Monday, 6 August 2012

Interview: Yeasayer - Ira Wolf Tuton

For anyone out there who has been living under an indie-music rock for the past few months, US band Yeasayer will release Fragrant World, their highly anticpated third album, later this month.
Early releases of Henrietta and Longevity have already created quite a buzz online and when VP Music had the chance to get hold of a pre-release copy of the album we were all over it like a fat kid on a cup cake! Odd Blood was one of our album's of 2010, so despite what the band might have been feeling (see below), we had high expectations of the follow-up.
We are pleased to report it has not been taken off high rotation since the moment we loaded it on to the ipods! Fingers Never Bleed (opening track) and Devil and the Deed (track 5) in particular are fantastic. As good as anything from the first two albums and I think fans are going to be pretty happy once they get their hands on it.
Yeasayer were in Amsterdam last month and VP Music had the absolute pleasure of catching up with bass player Ira Wolf Tuton. Laid back, articualte and always entertaining - Ira was able to confirm Yeasayer are not in fact Interpol or Foster the People, he has never sold drugs to put food on the table (only to buy more drugs) and Fragant World is a Happy-Go-Lucky album!

How does it feel now that you finished the new release, and you're waiting for it to come out?

Ahhh, it feels good. It’s another step of production - It’s not really waiting, I mean the waiting period is spent in the practice space. The thing about the progression is that after you make the record you have to retranslate that into a live context. You can’t just play. It’s not like we are Interpol where it’s gonna sound note for note, exactly the same. We have to go about rearranging it, everything from tempo’s being different, to tonally shifting things, picking certain hooks that we bring to the four, what can we take out. Things don’t always translate live that are on record, so that takes some time.

Longevity from Fragrant World

Are there any specific tracks that you are saying didn’t work live this time around or are you still working your way through them?
What we do is basically, every live show we have is you learn something more about what works and what doesn’t work. We are constantly trying to hone that and rearrange as we go and continually work on all the arrangements to get to a better place. That’s a continuing thing, which is good, it’s what I think helps you stay on your toes and maintain some interest in the whole thing.
Odd Blood turned into a pretty huge album for you guys, with this album coming out now, is there any pressure amongst you guys to match Odd Blood? Pressure from an  an artistic aspect or if it needs to be a commercial success or you don’t give a rats ass?
No, I don’t really know what commercial success means, commercial success does that just mean I make a living doing this?
I guess it’s all relative, it's up to you right?
It is all relative, I mean commercial success - it seems to imply there is success.
You know, I think we’ve been successful; this is all I do for a living. I don’t have to do anything else, I can devote myself to this and I have been able to do that for 5 - 6 years. That is a very fortunate position to be in. That being said it take a lot work to do that, we tour a lot, we have to maintain productivity, which our character types lend itself to, we like moving, we like being progressive.
I lived in Austin Texas for a little bit and I didn’t even last a year because everybody was so laidback in this seemly very unproductive manner and I started losing my fucking mind. Where New York is kind of much more  sink or swim. You’re constantly surrounded by people doing dynamic things and that can be a productive competitiveness.
My friends who live there say it’s a city where the best people in what they do are continually there and it’s inspiring everybody to get better and better?
Yeah, and that pushes everybody in a really positive way. Some people don’t react that well and they don’t live there. They live in Berlin, or wherever they choose to live. Or LA, LA is kind of different. What are we talking about? No, just kidding.
But in terms of pressure. The only pressure we have is pressure we put on ourselves and on each other, the three of us. We are each other’s filter, musically there is never any I don’t feel any outside [pressure from] labels or listeners.

Ira Wolf Tuton rocking out in Utrecht

Fragrant World is a little different from the previous albums, a little more electronic feel to it, is that a fair statement, or do you just see it as a natural progression?

