Interview: Yeasayer

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Simon Vansintjan talked to Chris Keating from the band. FA: First question we were told to ask you by our head of music.

‘what’s with the name?’

FA: haha, no, it’s a bit cheesier.

‘if you could be an animal what animal would it be?’

FA: close. if you could be any cheese what cheese would be?

‘St. Andre.’

FA: any reason?

It’s the most buttery, my father in law attributes his heart attack to St. Andre. It’s incredible.

FA: You’ve gotten a series of positive reviews for odd blood..

‘except for pitchfork’

FA: pitchfork wasn’t positive?

‘Pretty middle of the road, they gave us a 6.2, but they’ve never given us good reviews. They’ve always talked about us, but never given us good reviews. people say ‘you get a lot of love from pitchfork’ but we don’t really. (laughs) We try to transcend any one blog.’

FA: How much does it matter to you to get good reviews?

‘Honestly I don’t really care that much, I mean, I obviously care because it’s indicative of being able to sustain a career, and as long as people are psyched on it and come to shows that matters more to me than what some guy in the new york times says. and there’s a handful of reviewers that if they’re well written and exciting that’s cool, but i don’t care about a review that much. If you start taking the good ones seriously you have to start taking the bad ones seriously…’

FA: How much do you think the internet has helped you?

‘I think it has probably helped a lot. it’s a new way …’

One of the sound guys came into the back of the bus asking for the mix cd to play before the show. Chris offered his iPod instead, which explained the mix of classic 80s and 90s songs and hip hop being played before the gig.

FA: how do you feel about your album’s leak nearly two months before it was meant to come out?

‘I feel that it’s lame, in a way that it can only really hurt you know? But at the same time I feel like we were embraced by that culture of blogs and the internet and file sharing and I’m totally cool with that, and as long as they are psyched on the record it’s a good thing. ‘

FA: As long as they buy it in the end…

‘Whatever, it’s not even that. I think that society has deemed that music is not worth paying for in digital format. Some people have anyway, and they’ve decided that, and that’s fine. I mean, I download stuff illegally, but I also buy stuff, like vinyl and CDs - that’s how outdated I am. I buy them at random, I would never buy something I had heard of. I buy random stuff that’s recommended in the store or that I look through and would have never thought to look at. ‘

FA: Ever shop in a giant Virgin Mega store or something like that?

‘Yeah usually not, I don’t think there are any of those left in New York. I’ll go to Other Music and Kim’s and look through their weird bins with stuff like ambient shit. But you know, whatever, [the illegal downloading] is bigger than my judgement. As long as there are people that are excited about music and still going to shows and being supportive of creative endeavours it’s a good thing. Record sales don’t pay for our bus, the fact that more people come out to the shows. That’s why we don’t take tour support from any label - we want our own entity on the road. That’s what you’re going to see in the future. if we can play to 500 to 1500 people every night so we can have a more comfortable touring lifestyle which is ultimately what you want so you don’t break-up as a band. ‘

FA: If a major label asked to sign you would you consciously say no?

‘They did. I don’t need to be particularly punk rock in saying fuck you to major labels, but really there were people who were excited about us from day and those people were like Mute or Secretly Canadian, they showed up to see us when there were like 20 people at our shows. And we met them and kinda became friends, wether they had ulterior motives to sign us one day, we were still friendly. And major labels kinda came out of nowhere after you got written up in the New York Times, or Spin, and they show up, and you say ‘this is what we wanna do’ and they say ‘yeah yeah yeah, of course’ but then ultimately when you look at the contract and it’s this fucking thick compared to mute and Secretly Canadian and that says something. a ten page contract is reasonable - an 80 page contract is ‘what is in there, hold on this is actually the opposite of what you say’. so that’s what it was, I don’t like the way they do business. I like the model of rough trade or mute and I like handshake deals, or straightforward this is how it’s going to be. ‘We’re not going to demand who you tour with or who your opening band is, we’re not going to demand percentages of your shows or merch that you make and sell’.

FA: You guys have said that Rihanna and Lady Gaga is a sort of competition ‘(laughs) not really’, but you do you guys ever take inspiration from this kind of music?

‘Totally. Definitely. not super into Lady Gaga’s music. but I dig a lot of Rihanna’s shit, I was super into that umbrella song, I think Tricky wrote that, and I’m really into Tricky. We say that in terms of the way we’re thinking of making the new record. We were originally like ‘we want ten songs that should all be under three minutes’ and want to have dance music inspired production, try to acknowledge that that is a world and filter that through our lands and make our own version of what that could be. Not that we could ever compete with that, it’s not going to happen. We’re kinda weird scuzzy dudes, sorta ambient psychedelic dance, whatever mash-up genre of dance. It’s not gonna hit big with 14 year old girls. ‘

FA: Do you guys put a lot of thought into art and that kind of stuff?

‘It’s weird that people say it looks really 80s. I always associate it with 90s aesthetic. There’s a computer that can do 3D-models, it’s 1994 Wow! (laughs). Yeah we put a lot of effort into this. I went to school of design and arts and was a film major, and my friend who does our light show was my old roommate from college, an industrial designer and he did all the art work. I took some of his stuff, and turned it into our imagery. He created the stuff and we talked back and forth, it was us combining heads. He builds these custom light shows, and we’re kind of obsessed with that and the videos. We try to be really involved with that kind of thing.’

FA: You went to design school, is that what you thought you would be doing now?

