February 8 sees the release of one of 2010’s most anticipated records – Yeasayer‘s Odd Blood. In a Getintothis exclusive, Peter Guy chats to multi-instrumentalist Ira Wolf Tuton about their fabulous new record, the pop music which has influenced them and how their live show could see you lose all control of your bodily functions. Expect near death experiences, basketball shoot-outs with Animal Collective and the wildest celebrity dinner party imagineable.
Getintothis: Last time you visited Liverpool there were about 17 people at the Barfly, now there’s all this expectation, you must be chuffed at the way things are gathering momentum?
Ira Wolf Tuton: Well, when you live in Brookyn you’re kinda in a bubble. I think we’ve got to get out on the road first and see how people react to the way we translate the record to the live atmosphere.
Getintothis: It does seem a gradual wave of interest, rather than an overnight ‘hype band’ situation. You’ve had All Hour Cymbals kicking around for over two years, then Tightrope from Dark Was The Night and now quality new single Ambling Alp which has led to the buzz around Odd Blood…
Ira Wolf Tuton: Yeah, that’s definitely part of not just what we’re trying to do, but also the people that we work with as well. There’s some sense that we want to control it.
We’re trying to create something which gives us longevity. You see, especially in the UK, there’s a lot of flash in the pan bands, which is more of a reflection on the media there than anything else.
There’s an obsession with celebrity which we don’t really have over here, so there’s always that next big thing and then that big thing lasts a couple of weeks and for us we’ve been trying to do this for some time, we look in the mirror and we see ourselves at a very early stage in our career both creatively and artistically, and there’s a lot things we want to do and explore and we want to have the luxury and opportunity to do that.
So, you have to be aware that you can’t just sit back as people will take control if you don’t do that yourself and will turn you into something.
Sometimes they turn you into something you want to be and sometimes they don’t, so you have to grab on to the reins and steer wherever the definition is going.
Yeasayer: Tightrope (live)
Getintothis: One of things I love about Yeasayer, is that while people are hung up on trying to pigeonhole you guys – whether it be folk, afro-rhythms, hippy shit, whatever, you’ve always essentially been a pop band with strong melodies and fine vocal harmonies. Now on Odd Blood you seemed to have pushed these to the fore and ramped up the funk.
Ira Wolf Tuton: That’s the way we’ve always looked at it. The first record deceived a lot of people because the songs were in a longer form and there was an intense amount of layering, albeit over simple ideas.
But there were ideas of refrain and there were hooks but they were masked. So on this record we wanted to be a lot more overt in engaging that style and be more concise and bring more clarity to what we were doing.
Getintothis: I’ve read a few pieces in the lead up to the release of Odd Blood and some people have suggested that you’ve stripped away the layers, but I’d argue that the new record is the opposite, it’s quite heavily produced, lots of electronics, drum beats, you’ve basically thrown the kitchen sink at it.
Ira Wolf Tuton: It’s still very intense. I feel like what people probably heard with the first record was such a wall of sound, and all the layers were occupying the same place sonically and everything came at you as a ball of mush – for lack of a better word – and there’s heavy use of reverb.
On the new record there’s still alot of layers and a lot of components but we worked hard at gaining a lot of separation amongst them so they can attack you from different angles and we also learned that a song can sound a lot more intense if you strip them down.
So if you have a singular synth tone rather than three layers of a synth tone it doesn’t make it less powerful – the three layers can destruct the clarity.
The new record is an album of clarity and separation but there’s still alot of elements going on. As much as we can try and strip stuff down we’re not a guitar, bass… We’re not a rock trio.
Getintothis: You’ve spoken about being holed up for some time in the studio, who or what influenced you during the making?
Ira Wolf Tuton: Musically? The first thing was we had been touring for so long, and we took time off to do some other projects that weren’t related to the band so we could refresh our coffers and at the base level the desire to be together and work together.
By the time we got into the studio we were pretty amped and excited for the end process and not knowing what that would be – and talking about what influences we wanted to touch on a lot more and how we wanted the album to sound as opposed to the first one and how we wanted to do it and playing all our demos and then picking and choosing which ones to work on.
But right from the bat we knew we wanted to make a record which was a lot more danceable, had alot more clarity in the low end and the drums.
Something akin to some early 90s dance music, maybe even one hit wonders, and also present day dancehall which is becoming present in the mainstream like Beyonce and Lady Gaga and early 90s hip hop production and industrial stuff.
We really just wanted to make an album which hit really hard and focus on how to produce those sounds.
Getintothis: You touch upon the pop artists, there does seem huge ‘crossover’ potential with Odd Blood.
Ira Wolf Tuton: Hmm, I don’t know if it’s such an overt thing to try and quote unquote crossover, but the music that we like and the music we’re influenced by, especially for this record, is the pop music of the last five decades and the stuff that’s going on now and the production techniques that are going on now and we’re trying to use as much of the technologies that are going on now and make our own popular music. I dont even know what ‘crossing over’ means – is it getting played at home depots?
