Raise your hand if you’ve ever accidentally deleted your work on Microsoft Word, lost photos from a corrupted memory card or just plain dropped your phone in the toilet. Now put your hand down, I can’t see you.
Technology can be a tricky bitch, but the same goes for Mother Nature. You’d think when Yeasayer decided to ditch the comfort of a recording studio for the NY countryside that the chance of an audio glitch would be minimal, but alas, one dark stormy night, a roof leak lingered right over the analog footage of the band’s new album. Instead of giving up and walking away, the group returned to New York City and put the pieces back together. The setback may have cost time but it certainly didn’t compromise quality. We had a lovely call with Anand Wilder of Yeasayer before band practice and talked about the setback, Son of Sam and using goat skulls as instruments.
I’ve heard you say that you guys make a conscious effort to shift styles between your albums, what was the intended transition for Amen & Goodbye?
Ultimately we ended up combining a lot of different recording mediums together to make a final product which I think maybe has a lot more depth than some of our previous recordings and that was something we were going for. I wanted to not spend my time recording staring at a computer screen. That meant dealing with tape, playing a lot more you know, letting someone else look at a screen. But I wanted to trust our ears more and really feel what kind of imagery the music was evoking and try to adjust it accordingly.
Originally you planned to use all analog recording for the album. Was that approach your way of reaching that depth you wanted?
Yeah, we wanted to do a different approach and we needed to get out of the city to get away from our families and get into a more juvenile routine of staying up really late at night working on music, sleeping in and really being able to hunker down and focus on creating something new.
So you guys went to Catskills, NY, which I’ve heard, is an odd place. What’s the creepiest thing you guys experienced up there?
[Laughs] Well I know that we drove by the prison where Son of Sam is incarcerated which is pretty crazy. I think he’s serving another 380 years on his sentence. There’s also this atheist church that we drove by that had this alien on the front that was actually pretty cool. You know, it’s a funny little place; there are all these old Borsch Belt glamorous hotels that have all been run down and they kind of pop out. Some of them have been re-populated by some communities coming from New York so they’re kind of building back up again.
While you were up there you lost a good chunk of your recordings in a storm, what made you bring Joey Waronker on to help produce what you guys could salvage?
Well we knew we wanted to get with someone like Joey and we were given a list by our label and I just thought ‘Joey Waronker’s available? That’s awesome, what’s he doing these days?’ and he was game, he came to New York, I think it was a little cold for him coming from LA in the dead of winter.
He really was able to take everything we could salvage and piece it back together again and sort of go back to our computer-based approach and he just breathed a lot of life into some of the percussion tracks. He’s such a natural drum player and he salvaged this very odd drum kit we were trying to recreate. I had been buying all these percussion instruments that Joey played on the album and our drummer is incorporating them into the live drum set. Which is something that we really wanted to move towards, you know, getting more interesting live percussive sounds as opposed to relying on computer-generated sounds. Although we did end up recording a nice little combination of synthesized and live drum to the point where you can’t really tell what is live and what is synthesized. That’s something we always strive to do.
I heard that Joey uses a lot of odd instruments for percussion. What was the least conventional instrument you guys used?
Oh gosh, he had this one thing called a reco-reco which is a very strange Brazilian cowbell with springs attached to it and then we actually played with this guy Mauro Refosco and he had a cow skull, it was either a cow or a goat skull and he would hit it and the teeth would rattle. We actually broke it I think Ira still needs to repair it but the way it sounded was very cool and it was very macabre to have this skeleton that you’re using to create sound.
I saw that you had Suzy Roche come on for “I Am Chemistry”, what was it like having someone who was an early influence on you come full circle to actually be a part what you were creating?
Yeah! She was amazing. We also played with John Cale a couple years ago and that was a similar kind of experience where you’re working with someone you really respect and they turn out to be really cool and [Suzy] was the same way she wasn’t jaded at all she had a very positive outlook on her career, past and present, and she had a great work ethic, we could really push her on singing different styles. I don’t even think she had a drink of water the entire time that we were recording.
Being able to be in the control room, I even have some video of it, where we would mute all of the instrumentation and just have her voice and she was layering multiple, multiple tracks and it was so cool. She’s such a great lady, such an inspiring artist.
You touched on imagery a little earlier, the gatefold art for Amen & Goodbye, is really stunning, what led you to David Altmejd in creating this scene for the album cover?
I think Chris just has been into his work for many years and we reached out to [David] and surprisingly he was willing to collaborate. The idea was to incorporate a bunch of characters from our songs and to just have at it. A bit of an homage to Sgt. Pepper or Prince’s Around the World in a Day and just populate it with these strange sort of characters and some characters are from songs that didn’t make the cut of the album but were still visually striking. We began the process with one of David’s assistants delivering a box containing sculptures of our heads so we had these sculptures staring at us the entire time we were recording.
That’s awesome; did you get to keep them?
No, I don’t think we did! I think he took those back but hopefully he uses them in one of his future gallery exhibitions.
The name Amen & Goodbye, this isn’t foreshadowing of you guys wanting to wrap up, is it?
Well, you never know of course, but no, things are going pretty well right now and we’re excited to be getting to the live show together that’s always a fun step. We’re excited to get on the road and play these new songs for the world and see how this album does. I’m pretty proud of it, it’s been a good four years since our last album to come up with this and I think it’s our best album yet, I think we had enough time to gather our ideas together and to make revisions I think we ended up with a product what we can stand behind and be pretty proud of.