I thought I would be an artist or whatever that means, i thought maybe graphic design but I’m not that into doing graphic design for other people, I like doing it for myself. If there is a client that is like ‘do this, we wont tell you to do anything else’ I have this real chip on my shoulder about ‘that’s not good enough can you make it a little bit more funky … urban’. I tried some of those jobs and they weren’t for me. I was a film major, I thought I would be working in film. I didn’t think I would be doing music. I’m good at some of the song writing and production side, but I don’t play any instruments. I never plaid the guitar or anything. I can kind of play the keyboard badly, but I never thought I’d end up playing music. ‘

FA: Did you just lock yourself up in a studio upstate and record your album?

‘We knew we wanted to record close to Brooklyn, we found a place upstate - Woodstock - not for the relevance to the festival: it’s a good community and close enough to New York. There are a lot of houses up for rent there. We found a house that belonged to the drummer of Peter Gabriel’s solo stuff. He had a lot of equipment and a house, and we asked ‘how much’. He wanted to sell it, and we offered to rent it for three months and the market was bad at the time so he agreed and just disappeared and let us use all of his drums and old synthesisers. We just lived there and locked ourselves in five to six days a week. And came down to Brooklyn for a couple of days to chill out and escape from that world.’

FA: what did you do when you escaped? Do any of you have family lives?

‘I’m married, everyone has a girlfriend. We just went back and hung out in Brooklyn. we didn’t go out in Woodstock, we recorded all of the time. when we weren’t recording we were cooking or watching a movie, we joined the YMCA but went like three times, we got snowed in a lot. we didn’t do anything. It was snowy, cold, isolated down a dirt road type of house. It was really cool, new experience because I grew up in a city. Every night we were cooking and went to the fishmarket or meat market or something. Really cool. ‘

FA: You guys went to school in Baltimore, the same school as Animal Collective, and they came out with Merriweather Post Pavilion which was fairly poppy, do you guys know each other?

‘We totally know each other. I just went to Brian - what’s his fake name… Geologist - his wedding. we knew those guys, they were four or five years older than us, we went to school with three of the dudes. Josh used to be in it, and then Dave and Brian. They were four, five years older than us so I didn’t know them to well, you know in a way that you could know a senior as a younger kid, and our school was really small, so there were some relationships in weird ways. We got really friendly, I am really close friends with Brian’s wife, but we don’t really talk about music with them. I don’t think we would hang out.’

FA: Yeah, I associate, especially now, Odd Blood’s and Merriweather Post Pavilion poppiness together, and both albums have caught a lot of attention.

‘Yeah, I also went to school with ‘The Entrance Band’ do you know them? Check these guys out, they are really… fucking awesome. The main dude, Guy, in the band was in-between us and Animal Collective and he does this really crazy band. They’re on Sonic Youth’s label I think, what’s that called? I don’t know whether that record is out in Europe, it’s dope I want them to really blow up. Cause then it would be a real high-school contingent.

FA. Baltimore take over.

‘Yeah baltimore has been big lately.

FA. Dan Deacon is from there as well.

‘He’s not actually from there. I didn’t know him, he moved to Baltimore because a friend of mine in high school, who met Dan in college in New York and Dan ended up moving to Baltimore with this friend, he moved there in his twenties, so I never lived there at the same time as him. Yeah, he’s fun, he’s crazy.

FA: Where do you see yourself in the future?

‘no idea.. how far in the future?

FA: the tour is over… new album?

‘More touring, festivals’

Yeah you’ll be playing at primavera. Broken Social Scene, Spoon, you guys, Pavement.

‘Yeah, there’s a lot of good bands playing there. Pavement… Pavement were like the sound track of my teenage years. We played with Broken Social Scene before. I’m not really into them, there’s too many people on stage. But Pavement, Guided by Voices (well, some of Guided by Voices), Sonic Youth, and a lot of hip hop stuff - that’s what I feel like really influenced our aesthetic. That world of 90s music and trip hop and ambient, DJ Shadow and Portishead.

We chatted a bit about spotify, and then to record labels and distribution. Canada popped up.

‘I would move to canada, every time we go to vancouver I love it.

FA. I would move to montreal I think

‘Montreal is a great city, but a weird music scene. Cause they have their whole fucking quebecois bullshit, fake version of french music. Even bands that are really big tell me, Montreal is not that great that crowd. There was a hockey game going on or a Celine Dion which they are mandated by law to attend.

Q: I think in Quebec, and all of Canada. you have to play 1/4 Canadian music.

‘A quarter? That is a lot. You’re going to hear a crap load of Nickelback. US radio can be horrible, because of those kind of rules, same goes for Canada. It really limits you.

Q: One final personal question. What is ‘Rome’ about?

I dunno, nothing really, I was reading a book about Rome, it was about Sulla, first guy before Ceasar who wanted to turn rome into an empire as opposed to a republic, and i just thought of Rome as a parable to New York or conquest was kinda interesting. Writing in this vague way fit into the concept of the whole album of relationship songs and it’s this revenge song. There are multiple levels of metaphor. It was a good book. I got pretty into that whole era of Roman history, and the whole shift to Christianity and Constantinople. Pretty crazy - all of a sudden everyone is Christian. 100 years earlier it was illegal, and now we’re going to kill you if your not (laughs).

Q: that’s basically it, thanks very much…

‘Great I’ll head to the venue with you guys, watch Javelin, they came over from brooklyn with us. They’re super groovy, definitely check them out.’

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