Monday, October 20, 2008

Yeasayer interview

This is waaay overdue, but here's my whole interview with the awesome and oh so nice lead singer of Yeasayer, Chris Keating. Please send this to any friends interested in music because it's my first real interview and I unfortunately am not getting it published anywhere but here. For those of you here just to check up on what I've been doing, read the post below this one (though I hope you check this post out too!). Thanks, and enjoy! It's long, but well worth the read, as I got some particularly interesting unannounced (to my knowledge) music news out of him.

Danielle: “You must be tired, it’s a ridiculous flight from LA to here.”
Chris: “Well, we got in yesterday. Where you from?”
Danielle: “Philadelphia!”
Chris: “That’s where he’s from! *points at Ira* I’m from Baltimore. What’re you doing down here?”
Danielle: “I’m going to school here.”
Chris: “That must be awesome.”
Danielle: “Yeah. So, is this your first time in Australia?”
Chris: “Yup, second day.”
Danielle: “And your first gig?”
Chris: “Yeah, first gig tonight! And we already got to pet a koala bear! We got photos with them, it was so exciting. *pulls out photo to show me* They’re so cute.”
Danielle: “Awww, yeah, I love them. They look like little old men.”
Chris: “*laughs* They really do!”
Danielle: “So, from hearing your live performances, especially the Take Away video you guys did, your vocal harmonies seem to come quite naturally. Was recording easy because of that?”
Chris: “They actually don’t come naturally, we work pretty hard at it. I don’t think our voices really work that well together.”
Danielle: “Really?”
Chris: “Well, I mean, I don’t know. I never thought so. We just worked really hard to get them right. So recording, we spent a lot of time doing vocals. Like, months and months.”
Danielle: “Which song on All Hour Cymbals took the longest? Like from starting the idea to actual recording?”
Chris: “Hmmm, we did some demos for ‘2080' and ‘Sunrise’ probably more than a year and a half before the record came out. And so that was the longest, because we recorded them ourselves and then we found a record label and went into the studio for a few days and we went back and recorded ourselves again for about six more months. So those songs have been kickin’ around for a while.”
Danielle: “How do you guys pass time on the road?”
Chris: “With koala bears. *laughs* We usually don’t have any time off. Oh, reading books.”
Danielle: “Any good ones you’ve read recently?”
Chris: “I just finished ‘The Autobiography of Malcolm X.’
Danielle: “Isn’t it amazing?”
Chris: “Completely! And now I’m reading a book about oysters.”
Danielle: “Seriously?”
Chris: “It’s interesting! It’s about the oyster trade in Colonial New York City.”
Danielle: “Oh, I guess that could be cool.”
Chris: “We usually try to go places like the zoo and stuff, if someone’s nice enough to take us.”
Danielle: “Okay, not to say that it’s ‘world music,’ because I know that you guys get that description all the time when you don’t classify yourselves as that, but your music does have a very worldly quality to it. Have you ever thought about doing a song in another language?”
Chris: “No, I haven’t. I think it’s kind of gimmicky to do that. None of us are really proficient in any other languages. I like the idea of that kind of Mick Jagger type of singing words you can’t really hear. Like Michael Jackson does. You know, they’re singing in English, but they’ll mash words together so it’s hard to tell what the hell they’re saying. Even in his big hits, in the chorus. I like that better. And that’s how I got into a lot of music from other cultures, because I didn’t understand the lyrics. So I had to listen to the melodies instead, without focusing on any of the lyrical content. When we’re writing melodies, we think about it like that and then we fit in words that make sense. But yeah, I think it would be strange for us to sing in another language. It would just be a bit pretentious or fake.”
Danielle: “You guys use lots of unusual instruments in your songs like sitars or the accordion in ‘Germs,’ do you play them yourselves, or do you get session musicians?”
Chris: “Everyone thinks we use sitars, but we don’t have any. There are some sounds that sound like it... We play everything ourselves. Anand did a lot of cello and string stuff and we’d pitch it down and arrange it with a sampler in a really weird way. We’d try to combine instruments to make a new sound, like a new instrument.”
Danielle: “That’s probably what the sitar sound was.”
Chris: “Yeah, a lot of synthesized layers of strings. I like trying to do that. To create a new sound where the listener is unclear what it really is.”
Danielle: “Is that hard to do live then?”
Chris: “Yeah. We use samplers and stuff, it changes a little live. But I think it’s good that it does. It becomes a challenge to try to recreate some of those sounds. Because I don’t want it to be just a guitar.”
