really sloppy. That was kind of a zeitgeist thing back in 2008; a lot of people were doing those. I didnt really want us to do something that was just kind of thrown together. I really wanted to get to a piano
Yeah, theres a conversation with one of you about trying to find a piano.
Yeah, the quest to get to the piano. So, we did a couple things on the way, and we finally got a piano. It had a real kind of story to it; it had a real narrative. They were very good at editing, so they could make the night seem a lot more romantic, maybe, than it actually was.
Watching the first video, its almost like they grabbed you right after a show.
Yeah, and thats always a stressful thing when youre, “Oh, god, we have to do this.” I cant even imagine doing that now.
I think it was Chris who actually said that he had heard that this was a good thing and that people watch this and thats why you were willing to do it and if you were going to do it, you were going to do it right. I thought that was interesting. But as you said, the creative editing definitely made the whole trek on the metro and the arrival at the apartment seem like one seamless flow.
Right. And it was an interesting one, too, because I think that a lot of other Blogotheques are just like one song, and theres like four songs, I think.
Each video was you doing two songs.
We actually even took some of the inspiration from that. When we actually recorded the song Tightrope, we were like, “Lets do that piano, some of those piano chords that I played on the Blogotheque thing.” Yeah, I actually got some inspiration from that.
Would you ever do that again?
The Blogotheque thing?
Yeah. Now that you know what to expect.
Yeah, I dont know. Maybe. I dont know if the songs call for it or if we want to kind of keep that as a sacred kind of thing. We did an acoustic version of O.N.E. on a trip to an Australian radio station.
An acoustic version of O.N.E.?
Yeah like a country version of O.N.E.
Interesting. Ive read that you dont even consider that song a dance song, but it has kind of a dance feel to it. Do you not consider it a dance song because of the contents of it?
No, I would say thats a dance song. Sure! Yeah, thats a dance song. It could be a country song; it could be whatever. But yeah, we definitely did more a kind of country-fried version on the Triple J, which you could check out. Thats probably the closest thing we did to a stripped-down performance since the Blogotheque.
Ive read that you guys self-describe your music as “Middle Eastern-psych-pop-snap-gospel.” I understand all of that except what is snap? Every time I hear “snap,” youre insulting somebody.
Yeah. [Laughs.] I dont know. That label was just kind of choosing all these different, random styles just to kind of show that we mash these things together. I have no idea what snap is either
Its one thing when youre reading constantly that Yeasayer was the most blogged about band in 2010 blah blah blah. I found this interview where you all were talking to The Guardian, and you were like, yeah, yeah, yeah, were the most blogged about band, but we really dont give a shit. Somebody could like us, but they could like a lot of things. They can not like us; they can not like a lot of things. But you did give credit, though, saying you thought that the blogs did help boost your career. In an honest opinion, did the blogs just speed things up? You probably would have “made it” without the blogs, dont you think?
I dont know; I have no idea. Im not someone who reads a lot of blogs, so I dont really know how great the sphere of influence is with the blogs compared to Rolling Stone magazine or whatever. I know that Pitchfork has so many readers, Stereogum, whatever. But I think in this kind of contemporary, fragmented society where every teenager has his own five favorite blogs, you can never discount the importance of all these blogs. I have no idea. I know that our career probably wouldnt have flourished without the internet simply because being an independently released band you just dont get the same amount of radio play as if you were on Interscope or something like that. So, yeah, for us, posting a song on a blog has been just as important, or its been the replacement for getting radio play. For me, when I was 12 years old, I found out about everything just by listening to radio stations in Baltimore. WHFS.
I was going to say HFS, which is now a Spanish-speaking station.
I dont know how 12-year-olds get their music today.
Its one of those things. Im obviously older; I grew up in the ’80s, and I feel that I was so much more informed with what was going on before the Internet. And now that I have the Internet and I have all of this access, theres just so much coming at me that I just dont know how to filter it to find what I want.
