There will be blood
Battling through the rolling clatter of luggage trolleys and chitter-chatter of receptionists; fighting through the vanilla pop piped through hotel lobby speakers, a question hangs heavy in the air:
“Are you familiar with the American dream?”
It’s an ideal touted far beyond Atlantic shores, and as guitarist Anand Wilder does his best to both lounge and swivel his head, owl-like, to meet my now unsure gaze, I realise it’s a lofty question that demands an even grander answer.
“Erm…yeah?” is the best I can muster. Luckily for me the initial question was neither overly serious nor rhetorical.
Thankfully it’s also an interview heavy on the former as Chris, Ira and Anand set me in whirlwind motion. A hive of animated conversation, jokes, personal digs and considered opinion, the trio have the relaxed demeanour of a band immensely enjoying the time they spend together. Following the initial pleasantries where bassist Ira takes a relatively monosyllabic lead, it quickly becomes apparent that as one speaks, the other two, just out of eyeline and earshot, listen intently, readying to take up the conversational baton or actively look to sabotage the others’ answer. It’s a refreshing alternative from the apathy that typically comes with a regimented day of repetitive promo, and it’s a positive merry-go-round that doesn’t wane from the outset.
“We’re here just for you…” Chris beams, fiddling with the mic as he looks to set it up on the silver tea pot sat in the middle of the table.
“We’re actually over here doing an edit for some of the songs for the radio,” Anand picks up “so it’s much easier just to be here in person.”
“We’re just philanderers, travelling around; tying up some loose ends…at least that answer was more than one sentence long!” Chris, still beaming, grins at Ira.
Yeasayer’s jovial mood is understandable. Armed with a mooching European itinerary and a loose mission statement to tidy up the odd track, the band, this time at least, aren’t bound by press days, promotion around an album or even a handful of live dates. There’s early next year for all of that, and with the buzz building around their brilliant sophomore album, ‘Odd Blood’, it seems they’ve also been bitten by the Brookyln buzz bug that’s kept us enthralled for most of 2009. With debut album ‘All Hour Cymbals’ causing a fair few ripples on its release a little under two years ago, their extensive touring schedule, and with a whole lotta blog love buoying the release, Yeasayer represent a further music win for the borough as another of its muso glitterati – hot on the heels of Animal Collective, Grizzly Bear et al. – garners both the blog and broadsheet inches they deserve.
A: “I think that’s the kind of music that people who write about music like, but it’s not just the music writers… you guys are probably tired of all the… the pop idea of what indie music is. Like the shit that’s being played at the Barfly with all these 19 year old kids thinking, ‘we’re going to be the next indie band!’ You guys aren’t all idiots, right? So you’ve got to be appreciative of something that’s a little bit different and hasn’t been shoved down your throat since The Strokes came out.”
I: “I think it’s more to do with the technology that’s taking over.”
A: “The blogs, man!”
I: “Yeah, it’s the people who are on the cutting edge… or people like Pitchfork… I can remember coming across Pitchfork in 2003 and not really knowing what it was but knowing that I liked the look of it. I think it’s just the nature of the people who are on the fringes; the outliers kind of discover it first.”
C: “I think all the major labels are having trouble pushing their pop starlets, and for whatever reason aren’t doing it so you have your Grizzly Bear’s, your Animal Collectives, your TV on the Radios… they’re kinda coming through and doing their weird little thing.”
A: “All those bands have been around for a while, and it’s not like Pitchfork or whoever are going to ditch those bands after supporting them for so many years. More people are reading those sites and having a Times article legitimises it even more.”
Where some are naturally reluctant to bite their tongue, as hawk-eyed, bat-eared PR’s circle to nip the broaching of remotely controversial (interesting?) subject in the bud, Yeasayer are resoundingly forthright. Having waived the ‘new band’ tag, the trio are keen to avoid the gimme questions that come with the rising star territory.
“You aren’t going to ask us about the name, are you?” Chris enquiries. No, there are far more important issues on Yeasayer’s radar, the decline of substantial music journalism and mainstream aesthetics, is predominantly one of them.
I: “Is Pitchfork bigger than the NME over here?”
L&Q: Probably more so for the muso crowd, yeah.
C: “I can see that, but it’s like how many records did the guy from American Idol sell?”
I: “Half a million?”
C: “12 million.”
C: “The NME just started writing shorter and shorter articles and I think lost credibility.”
I: “…more and more pop, p-p-p-p-p-p-pop, more cute guys on the cover, more cute girls on the cover…”
A: “Perhaps Pitchfork has the capabilities because it’s web based, but it has articles the NME doesn’t print, articles Rolling Stone doesn’t print.”
C: “All NME have ever done is talk about what we dress like. That’s not why you’re reading a music magazine but maybe I’m wrong.”
A: “It’s the same as Rolling Stone in America – all these kind of institutions we really bought into when we were 12/13 years old, and then to cope with the Internet, instead of getting edgier, they went corporate.”
C: “Rolling Stone’s like reading news week!”
I: “I have the NME I bought from Camden in the 80’s and it’s huge…”
C: “…there was some great stuff, some really weird shit in there, now it’s like Rolling Stone has Jonas Brothers on the front cover. Or Miley Cyrus…”
I: “Yeah, it’s gone like a trashy tabloid and all these random articles…”
C: “…ones that don’t have any real content, but I can go read any trashy publication for that shit. It’s sad, but being in the States, perhaps it’s done a little better, like some magazines would put Wayne Coyne on the front cover, but there still aren’t enough ‘big’ indie bands on the front covers or anything.”
With that sense of disillusionment, you’d perhaps expect the band to give the media, writers and reviews equally short shrift, but for all the frustration directed at certain factions of the music press, the band still holds a respect and appreciation for those behind the written/spoken word who treat their music right. Or wrong. Just as long as they do it properly.
“Do I read the reviews?” Chris pauses. “Begrudgingly, yeah. I just brush it off. If it’s a good one I’m like ‘they don’t know what they’re talking about’ or if they didn’t like it, ‘they don’t know what they’re talking about.’ I don’t really care what any reviewer thinks to be honest.”
I: “Why would they be so cruel?!”
A: “We’re most excited when friends of ours that are musicians come up after a show and say, ‘ I don’t know about that one track but that weird one you guys did, that was fucking awesome’ and you’re like ‘Yes! You get it!’ I think you look for that with critics too, I mean these guys are specialists and they have an air of expertise.”
I: “I’m interested in what other people’s opinions are in what we’re doing. I want to see how this appeals to people or how it doesn’t. I know what I like and what the three of us put together. It’s not going to make me go sit in my bedroom and bite my nails and slit my wrists if it’s not constructive.”
C: “The NME thing really bothers me because they don’t seem to do their research. I mean, if you’re going to misquote a lyric, you can avoid that by doing your research. If you’re going to knock, do it right. If you really investigate it and want to trash it, fine, but don’t say ‘his moustache looks so stupid when he sings.’”
A: “I actually wrote a complimentary email to a guy who wrote a really negative review of us because it was really well written. I mean, he trashed it, but he’d taken the time to research his shit and it was done constructively.”
C: “We’re working in the same world.”
A: “Everyone’s a critic… and everyone’s a musician too, right?”