Yeasayer All Hour Cymbals

Yeasayer All Hour Cymbals
As a spawning ground for music, Brooklyn has a predisposition for inspiring free-loving experimentalists in what is no doubt a tight-knitted artists’ village. Relative newcomers Yeasayer are built from the same cloth as neighbours like Animal Collective and Gang Gang Dance; they lay their versatility and imagination down onto an expansive tapestry of strikingly diverse music. All Hour Cymbals is the debut release for both the band and new label, We Are Free, a subsidiary of Monitor — it’s also an album you’ll be hearing a lot of throughout the coming year. Each of the four members are singing multi-instrumentalists, a point that helps patch together their ambitiously wide scope of worldly sounds — Eastern strings, booming tribal polyrhythms, swelling flamboyant melodies and choral theatrics utilising their backgrounds in barbershop and a cappella groups. On the whole, Cymbals has a blissfully perpetual ebb and flow throughout its run: festive single "2080” is immaculately arranged, sprouting into two different unforgettable choruses; the sedated "Waves” jams in an enchanting slumber; and then there’s the hallucinogenic "Wait For the Summer,” which boasts an aptitude for their cultured array of instruments on top of some exquisitely drunken Fleetwood Mac harmonies. All Hour Cymbals is a late entry for album of the year and the start of something very, very beautiful.

Doing an extensive search online I’ve noticed there’s not a lot to know about you guys yet.
Guitarist Anand Wilder: Really? It feels like we’ve been repeating ourselves, giving people the same info over and over again. But maybe it just hasn’t gone out to the internet yet.

Must be. Okay, so can you tell me a little bit about your formation then?
Well, Chris Keating, the lead singer, and I grew up and went to the same school together in Baltimore, from first grade on. We played in bands together in high school and we’ve always collaborated on any kind of artistic projects. Then we both went to college and kinda went our separate ways, and he did some film studies. I was working on a musical right after I graduated from college, and Chris was going to do a show up in New York, so he called me and we collaborated on a couple songs of his and from my musical. It was so well received that I decided to move to New York to work on it full-time. Then about a month or two later we got another gig and thought we might as well do a band type thing. So we called up my cousin Ira [Wolf Tuton] and had our first rehearsal on his birthday in 2005; we were just really in synch with each other and all of the vocal harmonies were coming really easily. We decided after that to really focus on this band, so we started practicing and jamming out these songs, and within the first year we came up with most of the songs that make up All Hour Cymbals. It was just jamming out stuff, playing it back and recording everything, doing overdubs. A year later, we were still playing with my old high school drummer Louis, and he was living in Baltimore so it wasn’t really working out. Our mutual friend Luke [Fasano] starting playing drums with us and we’ve been in that four-piece set-up ever since May 2006.

So you never really intended to start this band?
Pretty much, yeah. Even if we weren’t in a band, I think Chris and I would still be collaborating on musical projects. We were kind of hesitant to call it a band. I know Ira was like, "Let’s form a band, let’s do this,” but we wanted it to be more of a weird project. We still call it a project; we don’t want to fall into the band stereotypes, with cheesy photos, whatever.

I hate to say it, but the little press I’ve read is tagging you as hippie folk. How does that fly with the band?
I guess we’re definitely influenced by a lot of the stuff that came from that era, and I think certain songs on the album are very folk, hippie-oriented, but the album as a whole you can’t really pigeonhole into one genre. We’re borrowing from ’80s, Indian and West African music, even current music in Brooklyn, as well as that folk music from the ’60s, like Pentangle, Fairport Convention and Simon & Garfunkel.

What’s this I hear about your barbershop quartet past?
and I were in a barbershop quartet in high school. We were called the Dynamic Trio and we actually made it to the mid-Atlantic finals before we were disqualified because our name wasn’t funny enough. I think Luke may have been in one too and Ira was in boy’s choir. Chris and I also sang in a cappella groups in high school. We have a pretty strong choral background.

Does that transpire in Yeasayer’s music?
I don’t think the barbershop harmonies necessarily influenced the ones we use. We’re most influenced by the Sacred Harp singers or CSNY. We don’t do barbershop harmonies but we’re also not ruling it out.

I don’t want to upset the Canadian Association of Barbershop Singers - if one exists - but I think barbershop "craze” is more of an American thing. I don’t think it really ever took off here in Canada.
We were in vocal groups in high school, and we just noticed it and said, "Oh, look, there’s this barbershop thing. Let’s figure out these songs in that style and see how far we can go.” It wasn’t like I was doing it every weekend! [Laughs]

Did you guys have snappy uniforms with those Styrofoam round hats?
No, I think that’s another part of the reason why were got disqualified. We had gas station uniforms, and all of the other guys had the bowties and the peppermint candy stripe. We were definitely the rebels back then. The album is very diligent in its arrangements, and I assume that’s because there are four songwriters. Do you each bring something different to the band?
For us, when we hear something in the music, if we hear some Phil Collins, we say, "Let’s push that to the extreme and make it really sound like Phil Collins. But at the same time, let’s add these tribal drums to make it more organic, and then some synths here and a ridiculously clichéd guitar solo there.” Basically we just combine all of our different influences and hope we come up with something that sounds new and original to people.

I wish more bands would own up to Phil Collins as an influence these days. He was awesome in the ’80s.
Yeah, Phil’s amazing!

So, what was the goal for this band? Since you weren’t really setting out to form one.
Just to be as ambitious and far-reaching as possible. Basically, if it’s not passionate we’re not really into it, writing boring, sombre ballads — although maybe on the next album we’ll turn it down and not be as bombastic. Yeah, my voice is completely shot because all of our songs have screaming and yelling. We really wanted every song to be unique; we don’t want someone to put on the third song and not know the difference between it and the first song. We want every song to have its own unique identity from the first four seconds. We were actually think of naming the album Greatest Hits, because it was the culmination of sorting out different songs over two years, and to us it has that feel to it. There’s a cohesion with the vocals. I guess our goal was just to be as out there as possible while staying within a pop format with choruses you can sing along to and rhythms you can dance to. (We Are Free)