Indie blogosphere darlings Yeasayer have bucked the boom and bust trend of internet hype once already. Following up their buzzworthy 2007 debut All Hour Cymbals with the grand experimental pop of 2010’s Odd Blood, the Brooklyn-based band proved that it’s possible to avoid the dreaded sophomore slump that too often accompanies massive amounts of online exposure. Now, more than two years later, Yeasayer are back with Fragrant World, their third full length and most ambitious record to date. We caught up with bassist Ira Tuton to talk album art, film scoring, and the process of writing and recording Fragrant World.
OS: During the writing and recording process, you guys reportedly had enough material to do two separate albums: one of three-minute pop songs, and the other of more experimental tunes. Which type of album did Fragrant World ultimately end up becoming?
IT: I’m gonna go with the poppy one, just because we’re dealing with hooks, refrains, verses, and choruses. I think we used a lot of the ideas involved with making an experimental record and translated those aesthetics into the format of pop songs. We just honed down our focus and both types of music kind of bled into each other.
OS: Is there any chance we’ll ever get to hear some of those sidelined tracks?
IT: Yes, totally. I’d also love to explore some long-form compositions in the future. It’s something we haven’t really done. There are a lot of things we haven’t done, so we have the opportunity to move in many different directions in the future. There are certain things that didn’t make the record that are going to come out in the next year. Right now, though, the whole focus is on the album first. There’s so much thought in terms of that, because it’s not just the release, but it’s also dealing with our live show, making sure the arrangements are where we want them to be, and perfecting the visual aspect of our live show. A lot of things are more pressing matters on our end at this moment.
OS: There are some super funky bass lines that you play on the album. Did you all write the tunes around them, or did they just come out during the songwriting process?
IT: It really depends on the song, because we approach each one in a different manner. What’s in the original demo can always change depending on different ideas that people have. Sometimes what we thought of as a background part will turn out to be the hook. Some of the bass lines come after the fact, and after the rest of the arrangement is done. A lot of times, we’ll have a whole song done and then realize there’s no bass line. Sometimes it’s the other way, where the whole demo is just a bass line and we need to build up the middle ground to give it more movement.
OS: You guys worked a lot at Gary’s Electric Studios in Greenpoint for this album¦
IT: That’s what it’s called! I keep forgetting the name of it.
OS: But you also did some tracks at Spacebar Studios with Abe Seiferth? Why did you choose to record at Spacebar as well as Gary’s Electric?
IT: It was a pragmatic decision, really. We had Gary’s Electric blocked out for a certain amount of time, and then we found that after we had sat with the album for a while and thought about it, we wanted to do some additional recording. But somebody else, maybe Peaking Lights, had already booked Gary’s Electric after us, so we looked around and found Abe. It was also really nice going into a different environment. We had mentally said goodbye to the other space because we had spent so much time there, and we knew that there was a hard date when we had to be out by. Moving studios was a good opportunity to think in a different space.
OS: So the decision wasn’t because there was any gear in particular that the other studio had that you couldn’t get at Gary’s?
IT: No, but after the fact we realized that there is a lot of gear there. Abe is kind of a synth collector. He’s got some beautiful things, like a real ARP. We’ve used a lot of plug-in ARP stuff, but he’s actually got a real one.
OS: The band has mentioned sci“fi movies like Blade Runner as inspirations for the new album. Coincidentally, a bunch of artists have been venturing into film scoring recently. M83 is going to score a new Tom Cruise sci“fi flick, for example. Would Yeasayer ever be interested in anything like that?
IT: Certainly. I think that we’ve always thought about our music in a very cinematic way, and my favorite parts of the films that I love are often their soundtracks. The combination of imagery and music really can excel an aesthetic statement or kill it, you know? Like, all of a sudden there could be an electric guitar solo that really ruins the moment for me. Whereas, I just watched a Coen brothers movie where there’s a fluidity between the sonic palatte and the visual aspects. That’s something that would be very exciting. Of course, it would depend on who asked us, and when, and what the project was. But yes, creating a soundtrack would definitely be an exciting prospect.
OS: You guys obviously do pay a lot of attention to the visual accompaniment to your music in your live shows. On that note, could you talk about the abstract album art and how it speaks to the music on the new record?
IT: What preceded it was such an overwhelming statement, in terms of imagery, on Odd Blood, that this time we were trying to do something different with our instruments, production, arrangements, and aesthetics in general. I think that the music and visual components hand-in-hand can really help develop the overall sense of an album. We had Ryan Waller and his team come up with the cover image, and I think it works really well. It’s much more minimalist that the last record, and I like the iconic nature of it.
OS: It reminds me a lot of a modern dancer.
IT: It is a figure! It’s a cloaked figure. You’re the first person that’s said that. Everybody else is just like, “What is that?” [does his best whiny teenage girl impression]. I’m like, “I don’t know, it’s a cubist painting. You make it up!”
OS: How has the reaction to the new material been this summer? You guys have played at a lot of festivals recently.
IT: It’s been really good so far, for being a lot of material that nobody’s heard. I can’t really ask for that much better of a reaction. I think it can be challenging to play new music in a festival atmosphere, because everybody just wants to hear those three songs that they know, but so far it’s been good. It’s also helped inform us about certain changes that we want to make and different things that we want to continually work on.
OS: What kind of changes?
IT: A lot of minute details: how fast we’re playing, arrangement issues, and tonal issues. Sometimes we can’t ever hear the bass on a certain song when we play it, and it never translates. And you can see that when we don’t feel it onstage and the crowd obviously doesn’t feel it. That’s where we are right now. We’re constantly in that vein of re-tweaking to get as clear a statement as possible.
OS: Speaking of shows, the band’s also going to be playing on the S.S. Coachella this winter. What were your thoughts when you were approached with that possibility?
IT: Just that it was kind of a crazy idea. I’m very much looking forward to it. I like the idea of going into the unknown, and for us this is certainly unknown. We’ll see how it goes, but regardless of how it goes, good or bad, it’s going to be a great story.
Pick up Yeasayer’s new album Fragrant World, out today! Also, check out the psychedelic video for “Henrietta,” the album’s first single, below.
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