Getintothis: Well, there’s a definite difference from avid music fans that hunt out new sounds and the guy who just turns the commercial radio stations on in their car.
Ira Wolf Tuton: Yeah, of course, you know if that happens I’d embrace that.
But we’re also not going to make this record again, but I want people to hear our music, I want to go to places in the world we’ve been before but also go to places we haven’t been and this is our opportunity to do that and I want to keep on making records so the more people that hear it and support us the more ability we have of doing that and have some longeivity with it – so bring it on!
Getintothis: It is frustrating when artists say they’re making music purely for themselves…
Ira Wolf Tuton: To some extent that does have to be true though – the three of us are looking at each other, producing music with each other, making things which we are all satisfied with and that’s the beginning of it.
We are entertaining ourselves. We are pushing ourselves and that’s our working relationship.
But pop music can be insanely personal and that’s why people relate to it. I can hear a Marvin Gaye song and it’s about me, and yet my life experiences are not like Marvin Gaye – I mean I hope my dad doesn’t shoot me! I relate to that, there’s something visceral to it – and that’s what great pop music is.
Getintothis: My favourite track on Odd Blood is I Remember. I distinctly remember you playing that when supporting Bat For Lashes in Liverpool back in October, that’s such a beautiful track.
Ira Wolf Tuton: Totally, we worked on this song, me and Anand (Wilder) immediately felt attached to that song and could relate to it and could understand it and the two of us felt it was a beautiful song. As much as you have that we have that amongst each other as well.
Yeasayer: I Remember
Getintothis: The lyrical content of All Hour Cymbals seemed quite ambiguous and dark, yet the new record seems quite direct and there’s plenty of songs about love and romance – is this specific, or are the lyrics simply more universal?
Ira Wolf Tuton: That’s partially a reflection of the realities of everybody’s lives right now.
At one point you have to approach those ideas. You can’t be in a band and not write love songs. Or should I say WE can’t, I’m sure there’s plenty of bands that don’t, but if we’re engaged in making our form of popular music we’re gonna write love songs – and also writing love songs can be extremely challenging to walk that fine line of expressing ideas of love and passion and not going over the line and making it seem like you’re the first person to fall in love and the only person that’s in love and be schmaltzy and turn into James Blunt.
Getintothis: Conversely the song O.N.E. seems like a romantic love song, but is it not a vitriolic song saying you’re not the one, have I read that wrongly?
Ira Wolf Tuton: That songs actually about addiction. So it’s kinda a love song.
The refrain is so easy to remember and we played it live for the first time and by the second chorus people were singing along, it’s very easy to sing along to its got a really good hook but you can get deceived by the part you can sing along to about what it’s actually about…
Getintothis: So, what’s the addiction?
Ira Wolf Tuton: Ah, booze… Or anything. Substances in general. But that being said, you can turn that into any kind of metaphor and I’m sure people will that’s the nature of the game. I’m always interested in that…
Getintothis: It reminds me of Kurt Cobain‘s lyrics which are often written on a whim, which just fit with the melody yet people read so much into his lyrics.
Ira Wolf Tuton: Yeah, definitely, well that’s what Bob Dylan always said, whether you believe him or not, he was just trying to rhyme and everybody else is reading into it.
I don’t know how much to believe that, but it’s a romantic idea. That’s what happens you put the lyrics out there, and especially when they’re on a more personal front people always take them and reinterpret them.
I was doing an interview with someone the other day and they asked me about the Coldplay lyric. I had no idea what they were talking about and it turned out they’d just heard the word ‘gold’ wrong…
Getintothis: You seem to have a playful side to the band, you use Twitter and the internet quite a bit and have a bit of fun with it..
Ira Wolf Tuton: Well, we realise how fortunate we are, and we’re trying to enjoy it. That’s the way we approach our lives in general. As much as there are grinds about it and difficult challenges we are doing exactly what we want to be doing so we’re going to enjoy it for everything that it’s worth.
I see alot of people and bands that as they get bigger they lose track of that idea and it becomes more of a laboured job.
We talk about it – we don’t want to get there. We want to maintain the reality of our situation and we just want to take advantage of it and grab it!
Yeasayer: Ambling Alp
Getintothis: Ambling Alp, that too has such a wild fantastical playfulness. It’s such a great video!
Ira Wolf Tuton: Thanks! We worked with this couple called Radical Friend in LA and it was largely their interpretation of the song and we got with them originally because we like the stuff they did and they took the song, the themes popping out and they ran with it – and it was cool to see different artistic brain interpret something that you have such a close connection with.
Getintothis: Another personal favourite Yeasayer moment was the La Blogotheque videos with Vincent Moon, that looked fun to do – although the Parisian neighbours didn’t seem too made up with noise!
