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.
No doubt about it, the Internet provides hours upon hours of mind-numbing entertainment. And while I’ve personally never been one of those people who becomes absorbed in watching coordinated dance moves or dads getting hit in the junk by baseballs on YouTube, I have found an online obsession that is both stimulating and inspiring. La Blogotheque is a French blog/Web site that it pretty difficult to do any decent research on since Google isn’t much for translating. But music in universal and all you need to know is the URL to enjoy this somewhat spontaneous cataclysm of creativity.
Founder Chryde aspired to mix up the music-sharing world and enlisted Vincent Moon, an independent film maker from Paris who wanted to film music in a different way. Moon is best known for R.E.M.’s Supernatural Superserious Music Video, as well as his work with other mainstream artists such as Tom Jones. Moon went on to film musicians in Paris, and The Take Away Show was born in 2006. The Take Away Show, as I’m sure you’re probably wondering, is a unique single take recording of an artist or band performing two or three tracks in an improvisational setting.
To break it down, think The Kooks traveling through the streets of Paris while young fans collect in their wake performing “Oh La La” like modern pied pipers. Or Mumford & Sons singing “Awake My Soul” to a French woman hanging out her courtyard window as they translate the chorus to her native language. Footage is left raw, few edits are made and the camera shakes with Moon’s hand as he travels from face to face, reaching odd angles of the street or trees.
The organic footage, which views as something between a live performance and a finished music video, somehow retains a lovely and haunting sound. For their Take Away Show, Phoenix hijacks a tourist bus and then plays under a bridge at the bottom of the Eiffel Tower The band brings forward a sort of raw charisma that is lost in their smoothed over and diluted sounding records.
Earlier I referred to The Take Away Shows as being “somewhat” spontaneous because in Chryde’s explanations of each show, he goes into detail about the stressful planning that actually goes into creating something so deliciously impromptu. While he writes each bio in French, its easy to see his creative skills expand past just film making. Take this excerpt from 2007’s Take Away Show with Arcade Fire.
“During those weeks, I had been in continual contact with Vincent Morisset, who runs the Neon Bible site. Win and Régine had been responsible for coordinating our Take Away Show. We had discussed dates and places, imagining the Madeleine at night, the knoll at the íŽle de la Cité, an old café, a roundabout behind the Olympia…We checked the weather every day and despaired about the cold front that was passing through Paris. We had surveyed the entire inhumane neighborhood from top to bottom, trying to anticipate the crowd, the willpower of the group, the cold and the fatigue. Then, suddenly, we had a plan. Win asked if there was a freight elevator. We found it, Win smiled, and The Take Away Show was no longer in our hands.
We knew that The Take Away Show with Arcade Fire wouldn’t be like the others. The project was made for them because they’re of a different kind, a different essence. We had spent the afternoon with them when suddenly we realized, in a flash: yes, this group is different.
We had been playing the role of outsider the entire day, like a foreign body that latches onto the daily grind of these magnificent musicians. We had to adapt, through astonishment and wonder, as the band took up their instruments and started to play. But Arcade Fire didn’t take us as outsiders. It all seemed to unfold naturally: we entered into their logic as they awaited us and eventually swallowed us up. It was now Win Butler’s Take Away Show, and we followed.”
In honor of Arcade Fire’s 3rd release The Suburbs last week, below you can watch their very own Take Away Show, in which they perform a thrilling rendition of “Neon Bible” in a freight elevator. Be sure to check out La Blogotheque’s Web site which houses over 100 different Take Away Shows from artists like Bon Iver, Black Lips, Yeasayer, The National, Sufjan Stevens, Xiu Xiu, Andrew Bird, The Shins, Caribou and more.