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Yeasayer Talk Their Evolving Songwriting Process & Why Studio LPs Are A Dying Form

Yeasayer have pretty much done it all, having spent the better part of a decade as one of the most popular and consistent experimental rock bands worldwide. Made up of core members Chris Keating, Ira Wolf Tuton and Anand Wilder, their lineup is unique in that both Keating and Wilder share a role as the band’s lead vocalists and songwriters, with both also serving as multi-instrumentalists where needed.

They formed in 2006, but first came to the world’s attention after performing at SXSW festival in early 2007. Since then, Yeasayer have they’ve played a myriad of international festivals worldwide, played gigs A Capella, embarked on countless tours nationally and overseas, released several EPs and written four studio albums

Their latest project, Amen & Goodbye is due out April first, and looks set to reach similar critical acclaim to their previous two hugely successful records. Yeasayer dropped the first huge single off the album I Am Chemistry in January this year featuring vocals by Suzzy Roche. That was followed up by the release of the instrumental pop-based Silly Me earlier this month.

A short time ago we caught up with the band’s lead guitarist and vocalist Anand Wilder to talk about how their songwriting process has morphed and changed since their humble beginnings, why he thinks that the studio LP is an outdated format, and whether an Australian tour is likely anytime soon.

Music Feeds: Amen & Goodbye will be your fourth studio album. How has your songwriting and recording process changed over the years?

AW: It’s changed in some ways and in other ways it’s stayed the same. I think we’ve always worked with a collage approach where we take bits and pieces from live band recordings, adding demos, samples and that kind of thing. So in that way it’s stayed the same but different locations, different people we’ve worked with, different producers. So there’s been some changes as well.

MF: Who does most of the actual writing? How are responsibilities split up?

AW: It varies. Most of the time the lyrics are coming from either myself or Chris (Keating). On this album there were a couple of songs that started off as instrumental features that Ira (Wolf Tuton) sent to me, and I turned those into proper songs. A few songs we collaborated on the words in the studio. Silly Me I think was a song that I had the skeleton for and then we changed the chorus in the studio.

MF: It’s been suggested that this record is a move back to more of an instrumental influence when compared with Fragrant World. Do you think this is the case?

AW: I think so, that’s probably true. We were not afraid to play instruments and play guitars and experiment with all sorts of keyboards we had in the recording studio. WE were trying to get away from this digital-heavy approach of the last album.

MF: Is it important that each album has a different focus and explores different sides of the Yeasayer sound?

AW: Those are really the bands that I love the most; you hear a song and you know exactly what album, what era the song is from. Just based on the pallet the artist is working with. And I hope that’s something that we’ve achieved with our body of work, where you listen to a song and say ‘oh that’s the Odd Blood sound or that’s the All Hour Cymbols sound’.

So yeah that is something that’s important, but it’s difficult to achieve. I hope we’ve achieved it. We’ve had help, using different mixing engineers and recording engineers to give each album a different sound. But it’s mostly up to us to try to define it.

MF: Without going into too much detail you’ve got some short instrumentals on the album that don’t really have any structure to speak of, and it’s something you’ve done before. For you, what’s the purpose of these short interludes?

AW: The album is such an antiquated format; it’s really based on the technological restrictions of a twelve-inch vinyl LP. There’s really no reason to make a forty minute long piece of music in this day and age when people are streaming songs. I think what I really love about some of my favourite albums is little snippets that get stuck in there.

Sometimes it’s your favourite part and you’re thinking ‘why didn’t they develop that into a song?’ If we were going to do the album as a long piece it would be nice to have some more traditional songs and also to have some fun reintroducing themes and have motifs that continue throughout the whole album. 

MF: The video clip for I Am Chemistry is a bit of a visual journey, where did the idea come from for that clip?

AW: The idea was to incorporate the sculptures that David Altmejd had created for the album cover. We knew that Mike Anderson who is the director, we knew that he was working with this new technology of scanning in clay sculptures. So he came by the artist studio after we had done the photoshoot for the album and he scanned all of the sculptures. He was able to then use that content in his video. The video part was all his creation; he created that whole world and populated it with things from the album art work.

MF: How important is having visual accompaniment to your music, whether it be a video clip or a live lights show?

AW: I think that’s what makes pop music and separates it from a jam band or something that isn’t as focussed on the visuals. I think pop music is a marriage of interesting visual elements with captivating sound, that strikes the imagination of the listener and takes them on a journey. So much of the great stuff out there does that. David Bowie, the era he was in, he did that with his album art work. You picture a song from The Beatles era and you immediately think of what kind of suits they were wearing.

MF: What goes into preparing to head out on tour, being such a large group?

AW: We have a lot of work ahead of us. We’ve sought out the help of an artist to help us with our lights show. That’s going very well. It’s mostly just figuring out all these songs, because most of them are studio creations that we’ve never really played before live. We have to figure out how to minimize the production layers, and make the songs a bit more direct. Figure out how to make them immediate and exciting for an audience that may not be that familiar with us.

MF: Any plans to visit us here in Australia anytime soon?

AW: Yeah, but I don’t know when. I love touring in Australia, it’s one of my favourite places on the planet. So hopefully that’ll happen. The last album I don’t think we did anything more than Laneway. I loved doing Laneway so we’ll definitely do that again. So far we don’t have any concrete plans to go to Australia, but it’s definitely a possibility. No, a probability.

Yeasayer’s new album ‘Amen & Goodbye’ is out April 1st, grab a pre-order here.

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