Q&A: Yeasayer’s Escape from New York
By Alejandro Rubio; thumbnail and photo by Anna Palma on August 17, 2012
It's a hard thing to imagine: Snake Plissken alone in some nightclub in LA, one, un-eye-patched eye closed, swaying and dancing to music. It sounds ridiculous. Or even if he was back in Manhattan and could hear John Carpenter's soundtrack following him around, you couldn't imagine Snake ever wanting to hum along. There's simply nothing about Snake Plissken that could be described as rhythmic or melodious. Yet, in another borough of New York there's another man, equally as intimidating (and far more handsome than Snake), who's able to see and appreciate the hidden musical potential of all the misunderstood heroes of dystopia. That man is Anand Wilder and he's one of the leaders of the electro-psychedelic tribe Yeasayer. At first listen, you probably won't notice the similarities between Yeasayer's new album, Fragrant World and Carpenter's Escape from New York, but they're there. Just as Snake had 24 hours to venture into the treacherous world of the Manhattan penitentiary to find the president and the secret tapes before his heart exploded, Yeasayer gave its fans 72 hours to venture into the far more treacherous world of the internet and find secret album tracks before their sonic hopes and dreams would likewise explode. OK, the similarities aren't necessarily overwhelming, and although Anand Wilder is no Snake Plissken, he and Yeasayer have managed to develop an international cult status that has far surpassed Snake's.
FILTER caught up with Wilder and talked to him about Yeasayer's new album Fragrant World, his favorite soundtracks and Chinese stews. Check out what he had to say.
You guys just wrapped up your first set of European tour dates, so how do you think the new songs were received overseas?
Anand Wilder: I have no idea. It's a really weird thing to do, to play songs for people that have never heard them before, especially when I feel like all people really want to hear are the songs that they know.
Well, I noticed that most of these songs have been on your set lists for over a year. Did you spend more time on this album than on the others?
I don't think so. In fact, I think we spent a lot more time mixing [Odd Blood]. But I think it's pretty much the same. The whole album cycle, tour cycle seems to last about two and half years.
When did you guys first start coming up with songs and ideas for Fragrant World?
We started working on songs in between tours. Actually, right now we started working on new songs, which is kind of the way it goes. You start touring off the new album and then you start working on the new stuff. A lot of the those songs on [Fragrant World] were probably written in 2010, 2011, when we were touring and in between tours, and then we started working on the album in a studio in the fall of 2011.
As a whole, Fragrant World sounds a bit darker than your other albums. Would you say that's a fair assessment?
Yeah, I think so. I think there are moments of lightness on it, but it may be a darker-sounding album.
What do you think led to the band's shift in tone?
I think we dappled in saccharine pop music on [Odd Blood], and there's still some moments of darkness on that, but on that album we wanted to get away from any of the “hippie” associations, and on [Fragrant World] we wanted to get a little bit more into abstract electronic music, more abstract dance music, and a lot of those rhythms and dark synths go really well with that kind of narrative.
One of the tracks that stands out on the new album is “Folk Hero Shtick.” Were you alluding to someone specifically when you wrote that song?
Yeah, it's referring to a specific person that I'd rather not divulge, just because I don't want that to be the talking piece. But it's about myself, too, and ego running amuck, and trying to stay grounded.
Yeah, that was one of the more abrasive songs on the album. Were you listening to darker and more industrial types of music?
I think that one went through a bunch of different phases, and we wanted to attack as many different styles in one song as possible. We wanted to explore dissonance and a spaghetti Western kind of soundtrack.
What you just said about wanting to explore soundtracks is interesting because in another interview Chris Keating discussed early plans to record Fragrant World as two LPs: one real pop album and another album that would be more like a soundtrack. How much of that idea do you think made its way onto the record?
Well, we're always influenced by soundtrack music, but the record itself is not anywhere near a double album. But that kind of ambient music or atmospheric soundtrack music that doesn't have words to it, where the dialogue is that lyrical layer, has always been pretty inspiring for us. Just the idea of getting across emotions through instrumental music is something that we strive to have in our songs. But we didn't actually do that. Eventually we'd like to put out an ambient album, but I don't think the powers-that-be would allow that [laughs].
Are there specific soundtracks that stick out as your favorites?
A Clockwork Orange is one of my favorites. I also like more traditional soundtracks like The Last of the Mohicans. John Carpenter's Escape from New York is a great one. Actually, Terminator has a pretty good soundtrack.
You mean the first Terminator, right?
Yeah, that's a pretty good soundtrack.
I'm not sure who did that, actually.
Me neither. We should probably look that up.*
Well, it sounds like you guys draw a lot of influences from sources outside of music, and your sound definitely has an international flavor, tapping into different countries and cultures. If you had to pick, which international dish would you say best represents your music?
Hmm...let me see... It would probably be a Szechuan hot pot.
What is about a hot pot that you feel captures the essence of your music?
It's taking all these different kinds of vegetables and meats, but cooking them up in the same brew. F
* Brad Fiedel composed the theme for entire Terminator series and described the famous refrain as a “mechanical man and his heartbeat.”