Yeasayer in Conversation: Chris Keating on Beck, Barack and the Second Album
Yeasayer have been touring their debut album All Hour Cymbals relentlessly for the past year, so have Brooklyn's finest experimentalists had time to even contemplate the follow-up? Nick Mitchell tracks down singer Chris Keating to find out the latest.
It's not long since you returned from your European tour. Did you enjoy that?
It was great!
You supported Beck recently too, good times?
It was definitely a dream come true. When I was 12 I really loved him, from the ages 12 to 18 I bought all his records.
Did you hang out much?
Yeah, we did actually. I wasn't sure if we were gonna get to see him, or if he was gonna be a dick, but he was really nice, like extremely nice, a really cool guy to hang out with.
A bunch of us half drunken Skinny writers saw you at T in the Park, one of our highlights of the weekend. Did you enjoy playing the gig? People didn't really come out in full force for that one did they?
It was probably just the competition in the line-up. That's why I don't really like going to those festivals. There's too much going on.
So you prefer your own tours?
Definitely, I think everyone does. Maybe the headliner wouldn't, but everyone else only gets to play for half an hour.
And you have another string of shows lined up?
Yeah, definitely. I'm not really sure about Europe because we've already played so many shows there. We're looking to wind it down a little bit because we want to start working on some new stuff. [Yeasayer are 'winding down' with a 25-date tour of Australia, New Zealand and America from October to December]
Have you had any time to work on the first stages of the follow-up to All Hour Cymbals [reviewed here]?
Absolutely. We're fortunate that we recorded the entire first record by ourselves with very little outside help. We spent a couple of days in a studio where we mixed it but other than that we did everything ourselves. So every time I'm home I'm working on something, and I have a laptop that I take on the road. We have a lot of ideas.
How do you see it shaping up?
It's gonna be a lot more realised than the last record.
Will it be a move forward? Your first record was already very ambitious, so do you think it will be hard to follow?
No, I don't think so. I think it will give us a chance to push any tendencies we had on the first record even further. We're a lot more comfortable now, sonically and as songwriters. On the last record I feel like we made a lot of mistakes, but I'm happy with the way it came out. There are a lot of different sounds we want to explore. We don't want to remake that record, but we don't want to start from scratch either.
Are you conscious of your niche fanbase, and would you like to open it out a bit more?
I would like to open up and appeal to as many people as possible, but at the same time I'm not willing to compromise in any way to do that. To reach more people I wouldn't want to sign to a much larger label and compromise what we do. People who have supported us so far will like the next record better.
I read that you're Cyndi Lauper fans [confirmed in their Muso Top Ten here], so you do have that pop sensibility?
Yeah I love Cyndi Lauper. I knew her records obviously, but we put it on one time on tour and we kept listening to it over and over again. It's the way the songs are put together, and the textures of all the synthesizers and her voice. Money Changes Everything is an amazing song.
And as well as pop, the more credible music from that early 80s era is coming full circle again. Would you see yourselves as part of that?
I dunno, I find myself really enjoying a lot of that music, for nostalgia's sake, and also I think it was a great era when people were really figuring out sequencers, when they were really figuring out the electronics behind rock bands. It was experimental in the 70s and then more realised in a pop way, and it's really appealing music. And culturally I think music is cyclical, it goes through 15 or 20 year cycles, especially at this point, this confluating point. And bands today are referencing music from the past 40 years, from all of it.
And the internet has played a part in this?
That's what we think. That's the kinda postmodern idea. I've had to grapple with the music I've been exposed to, which is five generations of pop music, so I don't really know where to start.
Are you familiar with the video for Talking Heads' Once In A Lifetime, with the dancing?
Oh the Toni Basil thing. Yeah I have seen that.
Video: Talking Heads - Once In A Lifetime
The reason I ask is that I saw your performance on the Jools Holland show and it reminded me of David Byrne in that video.
People have said that. Maybe it's this awkward white guy style of dancing. I'm trying to picture David Byrne dancing. I imagine him being more stoic, but there's maybe something to the wanky white man thing!
Video: Yeasayer - 2080 (Live on Jools Holland)
Someone else who has already finished his European tour is Barack Obama. As a band you've come out in support of him, right?
Do you think he can live up to all the hope that's been placed upon his shoulders?
No, I don't think he can. But at the same time, no-one could. He's not going to completely turn around all the problems of this country, but as far as I'm concerned we're standing at a complete zero point, getting rid of this corrupt, backward-thinking government. He'd be the ideal guy to come in and try to change that. At least we'll get him in there and then I can be disappointed. I don't actually agree with some of his politics, and I'm looking forward to him getting to a point where he can actually talk about issues.
In the run-up to the election will you do anything else to aid his cause?
We're gonna do a voter registration thing on our US tour. It's the most important election of the last 50 years, so I don't have a problem with coming out in support of Obama, or more importantly, against McCain.
Songs like 2080 are projecting a future that's gone beyond the reach of politics, like a rejection of what politics has inflicted on the world. Do you see yourselves as a political band?
I'm not sure, but I don't know how someone could write about what they see around them and not reference politics. I've always been interested in politics, but I'm not in a band to be political, I'm not Black Flag. But at the same time, in this day and age, how can you not be affected by the issues around you? As an American, I have higher hopes of what an American Government could be, and what an American culture could be, and that's reflected in the music. Sometimes. Sometimes I write songs about love and flowers!
And have you started writing songs for the next album?
Yeah, a little bit here and there. We have a lot of demos we need to work on. But, seriously, I think we'll be working in winter - fall or winter.
For a spring release?
It really depends on what happens. We're not really sure what label to put it out with. It might be more of a summer thing.