All Hour Cymbals, great album that it was, was apparently just a springboard. Odd Blood, the second full length by Brooklyn quartet-turned-trio Yeasayer, looks set to excel expectations and launch the band into the relative mainstream.
Spearheaded by single ‘Ambling Alp’, Odd Blood finds Anand Wilder, Chris Wilder and Ira Wolf Tuton’s songwriting tighter, catchier, and accompanied by the sort of swelling synth-led melodies that recall MGMT’s close-to-perfect ‘Kids’ and ‘Time to Pretend’.
Yeasayer still find time to go out there – opening track ‘The Children’ is one of the weirder three minute songs you’ll hear this year – but ultimately this is a pop band doing pop music very well, shedding the skin that years of ‘freak-folk’ and ‘experimentalist’ descriptions has imposed on them.
FACT spoke to Anand about the making of the album late last year.
“We wanted the songs to be more direct, and commit more wholeheartedly to a style or sentiment.”
We’re really into Odd Blood. How long did you guys spend making it, and where did you make it?
“Some of the songs on Odd Blood began as demos that were composed as early as the summer of 2007, after we’d finished mixing All Hour Cymbals, but before it was released. After a year of constant touring in 2008, Ira, Chris and I rented a house in Woodstock in upstate NY in early 2009, and built our own makeshift studio in the living room. The house was owned by a musician who had drummed professionally on some of our favorite recordings of guys like Peter Gabriel, Tears for Fears, Elvis Costello, and Hall and Oates. This definitely influenced our decision to rent his space, since he had tons of drums, synths, and microphones that he allowed us to use, and his gear really shaped the sounds on the record.
“After about four months of relative seclusion, we emerged with a rough sounding record. We took a break from recording over the summer to play Bonnaroo and Pitchfork fests, and we took advantage of this time to test out some of the new material. We went back into recording mode and incorporated some new live ideas into the recordings. We have two new touring drummers now and they played on a few tracks on the record in order to beef up the rhythms. Final Mixing went down at the same studio, Great City in Manhattan, and we finished the record in the end of September 2009.”
How did it differ from making the first record?
“With Odd Blood, we had a lot more time to obsess over all the little sounds and arrangements. When we were upstate recording, we enlisted the help of a professional engineer, Steve Revitte, who gave us perspective and a fresh pair of ears, and helped us execute some of the sounds we were envisioning. We also benefited from taking time off from recording to work out the songs in a live setting, and we had the luxury of being able to go back to the recordings to make changes.
“The mixing process was much slower paced; we took about a month making rough mixes, beta mixes, final mixes, with our mixing engineer Britt Myers. We could go home with a mix, listen on different speakers, ipod headphones, then come back in with little changes to be made. We also weren’t afraid to cut songs out of the album entirely at the last minute, and replace them with songs that we hadn’t worked on at all while we were upstate.”
Are there any guests involved?
“Jerry Marotta, the drummer we rented the house from, played some taos drums on Ambling Alp, and some percussion on some other tracks. Colin Stetson and Stuart Bogie played horns, and Stuart added some cool Bass Harmonica and Jews Harp. Kevin Bewersdorf played some crucial synth and piano lines, and our new drummers, Ahmed Gallab and Jason Trammell played drums and percussion on a few songs.”
Did you have any specific intentions or goals in mind when you made it?
“We definitely wanted to make a sparer sounding album, with fewer instruments and fewer voices. We wanted to make each sound count, each sound be treated in an interesting way, so that you couldn’t exactly tell what was going on. We wanted our songs to be shorter, and dancier, with more prominent beats and lead vocal lines. We wanted the songs to be more direct, and commit more wholeheartedly to a style or sentiment.”
“You want harmonies? We’ll give you harmonies.”
Any particular themes that seem to crop up in Odd Blood, lyrically or otherwise?
“I think there’s a paranoia that emerges on the second half of the record. A lot of the songs deal in traditional themes of love and relationships, while still retaining a awkwardness or darker side.”
Any artists you were listening to a lot while making it, or that particularly inspired/influenced it?
“We were listening to a lot of Chaka Khan, the Real McCoy, Haddaway, Parliament, Arthur Russell, and Tupac.”
It seems ‘bigger’ than the last record – were you conscious of the fact that it was going to be quite hyped, and did that affect the way you made Odd Blood?
“I guess the cliche is that the second album is a sophomore slump, but we didn’t feel much pressure at all. We just knew we wanted to do something different from All Hour Cymbals. Our first album did better than we expected, but a sophomore slump seems like something that happens if you actually achieve mainstream success on the debut, which we didn’t. We still feel like there’s a long climb to the top.
“We knew while we were making it that more people were going to take notice of the album right off the bat, (we didn’t do any press before the release of All Hour Cymbals) but that was a great comfort for us.
“I think our approach to the way we made this record was to learn from our past mistakes, and take a lot more time and care in the creation of the document which we’d have to live with for the rest of our lives.
“We were also very conscious of the reality of constant touring. We wanted to be excited to play all the songs on the record live, whereas with the last record, we had no concept of how much we’d be touring, and how certain songs could really kill the mood at a concert, while other songs always get people hyped.
“I don’t know if this is a bigger sounding record than the last one; I hope it is. I think we brought the rhythms to the fore, so that makes it seem a lot heavier. We wanted to make an album of bangers.”
Like I say, I think it’s quite a big album in the sense there’s great, clean choruses and really quotable lines, but the album’s first track is really abstract, with the clanging percussion and the distorted vocals. You really don’t expect the rest of the record to be so clean in relation. Is that a bit of a deliberate red herring?
“I think we started to see ‘The Children’ as this kind of mantra like dirge in a post apocalyptic work camp, and the vocals sounded like they were coming from a big brother-esque loudspeaker. You can’t tell what he’s saying but you want to obey, you are hypnotized to follow, to do his bidding, whatever it may be, you can’t help yourself. I don’t think it’s a red herring, but I do think it’s a sort of test for the listener, will you follow us? Will you come on this journey with us, no matter where we’ll take you?
“I also think there’s an anthemic quality of that song that really holds up well against the following songs, which we sort of consider the more formulaic pop anthems. There is a simplicity and beauty to the melody, I think it’s one of the best tunes on the album, if you stripped it down to vocals and guitar it would be a really pretty ballad.
“I think the song is also a reaction to the perception of Yeasayer as some sort of freak-folk, hippie outfit, a label that we’ve always been uncomfortable with. Just because we sing harmonies, doesn’t mean we’re afraid of technology. So this was a great way to play with our critics’ and fans’ expectations: “You want harmonies? We’ll give you harmonies that are created by a vocal effects box made by the Digitech corporation.””
How’s it going playing the material live?
“Playing the material live is going well. We have the first 5 songs learned, and we need to learn the second 5 songs, along with B-sides and reworks of old songs. We are never too faithful to the recordings, but with this album we may use a lot more of the original sounds from the record, since many of the tones were really painstakingly pieced together.”