The three-piece’s new record, “Fragrant World,” gives an aroma of sweet dance beats and synthesizers.
“I hope whenever the fucking shitty movie is made about Brooklyn in the ‘00s, it’s going to be more like Justice League. And I want to be Aquaman,” Ira Wolf Tuton of Yeasayer says. And Brooklyn musicians don’t actually have a “rock and roll clubhouse in Prospect Park,” he adds. Bands from this New York City borough might get grouped together often, but the guys in Yeasayer like to keep their toys to themselves.
They’ll be in New Orleans at The Republic Friday, playing tracks off of their latest, techno-pop record, Fragrant World, an album that defies genre in true Yeasayer fashion. “With our first record, we called from different music from around the globe,” Tuton says. “As we move forward, we create new aesthetics, trying to use production techniques that we haven’t before.”
Yeasayer gave us All Hour Cymbals in 2007, a small testament to the indie rock in their Brooklyn bones. It’s the least electronic of their albums, but no less of an experimentation with world sounds. Middle Eastern drum beats, chanting, and mesmerizing harmonies dominate the record, and this first release earned praise from NME, Pitchfork, and Entertainment Weekly. Following that success came 2010‘s Odd Blood, and Yeasayer released 10 surprising tracks, hook-driven and pop-based. Fans might consider the record a selling out of sorts, but Yeasayer didn’t disappoint. The songs never lack in creativity or intricacy, and their strong drum beats still leave listeners feeling as though they’re sitting in on a tribal drum circle.
While the band’s changes from album to album seem mercurial, Tuton sees a clear connection between them. And their latest and third release, Fragrant World, takes yet another leap, reflecting their contemporary dance hall and R&B influences more than before. “I think the sound of this record is clearly informed by the two prior records that we’ve already made,” Tuton says. “The vocals are a little bit more buried, and we really focused on using a lot of new vocal effects. We’re using electronic tones, but not being nostalgic of the 1980s. There’s music out there now that is sounding more contemporary and futuristic as opposed to that kind of nostalgic 80s synth pop. We’re trying to move forward in that direction instead of harkening back.”
For Yeasayer, moving forward relies on constant experimentation. And this remains at the heart of everything Tuton, and bandmates Chris Keating and Anand Wilder, do. “All of us are comfortable with different pieces of equipment,” he says. “That’s one of the enjoyable parts of what we do, that experimentation. Nowadays, you can do that so easily in your bedroom. There’s so many things you can have within the box of your computer. If you have the inclination and the time, you can really explore down that rabbit hole and get to some intriguing places. We take advantage of a lot of tonality. I think that’s really cool, as opposed on having to rely on what an acoustic guitar sounds like or what a drum snare sounds like. Actually figuring out, for each song, what tone should this snare sound like. It could be a real snare, or it could be a snare created digitally. Or it could be a snare that’s run through a variety of boxes. That’s the fun part.”
The pulsing, swelling electronic melodies of Fragrant World were polished during a two-month studio session, Tuton says, but the work began long before then. “We’ll go into the studio with individual demos. Then we’ll listen to everybody’s demos and decide on what we want to continue to work on as a group, what we want to produce and arrange. We’re never really sitting in the studio playing the acoustic guitar.”
Yeasayer approaches their records and live shows as completely different animals, Tuton says, because the nuance and layering of their recordings give a sound that’s difficult to achieve live. They used several drummers during Fragrant World’s production, but tour with only one. And with the album’s release on August 21, Tuton says their live shows continue to progress in energy and intensity.
“Playing a record exactly as is just doesn’t translate,” he says. “You have to hone it down, focus on different things, sometimes speed tracks up. But really, kind of go back to the basis of what the song is. We had been touring for a while with all of the new material, playing in front of a ton of people that had never heard it. Now, the album’s out. The shows are getting better because people like to know the music that they’re coming to see. And it’s easier to involve yourself in the show.”