Yeasayer's Anand Wilder: Ace of Base is kind of a seminal influence for us

Yeasayer's Anand Wilder: Ace of Base is kind of a seminal influence for us
Photo by Anna Palma

One of the most popular indie bands on the scene today, the Brooklyn-based Yeasayer manages to be simultaneously innovative and not annoying. They've been proving this since their debut album, 2007's All Hour Cymbals, and again with 2010's disarmingly addictive Odd Blood.

Their third full-length album, Fragrant World, is out today. Earlier this summer, the band sent fans on an Internet-wide scavenger hunt for the eleven tracks individually, dropping cryptic clues via their Twitter account. Fragrant World is a strange, psychedelic collection of folk-pop tunes. It's experimental, and even as that word can be a turn-off, Yeasayer accomplishes the album with lush arrangements that aren't reaching. It's different, but it's still danceable, delightful pop music.

Gimme Noise spoke with multi-instrumentalist Anand Wilder about releasing music in the digital age, working with visual artist Yoshi Sodeoka, and stealing golf carts from the Walker.

Tell me about the Internet scavenger hunt idea for releasing Fragrant World... an impressive experiment, given today's file-sharing-happy music culture. How did that come about? What's the back story behind it?

You're always trying to find ways to get around the leak culture, and we don't want to be too tightfisted -- we want people to listen to our music -- but we wanted to do it on our own terms. We were also kind of a little bit fed up with the way people would put up our songs on YouTube with some random imagery, so we thought it would be a good idea to preemptively create some visuals that would prevent this from happening. Now people have some interesting videos that we commissioned, and that was part of it.

Right, you commissioned contemporary video artist Yoshi Sodeoka to make the music videos. How did that collaboration come to happen?

Chris [Keating] is a huge contemporary art fan, and he was just searching the web... I don't know how he came across his work, but he did, and he forwarded it to us, and every single thing [Sodeoka] did was really visually interesting. We met with him one day, and he was a really quirky guy... so we paid him $10 million to create this awesome video.

...Wait, what?

[Laughs] No. So we just let him roll with it artistically... We were confident he would do something cool, and what he did exceeded our expectations.

Let's go back to the "leak culture" you were speaking about earlier. What's your take on the music industry at the moment, with the control of releases and downloads and how artists are getting paid? What do you think it should look like?

I think it's a transitional period right now. I just went to the Sound Garden in Syracuse, and I didn't buy 20 CDs... I'm a consumer with limited space, and I might not even like them. From a consumer standpoint, you can download songs and it's just convenient. Before, with CDs, there was all this packaging, and I remember buying an album like once every few months as a kid. I think downloading has actually expanded the horizons of so many youngsters, now that you can go on and explore all these different bands. I think the download culture has even helped a lot of artists, like a band that should not be playing 1,500 people venues given the amount of records they've sold. I mean, we still don't have any radio play, really, so it's kind of a double-edged sword or mixed bag. On the one hand, it would be great to sell a lot of records, but it keeps us on our toes, gets us to put on a great live show so that people want to come see us play.

I like to think of it as like the transition between scroll and a book. Initially, people would have been all like, "Dude, support the scroll!" And then people were like, "Okay, this book thing makes more sense." Now people are like, "Okay, it makes more sense to have [music] on your hard drive." It just does. You can't really blame the culture at large.

The last album Yeasayer released -- aside from 2011's End Blood EP -- was the Live at Ancienne Belgique album in 2010, which you released as a set-your-own-price download. How did that work for you? Do you like recording live? Are you planning another model like that again?

It was an interesting experiment... and it was kind of an experiment in record industry economics. I think from our site there were like 30,000 downloads, and consistently like 93 percent of the people downloaded for free, and only about 7 percent of people paid. It was interesting. It wasn't a traditional release, and we ended up being really pleased with it. It's really just for our fans. I like that it's a document of a specific time period and specific arrangements, and it was at a point when we had really honed the arrangements, so I'm happy to have that. The live version can sometimes be a big improvement from the studio version.

Fragrant World is so different from Odd Blood. I don't want to call it a departure, but it's definitely a different vibe. What motivated you to switch it up?

On Odd Blood, we were trying to go with a much more poppy, direct listening experience, and we were really influenced by the previous record [All Hour Cymbals], like the pop hooks had been obscured. Now, we just wanted to veer off in a different direction and just kind of indulge in abstract rhythms and play around with electronic stuff.

I think our true fans kind of expect us to change it up. I don't think they want the same exact thing, and for some reason the Minneapolis scene has been really good to us. Some of our strongest supporters are there... a long time ago, we did this show at the art museum there, the Walker [Rock The Garden 2009], that was cool. We stole a golf cart and road it around until it broke down.

That is awesome. Okay, so, I'm hearing a lot of late '80s and early '90s influences on Fragrant World. Can you tell me about what was on your mind as you were creating the album and thinking about composure?

[Laughs] I think we were listening to a lot of [Beck's] Mellow Gold before we went into the studio--it just really stands the test of time. A little of Ace of Base, too, and that's kind of a seminal influence for us. We listen to a lot of contemporary dance music, too, like SBTRKT.

Did you write the songs before you entered the studio, or was it vice versa? Tell me about how these songs are coming together in a live format. Are you still figuring out the bugs?

It's a little bit weird, because people haven't heard the songs yet. I hope this leak will get us a little more song recognition. It's a little unique right now, so we play them and experiment and adjust songs. It's kind of a constant evolution.

Yeasayer plays First Avenue on Friday, August 24, along with opener Daughn Gibson. 8 p.m. 18+. Tickets are $25.

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