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Thursday, August 30, 2012

Yeasayer's Chris Keating on Seeing People Have Sex in an S.F. Bar, and Why 'Retromania' Is Bullshit

Posted By on Thu, Aug 30, 2012 at 10:23 AM

Yeasayer
  • Yeasayer

New York trio Yeasayer has returned this fall with Fragrant World, its darkest and best record yet. Offering singles like "Longevity" -- whose bassy throb is powerful and memorable enough to rank near effervescent hits like "O.N.E." and "Ambling Alp" -- Fragrant World is something 2008's Odd Blood wasn't: Consistent. Later album tracks like "Reagan's Skeleton" and "Folk Hero Shtick" feel just as essential as opener "Fingers Never Bleed" or first single "Henrietta." And whether you like these stuttering beats and glitchy atmospheres or not (some critics are definitely in the "not" category), there's no denying that Yeasayer builds sounds and textures on Fragrant World that haven't been heard before. Ahead of the band's headlining show at the Fox Theater on Saturday, we spoke with vocalist and multi-instrumentalist Chris Keating about what new music he finds influential, how a Yeasayer song comes together, and the time he found a very X-rated adventure inside a San Francisco bar.

What kind of record did you set out to make with Fragrant World?

We tried to do something a little more dissonant, a little more minor keys and things like that. That's what we were going for, as opposed to the over the top, anthemic, uplifting qualities of the last record. It is a little darker. That's a thing we've always tried to balance, is that dichotomy between positivity and darkness, that kind of a chiaroscuro concept

After making an album like Odd Blood, do you try to stay away from outside influences? Were there any particular influences while you're were working on Fragrant World?

There's direct influences and then there's slightly more indirect ones. There's always stuff that I'm listening to a lot, like Brian Eno or some production stuff that Timbaland has done. But there's like new bands I'm into, like the new Shabazz Palaces is great, the new Purity Ring record, Thee Satisfaction.

How does a Yeasayer song begin? Do you write with a keyboard, or with a computer?

Both, or with samples, or just singing things into a tape recorder. There are different people writing different songs. But I personally try to start with a sound that is interesting, and then shape it around that, start adding chord structures to that. But you need to find an interesting sound first.

You're very plainspoken in some of your lyrics, with lines like, "Live in the moment/ Never count on longevity." Do ever you find it difficult to be so open? Do you worry about seeming corny?

No. I think there are enough idiosyncratic lyrics that you can kind of open up to a more direct and affirmative kind of chorus. That's to me what's interesting about the pop music structure. You get the opportunity to kind of bounce between lyrical play and then almost too direct a message when it comes to the refrain of the song.

You've gone from being a buzzing band to a group with a hot debut, to a highly anticipated follow up, and now to your third album. You've survived. Any insight on the nature of our music industry now?

I think we're always on the verge of people not coming to the shows or not caring anymore. I just operate under that assumption. I feel like I have something to prove to myself in terms of putting on a good show or writing a good song or trying something new. And I think that's a good place to be, because at least you'll never repeat yourself that way. But yeah, it's a very fickle kind of world, where people are moving on very quickly, because there is so much out there and access to information is so easy. And most people are getting music for free. It cheapens the material.

So you don't think Yeasayer is at a point where at least some people will always care?

I don't think so. I don't have a very accurate perspective, but, for example, we'll play a definite variety of sizes of shows. We're in Syracuse tonight; we're probably going to play for 200 people. So it ranges, so we'll play for 3,000 people in San Francisco, and then we'll play for 200 people. You never know. And it's not like we've made a lot of money off our music or anything like that. So for me it still feels like a continual, pushing-a-stone-up-a-hill kind of thing.

How are you doing financially?

This has been my job since 2008, and it's seemed like every year it gets a little better, because you're just able to figure it out a little more. But we'll still do plenty of tours that don't make any money. And we'll do some tours that do make money. We're still trying to figure that reality out. Selling records being what it is, I don't expect us to make money that way. But I'm doing better than I ever expected I would, so I think it's fine.

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Ian S. Port

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