Yeasayer, a New York band whose synth-rich sound has brought comparisons to fellow Brooklynites Animal Collective and TV on the Radio, returned to Berlin in March to promote its much-hyped second album Odd Blood (Mute).
A weird-ish mix of New Wave hooks and middle-eastern-inspired rhythms mark the group’s self-proclaimed first foray into pop: “We’re purveyors of pop music,” claims Anand Wilder, who founded the band with his prep school classmate Chris Keating and their mutual friend Ira Wolf Tuton. We sat down with Wilder to discuss New York’s allure, the band’s penchant for paranoia and why its music sounds best under the influence of hallucinogenic drugs.
You’ve just embarked on your second tour. Any crazy stories from the first one?
At the end of our tour cycle, I dropped acid in New Zealand for the first time. It blew my mind – it was really amazing. And I listened to my album, in a park, and was like, “Whoa, we are really psychedelic.”
Your music is good for tripping.
Yeah, I always thought our album was bad with weed, but really great when you were sing-a-long drunk. But then I listened to it on acid and it was like, “Where are those sounds coming from?” But that’s not a very exciting story, it’s kind of clichéd. I keep thinking of other band stories about getting in crazy fights with each other, but we’re pretty non-violent people — if we’re not getting along, we’re pretty passive-aggressive about it. God, our biggest dilemma last tour was when our van broke and we had to get taxi cabs to go to the gigs. This interview’s title is going to be “Boring Band: No Shenanigans At All”.
Are you expecting a strong response to your new album in Berlin?
It’s been really good. I mean, we’ve only played at Lido, which is about four or five hundred people – but the second show is gonna be bigger than our first show. And all the press we’ve been doing here demonstrates that there’s either interest in the new album or that people are kind of just acknowledging that we’re a band to be reckoned with. I dunno: I was happy to hear yesterday that [the German edition of] Rolling Stone didn’t want to interview us based on the sound of the album. I mean – you don’t like Coldplay, but you still wanna interview them to get that feature to sell the magazine. So I was like, “Wow, maybe they actually have some credibility over there…”
Both you and Keating are originally from Baltimore. Did you move to Brooklyn for the music scene?
I did do it for the music scene… The draw of New York is that everybody is an immigrant there: everyone is trying to hustle, everyone is trying to make their music and everyone is trying to meet new people – whereas in other cities, it’s very cliquey. I mean look at Boston – I don’t think anything’s going down there, artistically-speaking, because it’s not a cheap city like Baltimore. I just want to work on my art: I want a big space. I want my band to have a practice space in my apartment.
Boston can be expensive.
But at the same time, it’s not New York. And everybody that I know that was making music in Boston has moved to New York in the last three years. If you want to become the next Maroon 5, then you’d go to L.A. If you want to be an actor or a filmmaker, you’d go to L.A. But I think New York sort of stands out as this cultural mecca: there are more bands there than anywhere else in the world, more venues for bands to play. And there’s a certain level of credibility that comes from being a band in New York — if you’ve made it there, you’ve obviously impressed people there who have access to all different types of sounds, who are at the cutting edge. Everybody’s pushing the envelope.
Are there any bands there that you feel influenced by?
I like just stumbling across bands, you know? People aren’t afraid to do strange kinds of formations. Whereas I feel like if you’re not in New York, if you’re not surrounded by that kind of thing, you think, “Okay, every band must have a drum set, must have a bass player, must have a lead guitar and a rhythm guitar”, you know? We were never that. And hopefully we were influential to others in the scene. You know, “Oh look, I can do that — all I need is a mic and some passion.”
Why is your album titled Odd Blood?
It’s such a cool little sounding expression, and Chris [Keating] thought that maybe it was slang that hadn’t been invented yet – a term for someone who is a weirdo or something. And then we were also learning about the idea of singularity and having machines integrated into the human body through very small nano-robots. We were listening to the album and we were thinking about different stories, and I was like, “Odd blood… that could be someone who doesn’t have that particular robot — they’ve pulled it out of themselves. It’s like, ‘odd blood’ — whoo!”
Can you also explain your approach to lyrics? I’ve been wondering how you come up with them, especially in the ballad-like single “Ambling Alp”.
Chris pretty much came up with most or all of those lyrics. He had been reading Malcolm X’s autobiography, which I think talked about Joe Louis fighting these representatives of the Fascist regimes in Italy and Germany, the Italian being this guy, Primo Carnera — “Ambling Alp” — and the German, Max Schmeling. It’s kind of like a story-song. And then I tried to write some personal lyrics because I think in the last album,we were really hiding behind something, writing about the weather and about kind of grandiose…
Apocalyptic themes and stuff. That’s a good way to get people’s attention with your first album. Then we thought, well we have people’s attention, now let’s see if we can try something totally different and write about trying to win over a girl or just remembering the beginning of a love relationship. But then also kind of retaining some weird twist. And paranoia.
So you wanted to keep that sense of impending doom.
Yeah. I talked to my girlfriend and I was like, “I wrote all my songs about you!” And she says, “No, that’s a break-up song, and that song’s, like, me being an asshole.” And I’m like, “Sorry, I just don’t know how to write ‘You’re beautiful as the sky’.”