Sure. I see it as a progression, but I don’t think it’s a total random jump point. The second record was more of a departure from the first record stylistically and production wise than this is to the second one.
So there is an evolution in terms of taking advantage of different productions techniques and different technical tools that we had not used prior. So all that is going to lend itself, a different space, a different physical space we exactly did the recording in.
Where did you record?
We recorded in a studio in New York, for the most part we recorded in this one studio right on the boarder of Williamsburg and Green Point on Guernsey and then we did additional recording in another studio very close to there, closer to our rehearsal space in Green Point. And we mixed in London, we were around  London for a few weeks, and we mixed there. All those things, different times in our lives, different influences, all that leads to hopefully ideally that is the goal to create  a different project or a different moment.
When I listen to it, it’s still quintessential Yeasayer
That is good - it’s not quintessentially Foster the People!
What is the strangest classification of Yeasayer you have heard?
I find it more interesting when we come up with something as a joke and then you get a very earnest interviewer asking what ‘Psychedelic Snap Pop Gospel’ is? I don’t know, fucking 5 categories that MySpace had. MySpace is dead, but you know.
It’s not going to make a comeback, we are debating this?
I don’t think that happens on the internet.
Once you’re gone you’re gone?
I don’t think dot-com’s make a comeback, I am just saying by what history has shown us, dot-com’s pretty much live their life and then it’s over. What dot-com has ever comes back?
Yahoo certainly hasn’t, you know.
Yeah, there is always the ‘next big thing’ with the internet
Sure but that doesn’t have to be MySpace, it could be anything, the new cooler thing.
Let’s invent it, get out of here!!
Then I wouldn’t get to see your music anymore, and that would be bad!
But I would be so happy, in the Canary Islands! No I think I would lose my mind in the fucking Canaries.
If you didn’t like Austin then I guess the Canary Island’s must be kind of the same...
Although there are other paradises I could have. Sometimes I am like why don’t I just pack up and move down to Talon or something and work on boats. But then I am like, that would be cool for about a week.
You really have to be a certain type of recluse to enjoy that all the time and I definitely have a very large strong part of me that wants to embrace that and loves that. But it will last about a week, two weeks max and then I start to think about all the people I know doing something interesting and I am not, I’m wasting my time on a boat in the Caribbean - What the Fuck?
Do all the band members share the same kind of feeling, as in restless if you are doing that sort of stuff?
I think everybody is similarly restless, I mean we all grew up in the culture of the north east cities. I grew up in Philadelphia they grew up in Baltimore those are very sarcastic, in a good way, speedy places. You got to be on your toes.

Anand Wilder and Chris Keating

So to the Baltimore point then, all I know about Baltimore is the bands Yeasayer, Animal Collective and the TV show The Wire...
Well, I am from Philadelphia.
Exactly! And that’s just ruined my question!
My cousin cast that [The Wire], did you know that?
No I did not know that, I’ll fact check that later on, when I am back home again.
Yeah - Alexa Fogel
[Note: VP Music was able to confirm Alexa L. Fogel was indeed the casting director of The Wire, however we were not able to confirm any family connection to Ira Wolf Tuton, but how could we not believe the man who classifies his music as Psychedelic Snap Pop Gospel?)
Is that a normal depiction of life in Baltimore or Philly - The Wire?
Not for the way we grew up.
I wondered if that is what drives some creative aspects or is that just one part here and one part over here?
That is what make those cities what they are, Philadelphia is a little bigger than Baltimore and it has a bit more industry, the economy is bigger. But those are the east coast architect cities in terms of you have a lot of affluence,  quote un quote ‘east coast liberal elite’. Elitist don’t want to add that word, east coast liberal, educated group of people, very supportive of the arts traditional, and  then on the doorstep you have insane poverty and corruption. And you have alot of these things working in tandem.
My mother works in public health, she works at a teaching hospital in Philadelphia. I don’t know if you know what that is, but basically she organises medical  student to go into a lot of very, very, very  poor communities, where there is a pretty strong lack of medical education. A lot of it simple things like dental, diabetes, aids, just a lot of decades of miss information and having to battle that you know, you have this idea, we are getting on a different point.
She finds in difficult sometimes because a lot of the wealth, people who are wealthy, in that part of the world, if they give to  a charity its usually something far away, you know it’s something international, it’s a very easy thing and popular, often in the detriment to what’s in their back yard, its kind of ignored and are disenfranchised. It’s a strange thing, but we all grew up in middle class and upper middle class homes, we have been fortuned. And by no means did i, although I have sold drugs in my past it was not  to put food on the table, but to put drugs on the table.
Well we slightly digressed there, I like hearing about it to be honest, I like having my eyes opened to a culture that I am completely ignorant about  so its great hearing about it.
I love where I grew up, love the energy there, I love the feeling there, there are  neighbourhoods that are 50% black 50% white that are middle class and upper middle class, there other neighbourhoods that are the white population and the black population are down a block there would be a definite line, and there is insane, insane strife between the two groups still, it’s all the above, it’s very strange
That’s a little bit on the scary side, let me try to get into a  more happy concept, the new title of the album a Fragrant World, sounds a bit happier to me then say Odd Blood maybe? What’s the story with the new title of the album. Is it a happy go lucky title or am I missing the point?
I wouldn’t say it’s a happy go lucky title (laughs) you took the words right out of my mouth It’s a Happy-Go-Lucky title!
I am going to quote you on that one!
Sure I can’t wait for that one!
Well there is a song that’s not on the record, under that title A fragrant World and we  agreed that seemed like a nice poetic term, that seems very encompassing and creates a mood that seems in line with the sentiment of the music. But in terms of going any deeper in that into meaning you are just going to have to read into it.
Make your own opinions. Choose your Vibe.
We touched on it before - translating the album into live performances, is there a track you are enjoy playing live?
Well I would probably like it for a different reason then you would - Folk Hero Stick is a fun song for me to play it’s a very physical song for me to play. I mean it’s not difficult per se but it’s fun. I like the songs where I can do a lot of different dynamic shifts.  And keep my synapse firing and keep entertained about what’s going on, that is fun for me. Those moments are always exciting.
Fingers Never Bleed (live in Mexico City)

