Published Aug 14, 2012Since their inception, Brooklyn, NY's Yeasayer have employed a nebulous framework for their music. Debuting in 2007 with All Hour Cymbals, they were mislabelled a psych-folk jam band. Then with 2010's Odd Blood, they swapped guitars and tribal rhythms for synths and wrote an album of pop bangers. Now in their third phase, they've made Fragrant World, another creative overhaul based upon a love for R&B production and a concern for what the future has in store for us. Fragrant World challenges from the first to the 15th listen, yet lacks the hooks that made Odd Blood such an impossible album to ignore. But, at the same time, Yeasayer are a talented bunch who make forward-thinking, 21st century pop music designed to make you think while you dance.
How do you explain the evolution from Odd Blood to Fragrant World?
Vocalist/keyboardist Chris Keating: We're always trying to have a movement from album to album. That movement is always conscious and aesthetically progressing to a different place. Going from the first album to the second album was a big leap for us to the kind of songs we wanted to write: personal, pop-oriented love songs. And then this album, conceptually in the material and treatments, is very different.
The first album was very organic in the type of instruments employed. How different do you see All Hour Cymbals and what you were trying to accomplish compared to Fragrant World?
The first album was less organic than you would think. It's perhaps a general misconception of how we were writing and recording songs. Ever since the beginning, we were using a sampler on stage, which was an element of the show. People thought we were a freak folk band, but we were using samplers and different textures evocative of that mood. It was only logical for us to keep progressing through using electronics and experiment with new instruments. That's always been the foundation for what we've tried to do musically.
What happened with the guitar on this record?
There is more than you would think. The guitars were treated in really strange ways; we really tried to use the guitar like any other instrument. I don't want to fetishize the pure guitar sound, but Anand [Wilder] plays the guitar live and you'll see he has a wide variety of pedals that get it to sound like synthesizers or weird, treated, other instruments. We don't want to feature it like we're a guitar band; we just try to use it like anything else.
R&B is claimed as a big influence on the album. Where did that come from?
I think from 1997 to 2002, which was the halcyon period, it was following a time where R&B became a genre of music that had become really cheesy using synthesizers and drum machines. It was lovably cheesy, but after the funk revolution of the '70s it became really cheesy for two decades. And we were witnessing mostly white bands rip off that sound through the '80s. Into the '90s, you had Timbaland, Just Blaze and the Neptunes injecting life back into the genre. That, to me, was a very formative period, because then I was a kid into Sonic Youth and Pavement ― indie stuff ― but I'd hear those producers on the radio and say, "Wait a minute, that music is way weirder than indie rock." Ginuwine's "Poni" was a real cultural shift and it's still something I look at and say, "that's an amazing song."
You said you wanted to make the album "funky." Did you get the album to be as funky as you wanted?
I try to avoid using that word; I think we got the album as funky as three white guys can. There is always a line you don't want to cross. David Byrne was saying what helped make the Talking Heads successful was that they were doing a weird interpretation of funk music. If they were doing it more accurately it would not have been as successful and [would have been] seen as a watered down version of Bootsy Collins, as opposed to a more twisted, angular version of Bootsy Collins.
Read a review of Fragrant World here.