Those in the know have been buzzing about Yeasayer’s Odd Blood for months now, ever since the Brooklyn avant-pop aesthetes released the first single, a delightfully loopy slab of weirdness called “Ambling Alp.”
Since then, both the band and the album have slowly started picking up accolades (we highlighted them last month during MTV News’ Rock Week ), and now, it’s not inconceivable to think that Blood might be this year’s version of Merriweather Post Pavilion, the Animal Collective effort that was already being hailed “The Best Album of 2009″ from the day it was released in January.
Blood hit stores Tuesday (February 9), and so, to highlight an album that we really think you ought to hear, we sat down with the three men behind Yeasayer — Anand Wilder, Chris Keating and Ira Wolf Tuton — and had them tell us the stories behind the 10 wonderfully weird tracks that make up the record. From in-flight make-out sessions and ridiculous riddims of Haddaway to Moroccan dance music, here’s their take on what very well may be the best album of 2010.
Chris Keating: We were pretty determined to have it first on the record. I like the idea of starting the record like that, as a departure point from the last record [2007's All Hour Cymbals], especially the last song on the last record, which was very choral, and then all of a sudden, you’re transported to further into the future, and you’re on some off-world colony that has crazy percussion and slowed-down vocals. We sang harmonies through a fan, sang into the pitch thing and tried to sing it live.
Ira Wolf Tuton: I couldn’t get through the mixes. It kept making my CD player skip because of the low end. I loved that.
Keating: Yeah, we definitely buried some sub beneath the sub.
Tuton: That song probably existed between the three of us longer than any other song on the album, so just psychologically, it made sense for us to release it first and try to get it out of the way.
Keating: I think the hardest thing about writing a song is getting that initial idea: “What’s an interesting thing to write about?” And once you get that, you roll with it. You get excited … so I kind of came up with this idea to write about boxing, and that’s where the title came from; it was [the name of] a 1930s Italian boxer. I was reading about Joe Louis at the time, and my grandfather was a professional boxer in the late ’30s, early ’40s, so all these things kind of started tying together.
Anand Wilder: It was a kind of quiet, folky, acoustic lullaby that I worked on. I think I stole a lyric out of, like, a Celtic book of verse for the first line and kind of went from there. I kind of wanted to write a song in the vein of “Jealous Guy” by John Lennon, a song about being a weak man, a gambler or something like that. So we had that basic structure for the opening, and then Chris had the idea to drop this really heavy beat on top of it. And it completely changed the feel of the song.
Keating: It was a demo recording, made in the basement — the same setup we had when we were making the All Hour Cymbals record. And I just had my busted-up Nord [keyboard], and I just kind of worked out these weird sounds that I thought were interesting together. And a lot of stuff I do like that, I’m trying to achieve a sound I like. And you get that tone, then it’s cool. You lock it in, you write down all the numbers and all the dials, and from there, I know I can write something on top of it. And I had just met my wife, and I started writing a love song, so I kind of just ran with it. I’m afraid of flying, but the first time I met my wife, we made out on a plane.
Wilder: My only input was to try and steer us away from adding too much to it, because I think Chris did a really good job of getting these tones that really sat well in the mix. And it was just this demo that really sounded almost finished. And slowly we began adding on to it, and we did a live version and made it twice as long, and then we made compromises, and eventually it became the four-and-a-half-minute-long mixtape love ballad of 2010.
Wilder: I was trying to explore the idea of a song that didn’t just have one chord in it. Because a lot of songs on the first album had maybe just one chord in it, or maybe just two chords. Maybe we’d go to three in the chorus. So I created this really long riff that went on for about 16 bars and had chords that were changing along with the riff. And then I had this idea about writing a song about addiction — alcoholism — but kind of relating it to a way you’d get rid of a girlfriend or something. So we worked on that song for many months Upstate, in Woodstock, and threw a big beat over it. It became kind of like a early-’90s era Beck song, with a break beat over it. And then when we brought it to the live setting, with our new bandmates, Chris kind of said, “It’s not a dance song,” and we were talking about how, on this album, we wanted to commit to certain styles for an entire song and not jump around. So, finally, I caved in. I only caved in after the Bonnaroo audience was so excited by our live version, and I was like, “OK, I guess I lost that argument.”