Danielle: “I read somewhere that Anand wrote a musical about Pennsylvania coal miners. Can you tell me anything more about that? Are you guys big into musicals?”
Chris: “I like musicals when they’re good, a lot of ones from the sixties. Some can be unbearable, but I do like that thematic song writing and over the top, grandiose stuff. He’s working on it right now, they’ll be recording it in the winter. It’s his thing, almost a solo project. Though he’s collaborating with some other people, and yeah, it’s about a coal mining town in PA.”
Danielle: “Well, it’s not very often that you hear someone from an indie band is breaking into the musical world!”
Chris: “I don’t know how much I can say about it, since it’s not my project, but it’s really cool. Going to be an awesome record, people will be excited about it once they hear the whole thing. There’s a lot of other musicians doing guest vocals.”
*At this point, the rest of the band comes over and says hello, then tells Chris they’re going out for lunch. He asks Anand to get him a vegetable sandwich, then changes it to a steak sandwich. This makes me laugh for some reason and then I feel really stupid.*
Danielle: “I first heard you guys broadcast on the radio from South by Southwest on XPN, are you thinking of doing SXSW again this year?”
Chris: “Noooo. Too crazy! It’s cool, but a little stressful. Not all that fun to play at, just more fun to hang out. We didn’t even want to do it last year that much.”
Danielle: “I heard it’s one of those things you either love or hate...”
Chris: “I haven’t met any musicians who love it. It’s kind of a mess, the sound systems aren’t very good, stressful time scheduling, and you only play for fifteen or twenty minutes. There’s no set up time. It’s not exactly ideal. It can be fun, but only as a spectator.”
Danielle: “Speaking of music festivals, you’ve been in quite a few famous ones like Reading and Lollapalooza. Do you like those or would you rather play at a smaller, more intimate venue?”
Chris: “The smaller show. Festivals are fun, it just depends on which one and they’re just weird because it’s 5,000 people and the crowd is really far away. There’s a lot of security and the stage is up way high and it’s in the middle of the day. It’s kinda strange. I prefer a smaller club. We were doing a lot of festivals and then we ended up booking a show on our way through Germany we went to Switzerland and we played in Zurich and it was amazing. There was about 150 people at this club, this tiny club at full capacity, and it was so much better than playing to 10,000 at a festival. That show gave us more energy, a little bit of renewed life.”
Danielle: “There’s big music scenes where all of you grew up. Where you in a band previously or go to lots of concerts as a teenager?”
Chris: “Me and Anand grew up together in Baltimore, we were in a high school band, but nothing too serious. We all went to lots of shows. I think Luke used to play in a lot of punk bands as a kid. There’s different things we did, but nothing serious until Yeasayer came together. But I went to a lot of shows after I learned to drive.”
Danielle: “Yeah, because the areas are all so close! That’s why it’s great.”
Chris: “Mmhmm, I drove to Philly, or D.C. or up to New York. In the last six years, there’s been a good scene in Baltimore, not so sure what it’s like right now.”
Danielle: “It has some big names.”
Chris: “Yeah, it just seems a lot of those bands are moving away or touring so they aren’t always in Baltimore. When I was in high school, it wasn’t so much the case.”
Danielle: “Now there’s the Virgin Fest.”
Chris: “They didn’t have that, I think it’s new.”
Danielle: “Pretty recently, only a few years.”
Chris: “Have you been to it? It seems like a monstrosity.”
Danielle: “ I was tempted, because it’s had some great lineups, but it’s a bit too big and expensive for me.”
Chris: “I don’t like going to things like that at all. But I can see why some people do.”
Danielle: “What’s your song writing process like? Do you guys jam and come up with your own part, or do you individually write lyrics?”
Chris: “We jam a lot, but it’s mostly based on recording. Individual people or teams of two will record ideas we have and then trade tapes for the next person to work on it and slowly build up a layering that isn’t expected. Just keeping tons and tons of tracks on a computer and revisiting old jams, like bringing them back. That’s how the record got the eclectic sound we were going for. That’s how we like to work, we’ll see what happens in the future. It’s pretty rare that one person writes a song all by themselves.”
Danielle: “A lot of your lyrics have a mythological influence, have you always been inspired by mythology?”
Chris: “Yeah, there are some archetypal elements, one of the songs mentions Icharus. We mash up mythological figures with contemporary stuff and yeah, I think that was in the writing process. Those songs can be kinda hard to write, the mythological theme is heavy handed.”
