Catching up with Yeasayer

Exploratory Rhythmist and Bassist, Ira Wolf Tuton, On Songwriting, Stellar Aesthetics and the Band’s Latest Release

The beacon light of the experimental Brooklyn-rock sound, Yeasayer’s kaleidoscopic approach to arrangement, harmony and multi-media aberrance has, over the last three years, propelled the group toward prismatic-pop imperialism.

Their latest full-length, Fragrant World, is a tone-circus of electric indie suaveness that glides across slick instrumentation, sultry croons and divine production.

In addition to releasing Fragrant World, what are you aiming to accomplish in the next year?

Wow, that is a gigantic question! [Laughs]  Well, there a lot of that places that we want to play and experience the cultures of, including Istanbul, Africa, Central Asia, Greece and Russia. It’s exciting now that through the globalization of media and the Internet, viable promoters are opening up whereas in the past the only people that have gone over have been “arena acts.” 

“Now there’s a chance for bands our size and an audience for bands our size to go there. So, that’s one goal—-that and total world domination.”

Describe your creative process.

The writing process happens in our home, individually, and then we bounce around different ideas and demos to each other before deciding on what we want to continue to work on.

The first record was done while we all had respective jobs, so we kinda did it every night for three months after work. But, we always block out a big time where we can all focus on arranging, producing and putting together a cohesive album and an aesthetic. Then comes live rehearsal and we tweak things after seeing them in a different light.

Through that we end up rearranging things in a very different manner based on what translates on a recording and what will translate in a live atmosphere. Then we take the songs on the road, honing the arrangements and set list. We are constantly trying to be productive. And also being progressive, which can sometimes be very challenging and not always successful, buts that always the attempt.

Who produced Fragrant World and where was it recorded?

We have always produced all of the records ourselves. I think that is one of the most exciting things about making music and making a record, having that control.  So far, its worked so well with the three of us having pretty intense egos with each other and a valuable, productive working relationship that I couldn’t imagine bringing in a foreign entity that would work well with that. Especially since we take so much joy in that side of the music.

We recorded most of it in a studio in Greenpoint, Brooklyn at this place on Guernsey Street, with our buddy Al Carlton as engineer. We then went to London and mixed with Dan Carey.

What are some of the programs and instruments that are used on the record?

A lot. Different vocal effects are used for each song including Melodyne, both with vocals and instruments. We used a lot of MIDI and converted a lot of stuff to MIDI; we also used a lot of  native instruments programs, Omnisphere—which is more of a soundtrack and film scoring software—and a myriad of plug-ins, outboard gear, fx, as well as your traditional guitar, bass and drums. But a lot of those are shifted tonally through those plug-ins or through the computer or outboard effects. Basically, we had a lot. And a lot that was new to us. That’s why this part is the fun part.

What sets this record apart from your previous releases?

With each record we set forth new challenges both with gear and material, and with this we have come to a record that I am very  excited about. On a stylistic front, it ‘s a sound that we haven’t done before and that is the number one, main goal.

“It is a progression and if I ever felt that if it wasn’t a progression—and I can say this for the other members, too—that would definitely be a sign that there was something seriously wrong in terms of what we are doing. Like we had lost our way.”

What was the greatest challenge surrounding Fragrant World?

I feel like making records is so fun and to bitch and moan about challenges seems dumb. The challenge for us is stopping; deciding that something is complete, especially when you place time constraints on it. So we were in the studio for two months, where it [was] blocked out from eleven to eight everyday—‘ya better get it done by then.’ Then we went to London for two weeks to mix.

We are pretty geared-to-go people, that if we set out a goal for ourselves we want to accomplish it. I think that we push each other to do that. Getting to the point where you feel that you can mentally move on and let go is probably the biggest challenge.

For me, that self-editing process is very hard to do because everybody is so tied to the art that they do and sometimes it is tough trash that approach for the betterment of the whole, but it’s important that you are able to do that.

How do you feel that you have grown since Odd Blood [2010] was recorded?

Well, I think my personal life has changed. I have bettered my relationship with my lady and keepin’ my dog alive. I think there are things that I’d continually like to do and have more time to do and having more clarity about what those things should be and the things I value. But, at any moment it could all come crashing down like a deck of cards, cause that’s kinda the goal in life, right?, to hone down your purpose and what’s valuable.

As for the band…it’s hard to quantify that except in practical senses. We have continued to surround ourselves with more and more talented people. We get to meet more talented people, take advantage of them and take advantage of each other’s skills. That goes for bringing in other musicians to play or having people bring their aesthetic to videos or to the live show.

On top of that, we have incorporated all sorts of new technologies and gear, both to recording and to our live show. We’ve changed the way we view our live show. We have a new member. The two other live band members are no longer with us any more. [That] has changed a lot of the dynamic of the band.

Maybe we’ve gotten a little wiser.

We are definitely a band that has learned from our mistakes and we have made a lot of mistakes.

At times people have helped guide us and at times we have had to guide ourselves. I think we have made more mistakes and learned that much more from them.

How did the song “Henrietta” come about [see video above – ed.]?

Chris [Keating, singer] wrote that song. He had heard a radio show about Henrietta Lacks and wrote the song a while ago about such a compelling story. Anand [Wilder] and I recognized that to be something that we really wanted to work on; we liked the melody, the story line and the changes. It was one of the more exciting songs because when it came in it was a totally different arrangement and feel, then through playing it live with a couple different iterations it came to this live, exciting feeling. I think it is one of the most live sounding songs on the record.

And that goes back to the excitement in being part of the production and arrangement and how through working together and bouncing ideas of each other it’ll be like, ‘Oh hey, that’s a cool guitar line’ or ‘Yeah, that’s my new favorite bass line.’. That is a linear song. You don’t want to beat the chorus to death. I think it’s really cool to write a linear song that works and can go outside the set form that everyone is waiting for.

Would you describe the group’s aesthetic?

Well, Chris did the first album cover and as we have grown, we have been able to team up with people whose artwork we’ve enjoyed and whose aesthetic we’ve enjoyed. Also, it’s been exciting to see people retranslate something that we’ve done into something visual.

Ben Fallon did the artwork for the second one and it’s always gonna be something that we have to see and get off on it. We definitely got off on the imagery for that.

The third record was with Ryan Waller and his team. We really appreciated how, as we made the aesthetic shift, they transferred that into a minimalist aesthetic—a little bit abstract, but figurative.

The visual side of what we do is such an important and crucial element of this band.

What is it about what you do that keeps you from doing something else?

Since I was in high school, my goal in life was to be a professional musician. There are other things that I love to do that I can still do, but to be able to sustain myself through art and creativity has been a long-term goal and mission for me. It is a very unique thing and I know how much work it has taken me personally, which makes me value it even more. The point in life that I am at right now is something that I really want to take advantage of and cherish. Who knows what the future is? I’m trying my best to embed myself in my surroundings and I am so fortunate and will try to take advantage of it for the better. Maybe I’ll be doing something else in a few years, but this is it for now.

photos by Anna Palma & Mikeal Gregorsky

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