Q&A with Yeasayer guitarist Anand Wilder
By Abby Johnston, 3:40PM, Wed. Sep. 5, 2012
Since 2007, Brooklyn trio Yeasayer has bent and flexed psychedelic pop into the art of the weird. Released last month, third album Fragrant World seems to have both enraged and delighted critics. With shows across the country, including one on Thursday at Stubb's, Yeasayer like Austin plans on keeping it weird according to guitarist Anand Wilder.
Austin Chronicle: Where am I reaching you?
Anand Wilder: I'm in the back of the bus in the parking lot of First Avenue of Minneapolis.
AC: Quite the location.
AW: Yeah, well, my phone is about to die, so I have to sit back here next to the plug to do my interviews.
AC: I've confined you to the back of the bus!
AW: No, it's okay. Otherwise I'd be pacing around downtown Minneapolis.
AC: Let's start with the new album, Fragrant World. I've got to ask, what's on the cover?
AW: It's a photograph of a shrouded woman doing a dance move. The artist was playing around with eurhythmy, which is the concept that dance and language were developed together instead of distinctly. I think she's doing some dance move that symbolizes the language.
AC: Seems like the figures on your album art are somewhat obscure. Is that usually symbolism for something?
AW: I think it's consistent with the way we like people to experience our music. You're not really sure where the sound is coming from or whether the sound is organic or synthetic. It's hilarious to me this idea that somehow, at some point, we were really organic. That we were making a lot of campfire sounds. We've always been sampling.
AC: The jury's still out on the new disc. Pitchfork wasn't having it, but I've read reviews that raved about it. Do you feel it's been well-received overall?
AW: Yeah. I mean, how do you figure that out? Do you look at Metacritic or something? I don't really care. I felt that [Pitchfork] review was great for us, because it angered a lot of our fans and solidified our fanbase. Everything they criticized was something I appreciate about our music. It'd be interesting to take that review and spin it in a positive way.
AC: Must be nice when people are telling you things you love about yourself.
AW: Yeah, I mean they said it was a negative review, but "fitting a square peg into a round hole," that's exactly what we try to do! "Trying to achieve the impossible," that's great! It doesn't seem like a negative to me.
AC: It's like someone telling you that you're too nice. The Pitchfork writer, Ian Cohen, tweeted props to your fans for all of the hate mail he got almost instantly.
AW: They didn't like our second album either. They found they were able to revise history and say that these songs from the second album were awesome, and these others suck, but this one just sucks across the board, and you know, I actually prefer him saying it sucks across the board because it's so extreme.
AC: Fragrant World is heavy on R&B elements. Who are your favorite R&B artists?
AW: I'm into classic stuff, Stevie Wonder, but I was also getting into Usher's new album. He's got a song called "Let Me See" on there that I heard on Top 40 radio and had to stay in my car and listen. It was kind of spooky and awesome, and his voice is just so good. It's a funny genre because it's come to mean something soulful. It used to be a racially loaded term, and it seems to morph every few years, but choosing a favorite for R&B is a little like saying, "What's your favorite rock band?"
AC: You've had the song "Henrietta" in rotation for a while, but it's on the new album in an evolved state. Watching it change over the years do you think it could stand as a testament to how Yeasayer has evolved?
AW: I feel like we've evolved a lot, but at the same time I think we're applying the same philosophical ideas to our music. I used to think of guitar as a pure base to a band that was otherwise dominated by samples and other identifiable sounds, but I got these guitar pedals and for each song I crafted amazing reverse effects and such. My guitar has definitely evolved from the beginning when I was trying to rip off a Graceland kind of guitar sound to something that's more dynamic.
AC: When you're following through on your creative processes it seems like you're becoming more comfortable with odder music quips and quirks with each album. Do you ever feel like you take it too far?
AW: Yeah, probably every song. I think we get some perspective then rein it back in. You know, nobody knows how to spell "rein." They always spell it "reign" like a king. I've noticed that a lot.
AC: I'm from Texas, I know what reining in means.
AW: [Laughs] Yeah, if you're around horses. But yeah, we rein things in and scale it back when it gets too ridiculous. Of course there are tons of people, Ian Cohen included, that if we sang these songs over tasteful acoustic guitar and they all sounded like Nick Drake songs, I'm sure we would get much more favorable reviews because we'd be authentic, or something like that.