Ira Wolf Tuton: That night was awesome. That’s when you’re lucky when you’re on the road and you run into people who give you hospitality, make you feel comfortable and share in the experience with you, it brings the humanity to it. You can get lost when you’re just sitting in a vehicle all day everyday, you can get lost in your thoughts so instances like that are great.
Getintothis: Chris has done some work with Simian Mobile Disco and there’s various remixes knocking around, who else would you like to work with. Or any plans in the pipeline?
Ira Wolf Tuton: We’ll see what comes our way, right now we’re not overtly seeking anything, we have our heads embedded in getting our show together and hammering the tour out and making sure we’re on the same page in this phase.
But we’ll see what comes our way, who knows what’s down the road, that’s part of the excitement of what we do, round every corner there’s a pretty refreshing new challenge or experience that in itself can be the hard part because you can’t prepare for the future but its also one of the enjoyable parts. It’s not a 9-5 job. You don’t know what’s coming in the future, it could be good or bad – our career could be over in a year.
Getintothis: I didn’t see it reported but what happened to your drummer Luke (Fasano)? You’ve two percussionists on the live show.
Ira Wolf Tuton: We didn’t see a reason to make a big deal over it. There were personal reasons.
The three of us had always been on the same page in terms of writing and recording together it’s always been the three of us at the core. There were strained personal relations and when it came to writing and recording the new album I think the only way we really could have done it was just the three of us going up state and banging ideas off each other.
Then we wanted to move forward with the live project and now we have the two new guys which opens up the possibilities of arrangement and we can employ a lot more nuance from song to song and from session to session.
Getintothis: The Beatles did ok without their first drummer.
Ira Wolf Tuton: They did alright!
Getintothis: Who’d be Yeasayer‘s celebrity dinner party invites? Dead or alive – pick a handful of guests.
Ira Wolf Tuton: Fidel Castro, Jacques Cousteau, Ernest Shackleton, Malcolm X. Ah, how many’s that…
Getintothis: Four. That’s quite a heavy dinner party.
Ira Wolf Tuton: Yeah it’ll be fun. Right, we need some females. *long pause* Freda Kahlo. *huge pause* I got it – Imelda Marcos!
Getintothis: Ah, what a let down, all that for Imelda Marcos.
Ira Wolf Tuton: Haha! Ok, I’ll take Imelda Marcos off the list and have… *biggest pause in pause history*
Getintothis: Courtney Love – she’ll rip this party up.
Ira Wolf Tuton: No, no I don’t want her at the party, I’d lose all my flatware.. Ok, I got it, I’ll have Marchesa Luisa Casati…
Ira Wolf Tuton: She’s an icon, she wears snakeskin jewellery, check her out… Her and Jacques Cousteau will just be in the corner making out.
Getintothis: You’re James Bond for the day, who’d be your Bond girl?
Ira Wolf Tuton: It’s like my everyday day! My girlfriend.. Or Marchesa Luisa Casati. Actually, it’d be Bonnie – from Bonnie & Clyde.
Getintothis: If you weren’t in a band, what other profession would you have?
Ira Wolf Tuton: I’d probably be in Puerto Rico doing undisclosed things.
Getintothis: You’ve unlimited budget, describe the stage show for Yeasayer‘s concept album.
Ira Wolf Tuton: It would be huge, all kinds of transforming things, crazy, crazy encapsulating light sculptures that would be surrounding everybody and it would be very interactive and lots of three dimensional lights and imagery.
Something that was so physically demanding to watch that afterwards you would have to vomit.
Getintothis: Sounds fun, maybe everyone should wear nappys in preparation.
Ira Wolf Tuton: Exactly. It’d be just a sea of excrement and vomit.
Yeasayer: Chris Keating, Ira Wolf Tuton and Anand Wilder.
Getintothis: Tell us a childhood memory.
Ira Wolf Tuton: Almost drowning and my mother saving my life. I couldn’t swim. I was pretty young. I was three.
Getintothis: What makes you happy?
Ira Wolf Tuton: Talking to you.
Getintothis: Cheers. How do you relax?
Ira Wolf Tuton: I go to restaurants and eat rib eye.
Getintothis: Are you into sports? Who’s captain of Team Yeasayer?
Ira Wolf Tuton: Basically we’re trying to organise a basketball competition against other bands, but it hasn’t happened yet.
Getintothis: I can see you and Anand being pretty sporty, not sure about Chris, I can see him being quite dirty though.
Ira Wolf Tuton: He’s good, he’s a wily player! I’ll have to tell him – so anyway, the word’s out.
Getintothis: I can see you taking Animal Collective.
Ira Wolf Tuton: No comment!
Getintothis: Reet, thanks for sparing the time.
Ira Wolf Tuton: Yeah, I gotta boogie. Nice talking to you. Take it easy.
Getintothis review of Yeasayer at Liverpool Barfly, November 2007.
Getintothis review of Yeasayer at O2 Academy, October 2009.