Right. And I think that thats kind of a beautiful thing because youre not just having some radio programmer telling you exactly that you should be listening to this song by the Breeders, this song by Beck, or whatever it was like in the ’90s. I think its more fragmented, and youre also able to independently come across a song by Frank Ocean on the same page as a song by Elite Gymnastics or something. And you can kind of honestly just listen to something and say, “I like it” or “I dont like it.” Its not “I like that, but why is it on that radio station?” or whatever the old debate is. So, it kind of forces you to have to think independently and be proactive in searching out new music. I like the old way of just having a favorite radio station I can put it on and know exactly that its going to play some good music that Im going to like. But I dont know if that exists anymore.
Even college radio is stifled compared to what it once was. In this day and age of rapid turnover, it seems one of the best ways to ensure survival and perhaps even longevity is to actually do things slowly with focus and purpose. Which you can say Yeasayer certainly does. Chris even said something about how R.E.M. is a model for you guys with the slow boil and how the band progressed slowly in the early ’80s before blowing up.
I can easily see Yeasayer doing that because when you listen to the first album and all the critics are loving you, you could have easily ridden that to a blockbuster success if you had wanted to.
Ridden the first album to blockbuster ?
Well, I mean, after the fact. After everyone was loving you, you could have easily ridden that hype into a totally different realm, but you seemed to not do that. You wanted to still do things your own way.
Yeah, I dont know what we would have done. I guess we could have just repeated the formula. But I dont know that repeating the formula of the first record would have given us more success. I think we got pretty much everything we had hoped for except for maybe a few BBC/Radio 1 singles.
Theres a consistency between the three albums, but theres an evolution too.
Totally, I think that it would be really boring if we were doing the same thing over and over again. Thats the challenge to keep moving forward.
I was talking with Serj Tankian recently, and he said the same thing; artists that do the same thing over and over again, theres no point.
Definitely. And I think there are a lot of artists who do the same thing over and over again and have a lot of success with that.
Thats probably why they do it over and over again. They get blinded by the success?
Right. Or its just thats their thing that they do over and over again. And they dont know how to do anything else or dont want to do anything. Theres also the flip side of that where someone is just constantly following trends in a superficial pandering way, which is also kind of ugly. So, you hope to be able to kind of take inspiration from current trends but also be able to apply your own unique stamp to it.
You certainly dont want to be derivative. Chris said once that the hardest thing about writing a song is getting the initial idea. Is there a routine you go through when working on a song or album?
Right now Im trying to write a song. For me the hardest thing is just sitting in front of the computer and getting started. After that, it just comes; you just have to put the work in. I dont think theres necessarily a set routine. It excites me to be able to approach songs in a different manner. This one is going to start with a guitar riff; this next one is going to start with this weird sound of pouring cornflakes into a bowl or something. Its good to keep yourself on your toes and find different ways of being creative.
So, the coverage of Yeasayer invariably draws comparisons to fellow Brooklynites and Maryland natives, Animal Collective. Im sure that you are both friends and have a mutual respect. Lets be honest. In a back alley, do you think you could take them?
In a fight?! [Laughs.]
I kept seeing stuff like Yeasayers first album was getting praised as album of the year the way Animal Collectives was, and there is a sonic comparison. Theres four members in that band, four members in your band. You guys are both from New York and from Maryland. But honestly, in a fight, I think you guys can take them.
Yeah, I dont know. I think Ira would probably just break it up. Hes really into breaking up fights. I have no idea. Those guys seem so mellow.
[Laughs.] I was talking with the general manager of my radio station [WUVT-FM] and mentioned that question. He said that you would respond that Animal Collective was too pacifist to fight.
Yeah, too pacifist. I would be more into playing them in some kind of sport, like basketball or something.
Have you seen Scott Pilgrim vs. the World? When they have the band versus the DJs. You can have two bands rivaling each other at a concert.
Im always looking forward to someone organizing indie rock bands playing basketball or some kind of sport against each other, because I think it would be really funny.
Who would be your fifth member on a basketball team?
Probably just our manager unless we can get Reggie Miller.