EXCLUSIVE | Yeasayer Interview
The Brooklynites talk live performances, technology and Rammstein's inflatable penis...
Brooklyn’s Yeasayer are a band that defy categorisation, forever pursuing ways to push their sound into ever more experimental, yet soulful dimensions.
The band have now combined their restless creative energy with the Creators Project to create a technically demanding stage (think Tron, think The Lawnmower Man, think flashing triangular pyramids) show which is truly different, innovative and harnesses the latest technological wizardry for their next tour in support of new album, Fragrant World.
MTV caught up with Ira from the band. Not only is he a virtuoso on bass and a lovely chap, but also a spaceman – a man, that is, who hates two-dimensional space. We spoke about live performances, technology and Rammstein's inflatable penis.
MTV: How did this project come about?
Ira: “Well, we teamed up with the Creators Project to create this visual, three-dimensional structure to coincide with this set. It’s pretty exciting”.
Did you already have a concept in mind?
“Casey Reas (LA visual artist) had never done anything with a live band. He sent us lots of different ideas and there was a back and forth with what might work and where the band are stylistically. Even now there’s a constant conversation because there’s a learning curve because these guys are coming from a world of making instillations and now they’re working with us and our crew and the world of touring”.
Do the visuals of the new tour buy into the progressive ethos of Yeasayer?
“It’s as much for us as anyone else. It would be cheap, and lame, for us to behave in a way that people expect us to stylistically change from project to project and then not to do that across the board. The stage set-ups should be teamed with the time and place of the music being played. This is very important. People notice when bands have the same stage set-up for four years, despite how fantastic it is”.
You’re going to disappoint a lot of young kids. They’ll go to this show, be blown away, and then the next gig it’ll just be four boys with guitars.
“We’re not young or attractive enough. And because of this, we need to stand in front strange, three-dimensional, alien lights".
Tell us then. How does the stage-set work?
“That’s the challenge. There’s so many different disciplines going on at the same time, it’s the challenge to bring all these elements together and unify them… There’s a projectionist onstage. He has various tools in his belt. He has Yoshi (Sodeoka, LA visual artist)’s stuff. Some Casey stuff. And some three-dimensional mapping stuff. But then we have a guy running the lights to give different parts of the structure a different character to the three-dimensions of the set throughout the show. There are several different kinds of lights onstage to treat the structure at different times. Plus there’s many different guys who set it up, take it down, fixing it, twiddling it”.
So you require a lot of people to make this stage show come to life?
“We have an army. We have 800,000 people coming in to set up a 1,000 people venue”.
And you’ll be using this set on your UK tour?
With this new “futuristic” tour, does it help to bring your old songs into the future reality of your current sound and set? Does that even make sense?
“Not really… But one of the exciting things when you’re getting ready for a live show is trying to learn all the songs off Fragrant World first and work out what will work and what won’t. Then we’ll start to rearrange and rework the old songs. And that takes them into a new space and dimension. And we have a new member so this makes playing songs you’ve played over and over exciting again. And just being in front of this whole new set gives us excitement and weight to the whole thing. And this energy is invaluable”.
But aren’t you ever worried that mid set it might all go wrong? Are you worried about relying on technology?
“Nah. I’m never worried about things going wrong, but hang on, a leaf did just land in my coffee cup… At the end of the day though it is still just a rock show. And if at the end of the day the music and lights come crashing down, then yeah – that sucks. But hey, we can all just laugh about it. It would be a waste of time to worry about it”.
Can we expect future Yeasayer tours to have different, experimental stage set-ups?
“Well we were going to do trapeze stuff but then Pink beat us to it. Maybe some clear instruments or even crotchless chaps”.
Ever thought about capes?
“We’re thinking about it. Basically what I’m saying is that we have a team of people thinking about this stuff all the time”.
For your Monday morning band meetings?
“Yeah. Every Monday. 'What about crotchless chaps?' Yeah we get it, you say it every Monday”.
What’s the reaction to the tour been like? You’ve toured America.
“Yes [laughs] we’ve toured America”.
Oh, so you’ve heard of America?
“I live in New York, but I have heard of this place called America. So far the shows have been good. It’s like I’ve said, it’s been a learning experience. The shows have become more and more fluid. But we’re very pleased and excited with where the live show is right now”.
Are there other acts whose live shows you admire?
“Well if you look at all the other things the Creators Project has done, that’s a more contemporary way to do live shows in terms of engagement, software design, 3-D mapping. I’m excited by the idea of taking advantage of the three-dimensional space of the stage. Too many people think of going to a show as like going to a movie.
I love the idea of having these set pieces which bands can be part of. I find it strange when bands are just playing in front of a two-dimensional screen with projections on, which we’ve done before, but it doesn’t makes sense because it’s such a three-dimensional space with a forced two-dimensional space in the background.
It’s very odd to me because they’re two very disparate things going on. I mean you’re not watching a movie; you’re watching a band”.
Which makes sense, because music isn’t two-dimensional, it’s immersive.
‘Exactly. I mean, I saw Rammstein at some festival that we were playing. And they’re obviously more over the top in the old school way. But it was still insanely complex. And if something goes wrong, someone gets injured. But they’ve got all these different elements going on at the same time. I mean, I’ve never listened to Rammstein before, but that show was amazing. There were so many surprises and it was this theatrical show that totally harnessed what the band was about. It was like, if you’ve never heard that band before, but seeing the lead singer come out on top of an inflatable penis and blowing bubbles into the crowd, you totally get what that band is about”.
And with that we totally get what Yeasayer are about. Experimentalists who can’t help but tinker with the technology which is available to them to make sure their sound, and now shows, are flirting with the unknown future of performing. Just don’t expect big blow up phalluses.
Yeasayer’s new single, Reagan’s Skeleton is out on 26th Nov.
Catch Yeasayer on tour in December:
The Arches, Glasgow – 2nd Dec
Academy, Manchester – 3rd Dec
Shepherds Bush Empire, London – 4th Dec