Keating: That was a cool experience, because we hadn’t finished the record. … We were able to play some songs at different festivals. And the ones we’d be really excited about, it was like, “Why does no one care about this song?” … And that one, the way we were doing it live, with a funkier vibe to it, we were all psyched on, everyone was really, really into it. … They were singing the words to an MGMT song over it. [Laughs.]
“Love Me Girl”
Wilder: I wanted to do this loopy thing that would go over and over again, kind of like that final scene in “Trainspotting,” and then it would just drop into this R&B, Justin Timberlake-y kind of thing, which I made the melody by just creating MIDI notes on GarageBand with just a flute. That had some acoustic guitar on it … but then when we brought it Upstate, we added more synthetic elements, and we kind of decided the beat was going to be a dancehall thing, because we were listening to a lot [of it] and just kind of straight ripped off those songs.
Tuton: It was exciting to do, another new thing to rip off.
Wilder: We added some Real McCoy elements and some Haddaway elements.
Keating: That’s the song with the Coldplay reference [in the lyrics]. That’s not a Coldplay reference. But that’s cool, because we’re trying to start a little beef with Coldplay.
Wilder: We’re trying to rip off Coldplay so they would sue us, so they would have someone to sue.
Keating: That song sort of rips off certain Moroccan dance music, Syrian dance music, that my wife had on her iPod, and when she hears the song now, she sort of shakes her head like, “It’s such a rip-off.” She feels like she’s responsible for that one.
Keating: That song gets sh– on in the press, and I don’t know why, because I think that song is awesome. It’s so crazy. Like “And the throwaway track … ” and it’s like, that song is so weird and crazy.
Wilder: We got really stoned and listened to the album once it was pretty much fully mixed, and that was the one song where I was like, “This is awesome!” … That was based on the idea of a really short song that had many different parts in it … and it would all be done in under three minutes and would also explore these weird time-signature shifts that bands like the Dirty Projectors do so effortlessly. And we’re so unskilled that we still haven’t figured out how to play it live. And we probably never will.
Keating: That’s a song that I had been working on for a while. … It’s really old. I set up a bunch of samplers and plugged them all into the TV for a whole Sunday, and I got, like, four channels, didn’t have cable or anything, so it was all, like, daytime Sunday weirdness, bad commercials, infomercials, soap operas, I don’t know what. And I recorded four banks of sound and started to structure a song out of it. And I sang on top of it. I thought it was cool to make this real paranoid. … I liked the late-’70s era of David Bowie that’s very paranoid, where he’s, like, so coke-addled and crazy, and I like that kind of feel, and mixing it with the sort of 24-hour news cycle, and Glenn Beck and Hannity, the sort of absurd, psychotic rants that those guys go on. I sort of think it’s amazing, because it just seems like something out of the movie “Network.” I don’t know; the world is going to end in a year.
Tuton: I kind of think of “Grizelda” in the same way that I really like “Children” being the first track. I thought of it for a long time as being a real nice benediction for the whole album. It just seemed a nice way to close an album. It lulls you into sitting back in your chair, puts you in a trance a bit, although the subject matter might be a bit dark.
Wilder: The subject matter is this woman Griselda Blanco. We had watched the movie “Cocaine Cowboys,” and it was kind of all about the cocaine industry in Miami and how it was relatively violence-free, until this woman Griselda Blanco came around and just started ordering murders. And she’s responsible for hundreds of murders. … So the main interview of the whole movie is this guy who was a hit man for her, so I thought it would be nice to write a song from his perspective. Maybe he’s in jail, and he’s writing a letter to her, just as she’s been extradited to Colombia, and all these people are coming to kill her. He’s kind of afraid of her, but he’s also kind of in love with her.
Keating: She’s like the Colombian connection to America’s cocaine industry in the ’80s, just ruthless. So it’s like this female mass murderer and had all these guys working for her who were kind of in love with her.