Yeasayer feature – Interview with Anand Wilder

Posted on August 9, 2010


written by Robert Pollard for High Voltage

Yeasayer have had a breathless start to life as a band. Their live performances and two studio albums have received high praise from music critics and they have an ever-increasing fan base. High Voltage caught up with singer and multi instrumentalist Anand Wilder to get his thoughts on the bands next single, life on tour and working with Vincent Moon.

Examining Yeasayer’s development as a band has been intriguing to say the least. The way in which they have rejected many of the more conventional approaches to writing music in order to create something unique has been refreshing and inspiring. By creating two albums with very different sounds, they have proven that they are not a temporary fixture; rather, a band with an acute understanding of the intricacies involved in writing music. Their debut LP was the impressive All Hour Cymbals, a fusion of sounds from many different cultures, with tribal drumming and low-mixed vocals central to the album. Their latest long player, however, offers a clear direction change, with Odd Blood incorporating far more pop melodies and electronic sounds. So what signalled the shift? “A lot of it was just having a lot more experience with recording. Your first album you’re basically a novice at making recordings. With this new one we’d had a year on the road and we knew a lot more about sound and how to create something. It was also something we wanted to do, we wanted to make something that had more pop sensibility with higher vocals and a stronger rhythm section and less ambient muck that was muddying things up.”

This new pop approach has had the critics purring. Pretty much across the board, journalists have been clamouring over one another to hail its genius. “It was an aesthetic choice, the last album we wanted to be more a 70’s kind of ambient Krautrock sounding album, whereas this one, we wanted to sound more like 90’s dance music”. It is a choice which has paid off, with Yeasayer now one of the most talked about bands in the world. It wasn’t just the music and the production which changed; the lyrics also underwent a re-examination. “The first album incorporated very grandiose, epic themes and, in a way, we weren’t being very forthright about our own emotions and our own personal experiences. With this album we wanted to be little bit more candid and a little bit more brave about dealing with our own personal lives, love lives, emotions and feelings and I think we also made a conscious decision to make our songs much more direct. We tried to write a few love songs and we were all very motivated by trying to do something very different to what we did on the first album.”

Next single Madder Red is a palpable example of this new approach. “It’s just about being on tour, being away from your loved ones while you’re spending your life on the road.  The song began as a kind of instrumental, quiet lullaby that Ira (Wolf Tuton) wrote music for. I just hummed some rough verse riffs and came up with some lyrics for the verses. That was kind of it until we went to work on it upstate in Woodstock and added a big drum beat that Chris (Keating) had on his computer and added a bridge at the very end of the song. That was the most difficult part, I came up with a couple of different melodies and lyrical ideas for that before it finally came to the final one”.

The kind of admiration that Yeasayer have received brings about the inevitable long tour and it can take its toll but Wilder isn’t about to complain too loudly. With the band fulfilling their potential and creating the kind of music they have always wanted to, life on the road is par for the course. “It’s tough, you know, but I can’t complain. I’m very fortunate to be doing what I’m doing”. Indeed, one of the major pitfalls of being on tour is not having the correct environment to write new material. “I wish I could but I haven’t been able to. I need to be at home, in a room in isolation at like 6 in the morning to be able to come up with something. A lot of it is me humming lines over and over again, experimenting with lyrics and being on a bus I don’t get the privacy I require to be able to create that kind of stuff. I can edit stuff on tour and rearrange stuff but I haven’t had much luck with coming up with something so far.”

With the band’s success, has it made it easier for Wilder to justify his career path to his friends and family? “I never really had any of that kind of anxiety where, you know, I could have been a wealthy banker or something and going into music was some great risk. I was always able to self-sustain the lifestyle by living in New York and working freelance jobs and supporting myself. Only with the more conservative side of my extended family, I can now hold my head high and say you know ‘I’m doing this job and making more money than I would have been if I’d been working in some crappy job’.  I’ve always had a lot of support from my friends and family and so there’s never been too much anxiety.”

Yeasayer are one of many excellent bands to hail from Brooklyn and it would seem as though New York has something special ingrained into its cultural landscape that allows for the cultivation of great music. Animal Collective, Dirty Projectors, Grizzly Bear, MGMT and Vampire Weekend are all bands which base themselves in New York and they have all made a huge impact on music. So what does Wilder think is the key? “I think New York has always been a Mecca for creative people. I think there are so many people there, and it’s such a cultural melting pot, if you wanna do something different from the people in your small town, or whatever, you can go to New York and find people who are interested in experimentation and innovation in music. And there are so many venues in Brooklyn where you can showcase your music and meet other people who are very interested in what you’re doing. In one night in Brooklyn I went to see five different bands that I’d heard about from people who had given me recordings. And you can pretty much do that on any night of the week, just go and see some very interesting music. A lot of the time the bands are really bad but every once in a while you’ll see something really great and it’s totally home-grown.” Wilder’s love of music is obvious. He is not only a focused and serious musician, eager to help continue his band’s ascent; but also a keen listener of new music. “Javelin are like the best band out there and our friends from Brooklyn are in some good bands, there’s a band called suckers which are wonderful.”And, despite it not being instantly obvious in amongst the glut of influences that they include in their music, Yeasayer have even been influenced by some of the finest Manchester bands of the past. “The Smiths are basically one of Chris’ favourite bands. He loves Morrissey and all The Smiths kind of stuff……..they’re one of his go to bands. Stone Roses I love, Joy Division I love and I even like Oasis…….a few of their songs.”

Yeasayer have also been lucky enough to be invited to make one of the magnificent ‘take-away shows’ shot by the talented Vincent Moon. Their performance was exceptional and it provides a great example of the depth of talent within the band. “Vincent Moon is one of my good friends. He’s a true nomad and he’s a really interesting character, full of creative energy and spontaneity and when he actually saw our creative process and how much we rely on computers to kind of flesh out our music I think he was kind of disappointed it wasn’t just raw acoustic. He’s a great guy and I love working with him and I hope we can keep trying to put live music down to video.”

Their ability to transcend musical genre means that Yeasayer should remain a very interesting band to listen to. So far, they have managed to keep their fans guessing as to which style of music they will incorporate into their sound next and, indeed, the general direction the band will take in the future. It seems, from the outside at least, that regular music conventions bore them, and instead they strategically try to avoid being pigeonholed into a certain style or genre. They also place huge emphasis on vocal melodies, with exceptional singing and sweet harmonies the bands’ forte. “It just comes from having good chord progressions and experimenting with singing along with it”. Wilder makes it sound easy, but the truth is that very few other bands have the ability to create such vast vocal landscapes, and this should ensure a healthy future for the band.


words by Rob Pollard

Photo: Sam Ellis

Posted in: Interviews, Music