And with regards to playing Amsterdam, I have seen you play a couple of times, once at Melkweg and once at Paradiso. What’s playing in front of Amsterdam crowds like?
Great, there are 6 places that really, really feel like our home territory and home crowd and this is one of them.
And do the venues differ or is it just the crowd?
The venues definitely differ, I mean Paradiso is very different feeling then Melkweg, it’s like you’re going from a prison in Blade Runner to fucking, you know the Court of the Habsburgs, it’s  a different feeling, and the sounds is different.
Which one do you enjoy then, which one's better?
I like them both for different reasons, I feel like the Paradiso show we played at the time where we were in that tour, for me personal I felt like a lot of stars aligned, and that was just an incredibley enjoyable moment.  So I will always remember that show as one of the better shows we ever had. And the most fun. I don’t know if that translated to the crowd or how they felt, but I definitely remember that very fondly, but we had really good shows at Melkweg too.
Yeasayer in Utrecht 2012

Where is the strangest one you have ever played before?
The strangest place, we played was under a bridge in London, like in the bowls of a sewer system in London, that was strange. Certain countries are stranger that others.
You you’re always a little bit taken aback when you do one offs.
We did a show in Singapore,  strange is wrong word, but you marvel at the situation you are in. We did this show in Singapore, it was actually part of Lane Way. So it was a first show of that, and it was just so surreal  because it was the first time, we were told it was the first time that bands of our size had ever been there, before that it was Taylor Swift and Aerosmith, so it was a festival of bands that were our size, and  it was pouring, monsoon sheets of rain and it was packed. And everybody was so happy to be there, and it was just such a weird singular experience that you can’t really describe, you cannot be prepared for that.
And then I remember Holy Fuck they couldn’t say their name because you’re not allowed to curse in Singapore, which added a whole other level to it, which was so bizarre. So in between every song (they’re Canadians) so they kept saying they were another Canadian band. ’Hey we’re Broken Social Scene, thank a lot for coming out’, (laughing uncontrollably) it was an awesome way to deal with it.
But you know, it’s that kind of thing, where within a day you travel so long and it seems so boring and within a day you are sharing this kind of communal experience in a part of the world where you never really thought about going to. And you’re sharing it with people that are there, and those people have heard your music and know who you are. That’s never going to cease to be  somewhat amazing.
That’s got to be a little bit surreal, right at times?
Sure, but that is the power of technology and reality of where we live right now, which is pretty interesting.
When you guys tour, what’s the dynamic like? Do you get along like a house on fire? Do you have your moments of bickering?
‘House on Fire’ what’s that (asks laughing)?
Happy as Larry? Do you get along well when you are touring?
(Still laughing)
No I mean, we also have another member Cale, who is great, and we have a  great crew, and we all live together, and whenever 9 or 10 people  live together on a bus, sometimes you’re going to step on each other’s toes, but it’s never dramatic to the point that you’re going to make a movie about it.
Thankfully, for sure, sometimes there issues and personal issues just as in the regular world. We are just thrust into being in such close quarters. We all are pretty aware of, I think of what it takes to do this, and enjoy it  and we want to, I think we are all trying to be as active as possible to enjoy this, ‘cause you could sway the other way very easily. And if that means sometimes someone needs some personal space, then go and take a personal space. But we get along, if we did not get along we wouldn’t be doing it. 

We're not making that much money (laughter)!!

Yeasayer play Paradiso, Amsterdam 17 Septemer 2012 - tickets still available.
Fragrant World is released worldwide 20 August - you can pre-order now!

The brilliant and somewhat creepy music video for Madder Red from Odd Blood 

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