Yeasayer: Apocalyptic Happiness
Photo by Anna Palma
Let’s get it straight: Yeasayer are not a bunch of trippy, drug-addled free-loving dudes making music perfect for an acid trip.
“People got this impression that we were like Laurel Canyon jamband prog-rock hippies or something,” snickers frontman Chris Keating as he sits next to me on the squeaky black leather couch in the band’s cluttered Brooklyn, N.Y. rehearsal space in the Greenpoint neighborhood. He’s outfitted in a decidedly non-bohemian ensemble of conductor-striped slim pants and a neon-hued leopard print tank with his dirty blond hair tucked away in a thuggish leather baseball cap.
Well, OK, maybe the music does inspire some recreational mind-altering, but there’s far more complexity to Yeasayer than an affirmative-centric moniker and swirling synth-laden tunes that are lazily lumped into the seemingly all-inclusive modern psychedelic genre. And after spending an afternoon with frontman Chris Keating and bassist Ira Wolf Tuton, it became instantly apparent that there’s far more substance—and not the illegal kind—when it comes to Yeasayer’s hard to classify yet strangely infectious sound.
Founded in 2005 by Keating and co-vocalist/guitarist Anand Wilder, who met as teens and attended the same high school as quirky sonic savants Animal Collective, the duo quickly enlisted Wilder’s cousin Tuton to join creative forces. “We just wanted to make a cool record—or what we thought was cool—and play some shows,” Keating says of the band’s humble aspirations. “We thought maybe we’d end up getting to go to Europe or something.”
Did they have any idea how well-received their sound would be?
“We thought we’d be further along,” Tuton says with a sinister chuckle. “That sarcasm won’t print very well, will it?” he asks tentatively.
It’s this type of dark sarcasm that also informs the story behind the eager-sounding band name that, instead of coming from a place of yes, is inspired by the evil that lurks behind the pristine exterior of motivational speakers, religious figures and cult leaders with a mindless following.
“I think we have a name of a band that’s super positive, and originally, it was meant in a way that’s like sickeningly and disgustingly positive that it becomes almost negative,” Keating says of the name. “Look at it like [televangelist] Joel Osteen—shiny teeth and weird nauseating positivity that if you look at [what he’s saying] with any cynicism or inquisitive nature, you know there’s something fucked up there.”
“It’s also coming from this place of interest with the cult mentality,” he continues as Tuton makes jokes about polygamists in the dark corner of the space. “A band is essentially an excuse to get together and have this communal revelry and weird cult worship for one hour. So the idea of the name plays into that too.”
While the breakout success of Yeasayer’s debut effort All Hour Cymbals created an immediate buzz, it wasn’t until the slightly esoteric and electronic-heavy, follow-up Odd Blood that the band forged ahead and away from the confines of easy genre classifications.
“[On Odd Blood ], we started experimenting with some of those ideas and had songs that we [had written] more up and in major keys to separate ourselves from what we were doing on the first record,” explains Keating in between giddy outbursts about Tuton’s meticulous organization of the snake-like wires on the carpeted floor. “I realized that some of those genre divisions and pigeonholing are not necessarily relevant to the way a millennial generation listens to music. Those feel very much like distinctions that were pre-Internet downloading mania. But, in general, the need to divide things into genres, I suppose, has some relationship to a human need to classify things.”
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