Danielle: “Especially ‘2080' mentioning the future and possible apocalypse.”
Chris: “People seem to pick up on that stuff a lot, the apocalyptic themes. I’m not sure how much there really is.”
Danielle: “When I first heard ‘2080,’ I was just listening to the music because it was on the radio and didn’t pay attention to the lyrics and I thought, ‘Oh, this is a pretty song.’ Then I went and listened to it again later and I realized it was a bit dark.”
Chris: “I like contrasting the mood of the music with the theme of the lyrics. Darker lyrics with positive sounding music.”
Danielle: “Yeah, it doesn’t have to be death metal.”
Chris: “Or the opposite. Death metal with lyrics about butterflies or something.”
Danielle: “Do you have any new songs you’re going to play tonight or that you’ve been working on?”
Chris: “We’ve been working on some stuff, but we’ve mostly been touring for the past year. So not a lot of time to work together, but some individual parts. I’ve heard some of the stuff they’ve been doing, but it’s hard right now to try to get those songs together. We’ve got a couple new things we’re going to play, some things that aren’t exactly new, but aren’t on the record. I’m pretty sure we’ll throw some of those in tonight. We never decide what to play until sound check. We have some things in the works. We’re going to be recording all winter, when we’re done touring in December. Going to take four months off and work on the new record. Then we’ll have real new material.”
Danielle: “Are you going to release the song you did for Daytrotter on the new record?”
Chris: “The Daytrotter thing was a looong time ago. Like, more than a year ago. That was just live stuff I think.”
Danielle: “Yeah, but there was one you did about the end of the world. Well, one that wasn't '2080' and wasn’t on All Hour Cymbals.”
Chris: “Hmmm, I don’t think we had a song about that... Oh, wait, we had a song that came out only on a 7 inch in the UK called ‘Final Path.’ That’s it. We have a song that’s coming out on a compilation for Red Hot, it’s an AIDS benefit with Blonde Redhead, Arcade Fire, and some other bands like that. They’re all this compilation and we did a new song for that. That’s the newest thing we’ve recorded, that was sometime this summer. Oh, no it was in May. We went to Seattle to meet with Scott Colburn, who actually recorded the last Arcade Fire record, and did that song. So that should be out... whenever that’s out. *laughs* Probably this month or next month.
Danielle: “I absolutely hate using this word, but Yeasayer was one of the “buzz bands” of last year, who do you think are going to be the next big thing?”
Chris: “Chairlift, you ever heard of them? They are going to be BIG. They’re friends of ours from Brooklyn and we’re going to tour with them on the east coast of the States for ten days. They’re going to open for us, but they’ve been on an I-pod commercial, so...”
Danielle: “That tends to launch bands, yeah. The Steve Jobs bump.”
Chris: “They’re a really good band, really cool. Uh, who else? I have friends in a band called Dragons of Zinth, their last record was awesome and they’re working on a new one. Dave Sitek from TV on the Radio produced their last record and is probably working with them on this one. So, expect them to come down to Australia and do a world tour. We toured with them in Europe. Other than that, I don’t know. There’s bands I like a lot like Dirty Projectors, but they’re already out there and people already know about them. It’s hard to say, I usually don’t like stuff that ends up being really big or popular.”
Danielle: “I’m the same way.”
Chris: “MGMT are my only exception. We were friends with those guys before they made their record.”
Danielle: “They’re doing an Australia tour soon.”
Chris: “Yeah, they’re pretty huge here, aren’t they? I mean, they’re doing well everywhere, but it seems disproportionately popular here.”
Danielle: “They put up posters for their tour at my University and within two hours, they were all stolen by people to put up on their dorm walls.”
Chris: “That’s crazy! Yeah, normally the kind of stuff I like doesn’t get commercially successful, but just from hearing their first demos, we knew it would be. They’re one of the few bands I like and respect while they’re still hugely popular. Which is awesome. And rare. But Chairlift will be the next MGMT, I’m sure of it. Get an interview with them early.”
Danielle: “*laughs* Well, I’m all out of questions. It was so great to talk with you, thanks!”
Chris: “Thank you! I’ll see you tonight!”

Edit- Unfortunately, Blogger is being annoying and not letting me upload my pictures from the show. Blast, foiled again.

1 comment:

Youngest Indie said...

Thanks for your comment! Yes, I have seen Head Automatica live as well at the Roxy few years ago and it was crazy. I am a fan as well.

Congratulations on your first official interview! :)